Minnesota Wild 2022 NHL Winter Classic jersey close-up. Photo: Sports Business Research Academy/Sebastiano MereuIce Hockey

Retro marketing and ice hockey: The effect of nostalgia on the intention to purchase the Minnesota Wild 2022 NHL Winter Classic jersey

The following study investigated the impact of nostalgia on the intention to purchase the Minnesota Wild 2022 NHL Winter Classic retro jersey, with consideration to self-continuity, pride, team identification, team attachment, and team loyalty. Quantitative data were gathered from 155 NHL spectators, mainly from the USA, and assessed through a confirmatory factory analysis. The study found that nostalgia is mediated through feelings of pride evoked by the Wild’s Winter Classic jersey to positively influence the intention to purchase the jersey. It was further found that a second path leads from nostalgia to pride, that positively impacts team identification, which then incites affective emotions to strengthen team attachment, and finally exerts a positive influence on the intention to buy the jersey. Furthermore, no significant direct effect was found from nostalgia to purchase intention, nor from self-congruity and team loyalty to purchase intension. Based upon the findings of this research, the article offers recommendations for retro marketing of the Minnesota Wild 2022 NHL Winter Classic jersey through marketing communications.

1. A brief introduction to nostalgia in sports marketing and the retro-style of the Minnesota Wild 2022 NHL Winter Classic jersey

Nostalgia was introduced as a marketing vehicle in campaigns towards the end of the 20th century with the intention to remind consumers of past experiences they may wish to relive (Hajlaoui and Gharbi, 2020). The ‘fin du siècle’ effect, which refers to people’s inclination to revisit successes, failures, lucky escapes, and bad decisions made in the ending century, are believed to have played a considerable role in commencing that trend (Brown, 1999). A variety of perspectives have been explored in academia to better understand stimuli of nostalgic emotions and their wider application in marketing; for spectator sports, Cho, Ramshaw, and Norman (2015) argue that fans may experience a unique form of nostalgia, which is constructed around (1) the offered experience, (2) socialization, (3) personal identity, and (4) group identity. Such experiences may foster the feeling of being proud to be a fan of a specific team (Chang et al., 2020), which can then strengthen associations with the team (Ullah et al., 2021).

Nostalgia can develop from stories of disappointments and losses that in most instances are followed by triumphs over hardship (Wildschut, Sedikides, and Arndt, 2006). Fans of a team or athlete are familiar with these feelings, given the competitive structure of championships or tournaments. This implies a certain negative connotation; yet, the perception about nostalgia in industry and academia has changed historically and it is now perceived with a more positive connotation (Chang et al., 2020). Despite (or because of) these emotions, a modern product can be made more appealing by “creating a brand identity based on heritage or nostalgia for a company’s past products” (Holotova, Kadekova, and Kosiciarova, 2020, p. 149). This may be achieved with nostalgic advertising, which can “evoke more positive emotions and more intensive mental images than non-nostalgic, modern advertisements” (Bambauer-Sachse and Gierl, 2009, p. 396). However, in regard to sports teams’ merchandise, Scola (2019) found that stimulating nostalgia may only be effective on retro merchandise, not on modern merchandise.

The National Hockey League (NHL) has been producing the NHL Winter Classic, an annual regular season outdoor game, since 2008 (NHL.com, 2020). The participating teams typically wear jerseys or entire uniforms created specifically for the event in a retro or vintage look; they serve as a throwback to a significant era in the history of the respective team (SI.com, 2016). The Minnesota Wild 2022 NHL Winter Classic jersey was designed by combining the style of the St. Paul Saints from the 1930s with the traditional Minnesota Wild colours; John Maher, Senior Brand Advisor explained, “The striping, fonts, and fabrics used in the final adidas design all took inspiration from St. Paul and Minneapolis hockey teams of the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s” (NHL.com, 2021).

The discussion above positions nostalgia as an emotion that can have an impact on sports fans’ pride, their association with a sports team, and consequently the intention to buy team-branded retro apparel. Thus, the following question will guide this research:

How does nostalgia influence feelings of pride of NHL spectators and their respective associations with the team, and what is the resulting influence on the intention to purchase the Minnesota Wild 2022 NHL Winter Classic jersey?

The video ‘Wild Winter Classic Jersey Reveal’ introduces the Minnesota Wild 2022 NHL Winter Classic jersey on the official YouTube channel of the Minnesota Wild; see here:

Video: Wild Winter Classic Jersey Reveal. Source: Minnesota Wild YouTube (2021).

2. Nostalgia and its influence on the intention to buy the retro jersey via self-continuity, pride and team associations

The following section will elaborate on the variables assessed in this study and define the respective hypotheses to be tested. The conceptual framework proposed in Figure 1 will be applied to answer the research question proposed in the previous section.

2.1 Nostalgia

The traditional perspective of nostalgia “implies a separation or distance from an object to which one is attached” (Nawas and Platt, 1965, p. 53). Sedikides, Wildschut, Arndt, and Routledge (2008) specifically add the temporal component and define nostalgia “as a sentimental longing for one’s past” (p. 308). Combining these definitions, it can be noted that nostalgic attachment is based upon “the congruity between past, present, real or ideal self-image and those that [a consumer] has of the brand” and the “transfer of a person’s remembrances of the brand” (Kessous, Magnoni, and Valette-Florence, 2016, p. 287). Consequently, for this study, nostalgia is assessed with the question-items, ‘How much does the Minnesota Wild Winter Classic jersey 2022 remind me of the past of hockey?’, ‘How much does the jersey help me recall pleasant memories?’, and ‘How much does the jersey make me reminisce about a previous time?’ In regard to possible effects of nostalgia, research found that nostalgic feelings can positively impact the perceived continuous identity of a consumer, as well as feelings of pride of sports consumers (Khan and Hussainy, 2019; Chang et al., 2020). Furthermore, it can be posited that nostalgia can have a positive impact on team identification (Volkov, Morgan, and Summers, 2008), attachment (Kessous et al., 2016; Hidayati et al., 2021), and loyalty (Gladden and Funk, 2001). Lastly, nostalgic feelings can affect purchase intentions for sports apparel designed in retro style (Scola and Gordon, 2019). This leads to the definition of the following hypotheses:

