Have Dark Home Jerseys Killed the Whiteout?

Jim Balint@MrJBalintCorrespondent IJune 3, 2010

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 10:  Fans wear white t shirts in the 'white out' night at of the NHL game between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena on October 10, 2009 in Glendale, Arizona. The Blue Jackets defeated the Coyotes 2-0.   (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Come playoff time, it’s not unheard of for the home arena to host a “whiteout.” In fact, it’s almost mandatory. Fans are encouraged to wear white, or don whatever free t-shirt is being handed out at the entrance.

In recent years, however, the casual fan might become confused as to who the home team actually is.

The Home-white, Away-dark color scheme was the basis for the whiteout. Everyone in the arena, including the players, would wear white, and the effect was nothing short of dazzling.

In 2003, the NHL switched the jersey scheme, so that the home teams started wearing their dark jerseys. Come playoff time, however, fans still promoted whiteouts. If the home team is no longer wearing white, does the “whiteout” still work?

It’s no surprise what prompted the switch. Teams were looking for more revenue, and manufacturing “third” jerseys seemed to be the easiest way to go. Teams would wear these alternate jerseys every so often at home games, giving the fans something new to look at, and hopefully purchase.

The majority of these jerseys were dark, forcing the away team to don their normally home-white jerseys.

Eventually, every team in the league had at least one alternate jersey to use at home games, and the inevitable color-swap must have been confusing to the casual viewer.

In an effort to avoid such confusion and simplify team equipment managers’ lives, the league swapped the home and away color scheme. Now, if fans wanted to be in vogue at home games, they’d need to purchase the former “away” jersey. Very clever NHL. Very clever indeed.

Two problems immediately come to mind. First of all, fans aren’t afforded the pleasure of a different look every night. Previously, you would have a home team in white, and a team in a different color jersey every night.

These days, it’s the same every night. Home team—dark, away team—white. If you’re watching home games in Pittsburgh, you’re stuck with the monotony of  watching black and white up to 41 times a year.

The second and more pressing issue is the fact that the whiteout is rendered almost completely useless. Why on earth would you want a whiteout if the opposing team is the one wearing white?! It makes no sense.

The Philadelphia Flyers' fans seem to have adjusted in time for this year’s Finals. Fans at the Wachovia Center this postseason sport shirts and jerseys in the Flyers’ distinctive orange, with nary a plain white or black jersey to be found.

The Blackhawks faithful look a bit more discombobulated, but it’s hardly their own fault. The team itself seems to have a bit of an identity crisis when it comes to dark jersey color.

From the team’s inception in 1926 until 1955, their dark jerseys were black. Then, before the 1955-56 season, the team inexplicably switched to red jerseys. It stayed that way until 1996, when the team re-introduced black jerseys as an alternate.

With the last year's Winter Classic jerseys gaining popularity, fans are torn between the classic black jerseys of the team’s origins (not to mention two Stanley Cup wins), and the more recent red.

Games televised from the United Center only emphasize that this attempt at team unity has gone wrong. Seeing a sea of red, with sections of black speckled in reminds me of a Chicago-style deep dish pizza, complete with black olive topping. Delicious for sure, but not terribly intimidating or unifying.

While I’m sure switching official home colors drives jersey sales through the roof, it has to drive attendees mad. Showing up to the United Center in the brand new red jersey you just bought last season, only to find out the official home jersey color switched to black would be aggravating, to say the least.

Even when the ticket holders get their colors coordinated, it’s nothing compared to the original whiteout.

I remember watching a playoff series between the Winnipeg Jets and Detroit Red Wings back in 1995-96. The Jets fans knew this was their last playoff series before the team’s relocation to Phoenix. The footage is nothing short of incredible.

You don’t see a single fan in anything but white. Red is right out. Pittsburgh, Chicago, are you taking notes?

If the league really wanted to promote jersey sales, it should go to the system the old IHL had: wear the dark jerseys at home for one half of the season, then after the All-Star Game, switch to the white jerseys. Not only would your fanbase get to see both jerseys, they would have a reason to buy both, and viewers wouldn’t be lulled to sleep by the same colors every night.

I, for one, am opposed to changing the colors simply to promote sales. I grew up with home-whites, and I want to stay with home-whites. They just make sense. What color does the home team wear in baseball? In basketball?

The only other sport to make use of dark home jerseys is football, but I’m sure that practice can be attributed to a few too many hits to the head.

So here’s to the return of the home-whites and restoring the proper playoff whiteout. C’mon Mr. Bettman, make it happen!


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