In 1995, the National Hockey League’s New York Islanders undertook one of the most notorious rebranding efforts in the history of professional sports. In addition to unveiling a new mascot and hiring a new coach, the Islanders abandoned their original logo, which featured the bold letters “NY” and a simple map of Long Island, in favor of a grimacing, cartoon fisherman wearing a rain slicker and gripping a hockey stick. The fisherman jerseys, which also included ocean waves across the bottom and lighthouse patches on the shoulders, were the products of a period when many NHL franchises entrusted a nascent sports branding industry with updating their looks, hoping to imitate the strong sales of the fashion-forward jerseys worn by the league’s three California teams, the Los Angeles Kings, the San Jose Sharks, and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.
In an era of escalating player salaries that endangered cash-strapped, small-market franchises, the Islanders looked to the fisherman brand as a way of raising revenues with little cost and differentiating the suburban team from the big-city New York Rangers. However, the rebranding campaign suffered from a lack of consumer research, the perceived abandonment of the team’s championship heritage, dubious trades, poor on-ice performance, and negative media coverage. The press infamously compared the fisherman logo to the mascot for Gorton’s frozen seafood, and the last-place Islanders skated onto the ice to derisive chants such as “We Want Fish Sticks!” on the road and “No More Fish Sticks!” at home. The Islanders wore the fisherman jerseys for only two seasons, in 1995-1996 and 1996-1997, before returning to the original crest.
In order to fill a gap on an understudied period in hockey branding history and offer a model for sports marketers today, this historical study identifies and examines the factors that marred the Islanders rebrand. The narrative is conveyed through an analysis of period newspapers and magazines, television broadcasts, team programs, fan newsletters, and archival documents, as well as oral history interviews with fifty-one people associated with the Islanders at the time, including logo designers, players, executives, broadcasters, and fans.