  • H1: Nostalgia has a positive effect on self-continuity.
  • H2: Nostalgia has a positive effect on pride.
  • H3: Nostalgia has a positive effect on team identification.
  • H4: Nostalgia has a positive effect on team attachment.
  • H5: Nostalgia has a positive effect on team loyalty.
  • H6: Nostalgia has a positive effect on purchase intention.

2.2 Self-continuity

Self-continuity refers to the feeling of connection that consumers have with their past, the person they were in the past, and a certain degree of stability in their life (Sedikides et al., 2008). Therefore, the question-items applied in this research include: ‘I feel connected with my past’, ‘I feel connected with who I was in the past’, and ‘There is continuity in my life’. Marketing that evokes nostalgic emotions, with reference to consistency in a person’s identity or behaviour over a certain period of time, may foster positive attitudes towards a product and the intention to purchase it (Ju et al., 2016). Furthermore, Chang et al. (2020) found that self-continuity positively affects feelings of pride of a sports fan. Hence, the following hypotheses are proposed:

  • H7: Self-continuity has a positive effect on pride.
  • H8: Self-continuity has a positive effect on purchase intention.

2.3 Pride

A team’s past successes, as well as other memorable moments, can lay the foundation for nostalgic feelings that evoke feelings of pride in fans (Gordon et al., 2019). In addition, fans can proudly express their association with a team by wearing team-branded merchandise, which can also signify their loyalty towards the team (Apostolopoulou et al., 2012). Chang et al. (2016) define pride as “a positive appraisal emotion that makes individuals feel that they belong to a higher social status due to their achievements” (p. 148). Based upon that definition, this study examines the degree of pride with the following questions: ‘How much does the Minnesota Wild 2022 Winter Classic jersey make me want to tell others that I am a fan of the team?’, ‘How much does the jersey make me proud of the team?’, and ‘How much does the jersey make me feel pride because I am a fan of the Wild?’. Furthermore, pride can have a positive impact on team identification (Gordon et al., 2019), it can increase the level of attachment (Ullah et al., 2021), and foster team loyalty (Apostolopoulou et al., 2012). Therefore, the following is hypothesised:

  • H9: Pride has a positive effect on team identification.
  • H10: Pride has a positive effect on team attachment.
  • H11: Pride has a positive effect on team loyalty.
  • H12: Pride has a positive effect on purchase intention.

2.4 Team identification

Brand associations include attributes, benefits, and attitudes that consumers and fans think of when thinking about a brand or team (Aaker, 1991; Keller, 1993); in this research, it entails team identification, team attachment, and team loyalty. A strong identification with a sports brand is the result from the overlap between a fan’s self-schema and the team’s schema (Carlson and Donavan, 2013). Cunningham and Eastin (2017) adapt the definition proposed by Ashforth and Mael (1989) and see team identification as a fan’s “perception of the relationship between themselves and the sport team, even considering the successes and failures of the team as their own personal experiences” (p. 295). Hence, this study adopts items suggested by Mael and Ashforth (1992) and adapts them to the context at hand: ‘When someone praises the Wild, it feels like a personal compliment’, ‘When a person criticizes them, it feels like a personal insult’, ‘When the Wild lose a game, it feels like a personal failure’, and ‘When they win a game, it feels like a personal success’. Moreover, Branscombe and Wann (1991) add that “identification with a team will foster a sense of attachment among highly allegiant individuals, regardless of competition outcome or even overall team record” (p. 117). Also, highly invested sports fans may show a strong desire to purchase team-related products (Lee, 2021). The resulting hypotheses therefore are:

  • H13: Team identification has a positive effect on purchase intention.
  • H14: Team identification has a positive effect on team attachment.

2.5 Team attachment

From a generic perspective, attachment can be defined as a “multidimensional property of material object possession which represents the degree of linkage perceived by an individual between him/her self and a particular object” (Schultz, Kleine, and Kernan, 1989, p. 360). Accordingly, in the context of this study, team attachment is described as the perceived affective connection between a fan and a sports team and is assessed through the question-items, ‘How deeply passionate about the Minnesota Wild am I?’, ‘How deeply in love with the team am I?’, ‘Do I have a deep emotional connection to the team?’, and ‘Would I feel a sense of loss if the Wild would no longer exist?’. Team attachment can also have a positive effect on intentions to purchase branded merchandise (Chavanat, Martinent, and Ferrand, 2009) and on team/brand loyalty (Sen et al., 2015; Shimul, Phua, and Lwin, 2019). With that, the following hypotheses are:

  • H15: Team attachment has a positive effect on purchase intention.
  • H16: Team attachment has a positive effect on team loyalty.

