Jake Mednick and Tom McCole built their company Babsocks around Mike Babcock being the heroic coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the man who would finally lead the team and its long-suffering fan-base back to glory after nearly 50 years in hockey purgatory. Babcock, though, was fired by the Leafs last week. So now what?
Well, it turns out that Mednick and McCole had moved on from Babcock before the Leafs did. Babsocks had been rechristened as Major League Socks just one week prior to the fiery coach’s dismissal, the result of a comprehensive brand overhaul overseen by Juniper Park\TBWA, where Jake’s brother Tom is an ACD.
The timing led at least one person to joke on social media that the co-founders possessed some insider knowledge about what was about to go down in Leaf-land, giving them time to pivot away from the company’s (sort-of) namesake.
“The timing has been good for us, I suppose, but it had nothing to do with Babcock,” stresses Mednick, who says they actually began the process about 18 months ago. “We were just trying to cater to new markets [and] we’ve got all the failed brand names to prove it.”
Among the proposed new names for Babsocks that didn’t make it to the sock drawer: Front Office Promotions (“If you asked me to explain what we were thinking I wouldn’t be able to explain it to you at all,” says Mednick), and My Fanchise.
Mednick and McCole still have a lot of fondness for the latter name, except people kept mistakenly referring to it as My Franchise. “It just wasn’t tenable long-term to have people typing in the wrong website name,” says Mednick.
That said, clever wordplay was at the core of the company when it got its start in 2015. At the time, Mednick, a long-serving employee with the City of Toronto’s parks and recreation department, jokingly suggested to the guys in his men’s hockey league that they should put then new Toronto Maple Leafs head coach’s likeness on a pair of socks.
“I had a history of making a lot of really good jokes, and eventually one landed,” cracks Mednick, who would go on to create Babsocks with a fellow hockey enthusiast named Tom McCole, then a student at George Brown College.
While the original Babsocks still account for the bulk of the company’s sales—helped by a 2016 in-case promotion with Molson Coors Brewing Company, timed to coincide with that year’s World Cup of Hockey, that saw special Team Canada Babsocks inserted into 375,000 cases of Molson Canadian and Coors Light—the rebrand reflects its dramatically expanded product assortment.
The partners struck a deal with the NHL Alumni Association just before last season, and followed that with a deal with the NHL Players’ Association earlier this year. Major League Socks’ all-star sock lineup now features more than 80 current and former NHLers, ranging from modern-day stars including Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid and Brent Burns, to legends of the game like Gordie Howe, Guy Lafleur and Wayne Gretzky.
They’ve also earned some love from the hockey community. Former NHLer—and social media star—Paul Bissonnette has used his Major League Socks likeness as his profile pic on Instagram (where he has more than 340,000 followers), while former Philadelphia Flyers star Eric Lindros recently tweeted a picture of himself wearing a pair of socks bearing the likeness of legendary Flyers goalie Bernie Parent.
Getting ready to host #SeeTheLine with my good luck @bernieparent socks. Go @NHLFlyers pic.twitter.com/caY3zo3UwZ
— Eric Lindros (@88EricLindros) August 15, 2019
The rebrand, meanwhile, leans heavily into the core brand element of Major League Socks, which is their cartoon renderings of hockey stars. All of the designs are by California artist Felix Ding, a friend-of-a-friend referral who has been with Major League Socks since its inception.
“Major League Socks is one of the rare retail brands with humour at its core,” says Nathalie Cusson, creative director of design at Juniper Park\TBWA, of the rebrand. “We created a new wordmark and established a flexible but logical and robust design system that allows for variety while keeping things consistent and recognizable.”
The new name is also a nice fit with a company that has serious ambitions to grow its footprint in North America—which accounted for about one-quarter of the estimated global US$26 billion sock market last year.
“I like the idea that you’re calling up your socks from the minors to the majors,” says Mednick of the new name. “There are socks, and then there are Major League Socks. In the same way there is tissue but then there’s Kleenex, this isn’t just a pair of socks. It’s something different from every other pair of socks on earth.
“It’s a major league sock.”
The company’s brightly coloured, distinctive socks are also on-trend, with research suggesting that men are increasingly turning away from basic black and white tube socks in favour of colourful socks that subtly allow them to express their personality.
The Major League Socks rebrand is being accompanied by a social media campaign (also from Juniper Park\TBWA) that jokingly declares a war on pants—which, of course, are the only thing preventing Major League Socks wearers from showing off their nifty socks.
The ads point out that the new licensing deal with the NHLPA means a “sock for every fan,” although there remains a large untapped sports market out there. The co-founders’ goal is to establish relationships with all four major North American pro leagues within two years. Both huge soccer fans, they would also love to strike a deal with the English Premier League at some point.
Even without the participation of other major pro leagues, however, there’s definitely something afoot with Major League Socks. The company is on track for $1 million in sales this year, due to a strong retail presence that includes several prominent Canadian sports banners including Pro Hockey Life, Sport Chek and National Sports, as well as the U.S. retailer Fanatics.
The socks are also available at all official NHL stores in Canada and several in the U.S., as well as several NHL arenas including Madison Square Garden and TD Garden, plus some mom and pop retailers. The partners are also actively looking to grow their U.S. retail footprint, with Mednick citing big-box retailers like Dick’s Sporting Goods as a perfect destination.
But all that is in the future. Right now, Major League Socks is gearing up for what its co-founders hope will be a major holiday sales period. “This is the time to really move some socks,” says Mednick with a laugh. “This is playoff time.”