2.6 Team loyalty

Mahony, Madrigal, and Howard (2000) explain that team loyalty is expressed through high behavioural consistency and a strong psychological commitment. This means, loyal fans are consistent in their behaviour to follow their team and stay committed to that allegiance. Such loyalty has been found to have a positive impact on purchase intentions (Calvo-Porral and Lang, 2015; Song and Ryu, 2016). In addition, Back and Parks (2003) suggest to consider consumers’ perceptions of a brand, i.e. team, and measure cognitive, conative, and affective loyalty, which in this research is undertaken with the following items: ‘Even if another team would play at the same time, I would still watch the Wild’ and ‘I consider the Wild to be my first choice for professional ice hockey’ for conative loyalty, and ‘I love watching the Minnesota Wild’ and ‘I like watching the Wild play, more so than watching other teams play’ for affective loyalty. Cognitive loyalty is not assessed in this study, because it is not deemed appropriate in regard to the affective context of the research subject. The last hypothesis of the study is defined as follows:

  • H17: Team loyalty has a positive effect on purchase intention.

2.7 Purchase intention

The purchase intention variable refers to the intention to buy the Minnesota Wild 2022 NHL Winter Classic jersey and is evaluated by utilising the question-items suggested by Putrevu and Lord (1994): ‘How much do I want the Minnesota Wild Winter Classic jersey 2022?’, ‘How likely is it that I will buy it?’ and ‘If possible, how likely is it that I will buy it?’. The control variable ‘team affiliation’ is added to the framework to assess, if purchase intention varies across fans of different teams.

The conceptual framework discussed above is illustrated in Figure 1 and will be analysed in section 4. The next section will address the surveyed sample.

Figure 1: Conceptual framework.

3. Respondents of this study

This study applied a positivist research philosophy and collected quantitative data through a self-administered online questionnaire. The questionnaire consisted of 24 items adapted from the literature discussed in the previous section and 4 additional questions on demographics of respondents. A 7-point Likert-scale ranging from 1 (Disagree very strongly) to 7 (agree very strongly) measured the recorded responses. Social media users, who follow the Minnesota Wild on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, were asked to participate in the study. NHL viewers on Amazon Mechanical Turk were also asked to participate in the survey. The questionnaire was open to respondents from 28 December 2021 to 2 January 2022 and recorded 155 valid responses, which were all accepted.

An overview of the surveyed sample is offered in Figure 2. The research registered a participation of 73% male, 24% female, and 3% non-binary respondents. A relatively even distribution across three age groups can be noted with the largest age groups including 25 to 34-year-olds (30%), 45 to 54-year-olds (23%), and 35 to 44-year-olds (22%). 62% of the participants live in Minnesota, USA, the home of the Minnesota Wild, and an additional 13% live outside of Minnesota in the USA, resulting in 75% of the sample living in the USA. The second-largest geographical cluster is Canada with 15%. The rest of the sample lives in a European country. Lastly, 69% of the participants support the Minnesota Wild and 4% do not support a specific team. However, 21 different team affiliations were recorded showing a wide range of supporters within the sample.

In summary, the sample of this study can be considered to mainly represent the views of a rather male audience across different age-groups, mainly from the USA, with a tendency to support the Minnesota Wild.

Figure 2: Demography of the sample (n=155).

4. Analysis

The following section will evaluate the variables discussed above in regard to how they are perceived by the surveyed sample (see section 4.1). The hypothesised causal relationships between the variables will be examined in section 4.2, and an assessment of how well the model proposed in Figure 1 fits the presented data will be offered in section 4.3. Managerial recommendations based on retro marketing through marketing communications will be offered in section 5.

The surveyed sample recorded a moderate-to-rather high degree of ‘nostalgia’. Although respondents clearly think that the Minnesota Wild 2022 NHL reminds them of the past of hockey (NOS1, M=5.52, SD=1.629), the jersey does only somewhat help them recall pleasant memories (NOS2, M=4.69, SD=1.847) or make them reminisce about previous times (NOS3, M=4.81, SD=1.817). This could be attributed to the fact that the jersey is per se a new uniform designed with a retro look in mind (NHL.com, 2021).

Furthermore, participants express a moderate-to-high degree of ‘self-continuity’. They feel connected with their past (SCO1, M=5.03, SD=1.613) and believe there is continuity in their lives (SCO3, M=5.26, SD=1.574). Yet, they do not necessarily feel connected with who they were in the past (SCO2, M=4.79, SD=1.779). Low standard deviation shows agreement among the sample.

The recorded data indicates a high degree of ‘pride’, especially among Wild fans. The jersey makes them want to tell others that they are a fan of the team (PRI1_Wild-fans, M=5.09, SD=1.776), it makes them proud of the team (PRI2_Wild-fans, M=5.45, SD=1.674), and it makes them feel pride because they are a fan of the Wild (PRI3_Wild-fans, M=5.27, SD=1.696). Nevertheless, a rather moderate standard deviation for all three items indicates relative agreement among Wild fans.

‘Team identification’ with the Minnesota Wild is moderate-to-rather low within the entire sample, as well as among Wild fans within the sample. Wild fans only somewhat think that when someone praises the Wild, it feels like a personal compliment (TID1_Wild-fans, M=4.38, SD=1.853), and they do not really think that when a person criticizes them, it feels like a personal insult (TID2_Wild-fans, M=3.81, SD=1.959). Even more so, when the Wild lose a game, it does not feel like a personal failure for the surveyed sample (TID3_Wild-fans, M=3.12, SD=1.940), nor does it really feel like a personal success if they win (TID4_Wild-fans, M=3.93, SD=2.095). Yet, these items recorded among the highest standard deviation across the entire questionnaire, especially with the Wild fans, meaning that there is considerable discrepancy regarding team identification among Wild fans in this sample.

Similarly, respondents express moderate ‘team attachment’. Wild fans are somewhat passionate about the team (TAT1_Wild-fans, M=4.90, SD=1.674), are slightly in love with the team (TAT2_Wild-fans, M=4.22, SD=1.903), have a moderate emotional connection to the team (TAT3_Wild-fans, M=4.35, SD=1.856), however, would feel a strong sense of loss, if the Wild would no longer exist (TAT4_Wild-fans, M=5.35, SD=1.807). The standard deviations for the four items are moderately high, which, again, shows a certain level of discrepancy among fans.

Different from the previous team associations, the collected data shows a high level of ‘team loyalty’ among the surveyed Minnesota Wild fans. They would still watch the Wild, even if another team would play at the same time (TLO1_Wild-fans, M=5.89, SD=1.441), they consider the Wild their first choice for professional hockey (TLO2_Wild-fans, M=6.12, SD=1.452), they love watching the Minnesota Wild (TLO3_Wild-fans, M=5.77, SD=1.512), and they like watching the Wild play, more so than watching other teams play (TLO4_Wild-fans, M=5.80, SD=1.612). The four items recorded the lowest standard deviation among Wild fans, which signifies high agreement among fans.

Lastly, the ‘purchase intention’ towards the Minnesota Wild 2022 NHL Winter Classic jersey is neutral, although a high standard deviation hints towards a wide range of opinions in that regard. Respondents are rather indifferent when asked if they want the jersey (PIN1, M=4.36, SD=2.019). Also, it is neither likely nor unlikely that they will buy the jersey (PIN2, M=3.66, SD=2.090), and it does not matter if the purchase would be possible to undertake or not (PIN3, M=3.91, SD=2.071). This could be attributed to how much someone likes the design of the jersey.

In summary, the Minnesota Wild’s 2022 NHL Winter Classic jersey evokes moderate-to-rather strong feelings of ‘nostalgia’; the surveyed sample shows a moderate-to-strong degree of ‘self-continuity’ and a high degree of ‘pride’, especially among Wild fans. ‘Team identification’ and ‘team attachment’ are both moderate, however, ‘team loyalty’ is strong. Yet, the intention to purchase the jersey is moderate. Figure 3 provides an overview of the data discussed above. The next section will elaborate on the causal relations between the variables introduced in section 2.

Figure 3: Overview items with ‘mean’ and ‘standard deviation’ for entire sample and only Wild-fans.

4.2 How does nostalgia influence pride and team associations of NHL spectators, and what is the resulting influence on the intention to purchase the Minnesota Wild 2022 NHL Winter Classic jersey?

The collected data was analysed with a confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) in IBM SPSS Amos 25 by applying the conceptual model proposed in Figure 1. This section will discuss the hypothesized relationships based upon the values computed from the CFA and illustrated in Figure 4.

This study finds that nostalgia has a positive and strong effect on self-continuity (H1, β=0.658, p<0.001) and a very strong effect on feelings of pride (H2, β=0.849, p<0.001). This means, if sports fans feel more nostalgic about the Wild’s 2022 Winter Classic jersey, the connection to their previous self may strengthen, which can then boost meaning in life (Van Tilburg et al., 2018), consequently, increasing the meaning about why the Winter Classic jersey matters for the respective fan. Also, nostalgia evokes feelings of pride in NHL viewers. Thus, the more nostalgic a viewer feels about the jersey, the prouder that viewer is about the Minnesota Wild team. Both findings are supported by Chang et al. (2020) in their respective context. However, no significant direct effects are found from nostalgia on team identification (H3, p=0.077), team attachment (H4, p=0.065), team loyalty (H5, p=0.209), and purchase intention (H6, p=0.462). It is noteworthy that the significance levels for H3 (p=0.077) and H4 (p=0.065) are only slightly above the suggested cut-off value of 0.05 and could be considered significant by certain marketers or researchers. That would then be supported by Lefi and Gharbi (2011) and Kessous et al. (2016), who found a direct positive effect from nostalgia to brand attachment.

Furthermore, self-continuity does not exert influence on the intention to buy the jersey (H8, p=0.352), nor on pride towards the Minnesota Wild (H7, p=0.942). Thus, in this regard, it does not matter how strong the connection is that NHL viewers have with their previous self, since it has no influence on their intention to purchase the jersey, nor on how proud the jersey makes them feel about the Wild. This could be attributed to the attitude of the responding sample towards the Wild’s Winter Classic jersey, which implies that if the jersey is unable to provide feelings of groundedness (i.e. connection to one’s past-self) to potential buyers, the product becomes less attractive (Eichinger, Schreiber, and van Osselaer, 2021). Results discussed in section 4.1 support this notion (see PIN1-3). Another explanation could be based upon the relatively young age of a large portion of the sample (see Figure 2). Khan and Hussainy (2018) found a positive effect from self-continuity to purchase intention and note that older generations are more ‘used to look back on their lives’, hinting towards a certain continuity, a notion supported by Oguz (2017). However, Chang et al. (2020) partially support the findings of this study and found no significant effect from self-continuity to the intention of a desired behaviour, as well as no significant effect from self-continuity to pride in a sample of long-time sports fans. Hence, based upon the notion that long-term fans may be more invested than short-time fans (Cottingham, 2012), the sample of this study could be considered to be more invested in ice hockey, and, therefore, feelings of pride may not be influenced by self-continuity.

Yet, this study finds that pride has a positive influence on team identification (H9, β=0.687, p<0.001), attachment (H10, β=0.432, p<0.01), loyalty (H11, β=0.406, p<0.05), and purchase intention (H12, β=0.419, p<0.05). These effects explain that the more the Winter Classic jersey can motivate NHL viewers to express their allegiance to the Minnesota Wild, the stronger the effect on their identification with, attachment to, and loyalty to the team will be (Gordon et al., 2019; Ullah et al., 2021; Apostolopoulou et al., 2012). Moreover, the findings show that if the jersey is able to heighten feelings of pride within NHL viewers, it can influence the intention to apply a behaviour desired by the brand, i.e. to purchase the jersey. This finds support in Chang et al. (2020).

Figure 4 depicts that team identification has no significant impact on purchase intention (H13, p=0.809), also found by Becerra and Badrinarayanan (2013), but a strong impact on attachment (H14, β=0.568, p<0.001), which parallels findings by Molinillo, Japutra, and Ekinci (2022). Consequently, by strengthening fans’ and other viewers’ identification with the Minnesota Wild, a deeper affective connection with the team, i.e. team attachment, can be developed. This becomes crucial, because this study further finds that team/brand attachment has a positive influence on purchase intention (H15, β=0.268, p<0.05), an argument supported by Hutter et al. (2013); hence, team attachment mediates the relationship between team identification and purchase intention. Lastly, team attachment exerts a very strong positive effect on team loyalty (H16, β=0.709, p<0.001), however, team loyalty has no significant effect on purchase intension (H17, p=0.682).

A last test includes the control variable ‘team affiliation’, which finds that it does not matter if a potential buyer of the jersey is a Wild-fan or supports another team. This means that viewers who do not support the Minnesota Wild may still be tempted or willing to purchase the Wild’s 2022 Winter Classic jersey. On the other hand, it also means that Wild-fans will not simply buy the jersey, because it is a jersey of the team they support.

Based upon the analysis offered above, two main indirect paths can be deduced: Path A offers the strongest indirect effect and identifies that nostalgia is mediated by feelings of pride evoked by the Minnesota Wild NHL 2022 Winter Classic jersey to influence the intention to purchase the jersey, i.e. H2 and H12. A solution that includes more variables may be offered with Path B; it leads from nostalgia to pride, that strongly impacts team identification, which then incites affective emotions to strengthen team attachment and finally influences purchase intention for the jersey, i.e. H2, H9, H14, and H15. Adding a wider variety of elements to the marketing model can offer further marketing communications opportunities and broaden the promotional mix (cf. Batra and Keller, 2016).

Figure 4: Conceptual framework. Standardised regression coefficients (β), R-squared (R2), significance (p).

4.3 How well does the model fit the data?

Internal consistency is found to be good-to-excellent due to all Cronbach’s Alpha (α) values measuring above the recommended 0.7 for the applied scales (Saunders, Lewis, and Thornhill, 2007); see Figure 5. Likewise, all composite reliability (CR) values measure above the suggested 0.6 and average variance extracted (AVE) above the recommended 0.5, except for TAT (AVE=.450). However, since the internal consistency of the TAT scale measures α=.899, it can be accepted (Fornell and Larcker, 1981). Furthermore, all items recorded factor loadings of 0.6 and higher and can be included in the analysis. The model fit was computed with IBM SPSS Amos 25 and calculated the following values: CMIN/DF=1.684, RMSEA=.067, CFI=.960, NFI=.907, TLI=.950, GFI=.859, PCFI=.773. The values indicate an acceptable-to-excellent model fit.

Figure 5: Overview of question-items including factor loading, Cronbach’s Alpha (α), composite reliability (CR) and average variance extracted (AVE).

5. Recommendations on how to approach retro marketing for the Minnesota Wild’s 2022 NHL Winter Classic jersey with marketing communications

According to Kotler and Keller (2012), marketing seeks to “introduce and gain acceptance of new products that ease or enrich people’s lives” (p. 4). This can be accomplished with marketing communications campaigns that lead target audiences through their purchase decision process (Fill and Osmond, 2017). Batra and Keller (2016) suggest eight objectives along the customer journey that aim to influence the decision-making process; given that the influence on consumers varies between promotional channels, appropriate channels need to be identified and attributed to respective objectives.

This section will discuss the eight marketing communications objectives as proposed by Batra and Keller (2016) and will recommend promotional channels deemed appropriate to achieve the respective objective in the context of this study. Retro marketing will be applied as strategy, and possible applicable tactics will be suggested based upon the findings of this study discussed in section 4 and extant literature.

Note on the following recommendations: This article was written after the 2022 NHL Winter Classic campaign ended. Therefore, some of the marketing communications activities undertaken by the NHL or the Minnesota Wild to promote the jersey may not be accessible or visible anymore, or difficult to find through desk research. Hence, some of the recommended tactics in the following sections may have been executed by the NHL or Minnesota Wild, but were not found by the author.

5.1 Create awareness and salience about the Wild’s retro jersey through promotional social media content

Batra and Keller (2016) explain, “The foundation of all brand and marketing efforts is creating awareness and ensuring that the brand is sufficiently salient and thought of in the right way at the right times and right places” (p. 131). A popular approach is the tactical use of social media to reach the target audience (Hutter et al., 2013). The jersey could be shown in posts that are entertaining, interactive, trendy, customized, and promotional in nature in order to strengthen awareness (Bilgin, 2018). Furthermore, given that team identification can increase brand awareness (Tsuji, Bennett, and Leigh, 2009), contents of social media posts should aim at fostering identification with the Minnesota Wild. This is especially important in the case at hand, since team identification is found to be moderate for the sample of this study; see section 4.1.

Although the NHL was effective in promoting 2022 Winter Classic merchandise and generated more than USD 10 million with sales of jerseys, knit hats, blankets, fleece, and gloves (NHL PR Twitter, 2022a), a look at related social media posts indicates potential for improvement. A possible tactic is to produce social media content and other visuals in retro-look to evoke intensive mental images (Bambauer-Sachse and Gierl, 2009; Scola, 2019). A distinct visual identity based upon retro design contributes towards an immersive brand experience and may have a lasting impression on fans and consumers (Pine and Gilmore, 1999). Figure 6 illustrates promotional photos with Minnesota Wild captain Jared Spurgeon sporting the 2022 NHL Winter Classic retro jersey. Although the jersey is designed in a retro look, the presentation may not be considered ‘retro’ or ‘vintage’. The same applies to the promotional video used to reveal the jersey; see Minnesota Wild YouTube (2021). The video is presented with modern visuals and effects; however, a retro visualisation may be more effective in evoking nostalgic emotions and, consequently, strengthen awareness (Pascal, Sprott, and Muehling, 2002).

Figure 6: Promotional photos for the Minnesota Wild 2022 NHL Winter Classic jersey. Source: Minnesota Wild Facebook (2021).

5.2 Convey detailed information through email marketing and the website/web shop

As noted in a previous article (see Mereu, 2020a), “Holistic brand experiences include an educational component through which consumers can learn about a brand in order to make informed decisions such as whether or not to buy the brand’s products or services (Pine and Gilmore, 1999). The same applies to an online environment, where information is shared via, for example, a brand’s website or newsletter. McCarville and Stinson (2014) note that consumers feel more comfortable about a brand when they find or receive value-adding information, which means brands should simplify the flow of information about their products and services. Hence, it becomes essential to create a well-organised and easy to navigate virtual experience that offers visually appealing and value-adding content underlining the purpose of the website or newsletter (Palmer, 2002; Ryan, 2016).” This means, the target audience that subscribed to the newsletter could be informed about the jersey and its respective product details via email, possibly repeatedly, from the introduction of the jersey until after the Winter Classic; the same details could be offered in the web shop. A mock-up for a possible marketing email is exemplified in Figure 7, which could be used to introduce the Wild’s retro jersey. The email should include an appropriate number of visuals that educate recipients about the product and, therefore, heighten their knowledge about the promoted item (Schmitt, 1999).

Figure 7: Marketing email mock-up.

Figure 8 shows the jersey’s product page on the NHL web shop. The sections ‘Details’ and ‘Description’ do not appear in the web shop; possibly, because the jersey is out of stock at the time of the writing of this article. They were added to Figure 8 to illustrate that the product page should include enough detailed information for the target audience to obtain a clear idea of what they can expect if or when they purchase the jersey (Palmer, 2002).

Furthermore, detailed information about the jersey was offered via a press release on the official Minnesota Wild website (see NHL.com, 2021) and distributed via social media (e.g. Minnesota Wild PR Twitter, 2021).

Figure 8: NHL web shop Minnesota Wild adidas Green 2022 Winter Classic Authentic Jersey. Source: Minnesota Wild NHL web shop (2022a); adapted by the author.

5.3 Create brand imagery and personality through promotional content

Aaker (1997) defines brand personality as “the set of human characteristics associated with a brand” (p. 347), which includes sincerity, excitement, competence, sophistication, and ruggedness. Thus, the Wild’s 2022 Winter Classic retro jersey can benefit from a clear personality that fittingly combines these characteristics. Such a brand personality can be directly developed with advertising, by transferring the personality of, for example, a player in the advertisement, or indirectly, through the personality derived from the meaning of the retro jersey (Ouwersloot and Tudorica, 2001). Fans and supporters display their association with the team to enhance their self-esteem (Gladden and Funk, 2002; Smith and Stewart, 2010); this may be stimulated by the team’s social and cultural influence in behavioural norms and could affect values, attitudes, and practices of fans and other consumers (Bouchet, Hillairet, and Bodet, 2013). Accordingly, building a relationship between the social meaning of the jersey and fans, or other potential buyers of the jersey, can exercise an effective indirect transfer (Schmitt, 1999).

Here, consideration should be given to self-congruity, since it has a strong connection to a person’s identity assessed over time (Ju et al., 2016). Results in section 4.1 show a moderately high level of self-congruity among respondents, which may imply a consistent idea about their personality. Hence, the imagery and personality of the jersey needs to either match the personality of the fans or it needs to be based upon personality characteristics appealing to potential buyers. As shown in Figure 6, a direct transfer of personality is aimed by employing Jared Spurgeon, captain of the Minnesota Wild and, therefore, a respectable character of the team, as the messenger by wearing the jersey in promotional marketing material. Indirect personality transfer is offered with communication such as in Figure 9, highlighting the meaning of the retro jersey, ‘made to represent everyone in the State of Hockey’. The term ‘State of Hockey’ was further used in the 2022 Winter Classic merchandise line of the Minnesota Wild, which supported the imagery and personality transfer (Scola and Gordon, 2019).

Figure 9: Instagram post Adidas Hockey and Minnesota Wild referring to Minnesota as the ‘State of Hockey’. Source: Adidas Hockey Instagram (2021).

5.4 Build trust through public relations

A previous ‘Sports Business Research Academy’ article (see Mereu, 2020b) notes that “[a] company promotes and protects its image, products and services through public relations (PR), which traditionally includes press/media relations, i.e. presenting positive news and information about the organization, product publicity, i.e. sponsoring efforts to publicize specific products, corporate communications, i.e. promoting understanding of the organization through internal and external communications, […] (Kotler and Keller, 2012). The goal for the company is to receive publicity from third-party media outlets that are perceived as unbiased and neutral sources (Schwartz et al., 2013). This helps the company and its stakeholders “adapt mutually to each other” (Fetchko et al., 2019, p. 276).” Hence, marketing PR can enhance the credibility of the Wild’s retro jersey and strengthen trust in the authenticity of the idea behind its retro design (Du Plessis et al., 2006).

A Google News search for ‘2022 NHL Winter Classic’ on 15 January 2022 suggests about 982’000 results and includes articles from American media companies such as CNN, USA Today, and CBS Sports, as well as sports-specific publications like The Athletic or ESPN, to local media like the Star Tribune, or publications abroad like L’Équipe (France) or SRF (Switzerland). This underlines the popularity of the event and the interest of the media to cover the event. The NHL and the Minnesota Wild could take advantage of the popularity and interest and point the media towards the story behind the retro jersey with a series of press releases in order to shape a favourable attitude towards the jersey (Fetchko et al., 2019). Topics and stories for a press release could include: the unveiling of the jersey (as exemplified in Figure 10), the launch of the complete collection, an update on the amount of merchandise sold, conveying new detailed information on the jersey and its collection, offering interview opportunities with the designer or brand manager of the jersey, among other topics and stories (PR Web, 2020).

Figure 10: Minnesota Wild unveils its 2022 NHL Winter Classic jersey. Source: Minnesota Wild PR Twitter (2021).

5.5 Elicit emotions through events and publicity

Emotions can be elicited with affective brand experiences through appropriate promotional vehicles (Pine and Gilmore, 1999). These could build associations with the promoted product or brand via classical conditioning (Belch and Belch, 2003). Advertising, PR, events, and social media can be the most influential marketing communications channels to elicit emotions (Batra and Keller, 2016). Schmitt (1999) notes that having the product presented through face-to-face interactions can incite strong feelings. Therefore, marketers may want to employ a person closely associated with the team, probably a star player, that adds credibility to the message and familiarity to the experience (Fetchko et al., 2019). Consequently, the Minnesota Wild had the captain of the team pose with the retro jersey in promotional contents for online use, as shown in Figure 6 and Figure 10. Also, the franchise had Nick Bjugstad, a Minnesota Wild player and Minnesota native (NHL.com, 2022), present the jersey at a Minnesota Twins baseball game at Target Field, the stadium where the 2022 NHL Winter Classic would be played; see Figure 11.

Figure 11: Minnesota Wild’s Nick Bjugstad presents 2022 NHL Winter Classic jersey at Minnesota Twins baseball game. Source: Minnesota Wild Twitter (2021).

Although the above-mentioned activities may nurture overall team and brand attractiveness, and possibly product attractiveness, by cultivating likeability, familiarity, and similarity with the fans and further target audience (Onwumechili, 2018), they miss the retro or nostalgia perspective. According to Schmitt (1999), nostalgia builds powerful attachments to ‘icons’, and icons tell stories that become cultural and societal myths (Holt, 2004). Schmitt (1999) may refer to icons as non-human branding assets, yet, characteristics of icons can be identified in athletes, managerial staff, sports celebrities, and influencers (Onwumechili, 2018); in the case at hand, this may refer to retired athletes or managers, etc., who can remind spectators of previous times. Holt (2004) refers to them as cultural icons. The chosen cultural icons should evoke nostalgia through their personality traits and communicative efforts, which, according to Wildschut et al. (2006), can foster social bonds, increase positive self-regard, and create positive affect. Additionally, it may position the brand as less commercial and more personal (Rein et al., 2006). Many such icons from ice hockey and other local sports teams were invited to the 2022 NHL Winter Classic main event (O’Leary, 2022). However, it may have had a stronger effect on the promotion of the retro jersey, if select icons would have presented the jersey at various events, e.g. during pre-game celebrations, over a certain period of time, given that nostalgia and team history are considered to have a strong impact on team associations (Scola and Gordon, 2019).

5.6 Inspire action through email marketing and sales promotions

Ideally, at this point of the customer journey, fans and other potential customers have been made aware that the Minnesota Wild 2022 NHL Winter Classic jersey exists, learned details about the jersey, understood what it stands for, learned about its legitimacy as an official jersey, have grown fond of it, and hence, the next step is for the NHL or Minnesota Wild to inspire the target audience to act and purchase the jersey (Batra and Keller, 2016). Email marketing is considered an effective tool to inspire action online (Hudak, Kianickova, and Madlenak, 2017). A desired action, e.g. ‘buy now’ or ‘learn more’, can be encouraged with defined and applied call-to-action components, which include the introduction of the product with an appropriate sales message and a visually emphasized call-to-action button appropriately placed in the email (Kumar and Salo, 2016).

The mock-up in Figure 7 depicts a coloured ‘Buy now’ call-to-action button appropriately placed ‘above the fold’ of the email, which makes it visible to the recipient of the email without having to scroll (Ryan, 2014). Another example is offered in Figure 12 with a screenshot of the official web shop, displaying a promotional offer of “25% off orders over $49”, which seeks to lower the threshold price that fans and consumers are ready to pay and stimulate the purchase (Fetchko et al., 2019); adding a visual of the retro jersey in the window with the headline ‘jerseys’ would offer more reach to the product and generate more traffic to the product page exhibited in Figure 8.

Figure 12: Official Minnesota Wild web shop. Source: Minnesota Wild NHL web shop (2022b).

In order to improve the possible success of the examples in Figure 7 and Figure 12, retro or nostalgia marketing characteristics should be added to the visuals of the retro jersey. This could include designing the visuals in a retro or vintage look (Scola and Gordon, 2019) or have a cultural icon present the jersey that represents a certain story or era of the team (Holt, 2004). A similar approach is illustrated in Figure 13; the NHL PR Twitter feed offers social media posts under the topic ‘This date in history’ and designs the visuals in a retro look.

Figure 13: A ‘This date in history’ NHL PR tweet. Source: NHL PR Twitter (2022b).

5.7 Instil loyalty through website, social media, and email newsletter

After inspiring fans and consumers to engage in a desired action, e.g. to purchase the Wild’s retro jersey, the company should seek to instil loyalty (Batra and Keller, 2016). Although, this study found no significant effect from team loyalty to purchase intention, see section 4.2, a variety of extant research found a significant direct effect between the two variables (e.g. Carlson and O’Cass, 2012; Biscaia et al., 2013; Lee et al., 2013; Song and Ryu, 2016). Fostering loyalty can be considered essential in marketing communications, because it results from a holistic brand experience (Brakus, Schmitt, and Zarantonello, 2009). The brand experience should be built upon the four realms ‘sensory, ‘intellectual’, ‘affective’, and ‘behavioural’ in order to impact loyalty (Pine and Gilmore, 1999; Schmitt, 1999; Brakus et al., 2009). Effective channels for the delivery of said brand experience can include the website, email newsletter, social media and their respective contents (Cleff, Walter, and Jing, 2018; Almohaimmeed, 2019), and, for the case at hand, messages that promote the retro jersey should be framed with characteristics that evoke nostalgia (Yocco, 2016; Scola and Gordon, 2019).

Thus, the ‘sensory’ realm refers to visual characteristics utilised to convey messages about the Minnesota Wild retro jersey, which are expected to be designed in a retro-look (Bambauer-Sachse and Gierl, 2009; Scola, 2019); the ‘intellectual’ realm aims to deliver value-adding information about the jersey to make fans and consumers feel comfortable about choosing the product (McCarville and Stinson, 2014); the ‘affective’ realm seeks to stimulate emotions that are triggered by stories of previous times told by cultural icons related to the team (Schmitt, 1999; Holt, 2004); and the ‘behavioural’ realm offers consumers the opportunity to be immersed in the brand experience by directly contributing to the experience (Pine and Gilmore, 1999), which could include encouraging users to post pictures of themselves on social media wearing the Winter Classic jersey with a dedicated hashtag and engage with others who post similar pictures (Sutera, 2013). This kind of user-generated content activity leads to the next objective.

5.8 Connect people through mobile and social media

Batra and Keller (2016) explain, “High consumption satisfaction should lead to brand repurchase behavior and loyalty, but this may not, by itself, create brand advocacy” (p. 132). In order to develop and maintain such advocacy, fans and consumers should be encouraged to connect and engage with like-minded others (Sutera, 2013). The ubiquity of smartphones and social media underlines the use of mobile and social media as main communication channels through which people can interact and connect (Newman et al., 2013). According to Vale and Fernandes (2018), social media engagement behaviour is mainly influenced by the need for information, empowerment, and brand love; therefore, fans should be offered informative social media posts about the retro jersey, and they should be encouraged to engage in discussions with others through contributions like comments, likes, shares, and photos and videos. Also, the company should ensure that fans and consumers feel as if they belong to the brand and the community around the team by bolstering a sense of belonging between fans and the company (Yocco, 2016), which, then, could reinforce emotional intensity, devotion, and consolation (Frederick, Lim, and Walsh, 2012).

As described in section 5.7, the Minnesota Wild could incite followers to share photos or videos of themselves wearing the retro jersey, or other items from the collection, on social media with a dedicated hashtag, e.g. #BeWinterClassic. Such user-generated contributions and the resulting conversations can form affective connections between the team and its followers and among followers (Coleman, 2018). In addition, encouraging followers to reveal and parade their affiliation with the team online to possibly millions of others, offers the opportunity to shape the brand experience with the online community (Sutera, 2013). Figure 14 portrays a fictitious post that could connect people in the context of the Minnesota Wild 2022 NHL Winter Classic jersey.

Figure 14: A fictitious post to encourage followers to participate and connect with each other.

The discourse in this section elaborated on the eight marketing communications objectives, as suggested by Batra and Keller (2016), with the aim to incite purchase intention for the Minnesota Wild 2022 NHL Winter Classic jersey. It further discussed the attribution of appropriate marketing communications channels to achieve said objectives, and recommended respective retro marketing tactics. The next section will conclude the research by answering the research question proposed in section 1, mention limitations and possible future research.

6. Conclusion

The presented study answered the research question, ‘How does nostalgia influence feelings of pride of NHL spectators and their respective associations with the team, and what is the resulting influence on the intention to purchase the Minnesota Wild 2022 NHL Winter Classic jersey?’ Data was collected from a sample of 155 NHL viewers mainly from the USA and analysed through a confirmatory factor analysis. The research found two main indirect causal paths from nostalgia to purchase intention, as depicted in Figure 15. Path A illustrates that nostalgia is mediated by feelings of pride elicited by the Minnesota Wild NHL 2022 Winter Classic jersey to positively influence the intention to purchase the jersey. Path B, on the other hand, shows nostalgia positively influencing pride, which then positively affects team identification; team identification elicits emotions to positively enhance team attachment, which ultimately exerts a positive influence on the intention to purchase the jersey. Interestingly, no direct effect was found from nostalgia to purchase intention, nor from team loyalty to purchase intention.

The findings analysed in section 4.2 and the descriptive findings analysed in section 4.1 informed marketing communications tactics with consideration to retro marketing recommended in section 5. The recommended tactics represent an implementation along the customer journey, from creating awareness, informing consumers, forming personality, building trust, evoking feelings, inspiring action, creating loyalty, and connecting people, while focusing on retro characteristics to maximise the effectiveness of the message and its aim.

The main limitation of this research is the relatively small sample size (n=155). Future research should test the proposed model with a larger sample. Furthermore, it would be interesting to examine the model with reference to demographics, geographical areas, and geodemographics of sports consumers, as well as investigating the model in the context of sports other than ice hockey.

This article ads to the relatively small body of knowledge regarding the effects of nostalgia on the purchase intention of sports merchandise in professional ice hockey. Moreover, it successfully proposes a conceptual framework that adds team associations, i.e. team identification, attachment, and loyalty, to an established ‘nostalgia’-‘pride’-‘purchase intention’ framework.

Figure 15: The two main paths of influence.

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