Business development / Design / Social media / Sports

How Wilmington’s Barn Creative made it to the Hockey Hall of Fame

Not one but two of The Barn's custom helmets are on display at the HHoF in Toronto, thanks in part to Twitter.

Hockey Hall of Fame VP Phil Pritchard and Nick Matarese, founder of The Barn, with the Winter Classic helmet. (Courtesy photo)
The Barn Creative founder Nick Matarese has always been a big hockey fan. It’s part of the reason the firm specializes in sports branding.

The Barn’s biggest client is NBC Sports, and network likes the Wilmington company’s work enough that it has an arrangement that Matarese and his team can pitch large-scale ideas to them, and if it likes them, it’ll buy them.

The Winter Classic hockey helmet came about through one of these pitches.

“One of the ideas was vinyl wrapping goalie helmets,” Matarese told “Hockey is very near and dear to us here, so we pitched it as a cool, hyper-customized prop for the TV event.”

Such custom, one-of-a-kind helmets are generally very expensive and take weeks to make, but the Barn uses a technique where it can make them as quickly as two to three days. NBC Sports liked the idea and agreed to a couple helmets, the first one for the Winter Classic, which included a custom crate made at Nextfab.

“And it went crazy,” Matarese said. “It got on TV, they decided to raffle it off online during the game and it had 4,000 entries in 24 hours.”

It was a standard Twitter contest in which, to enter, people just needed to retweet and say they wanted to win.

“It’s the way of the internet — someone tweeted ‘I would love to win this and give it to the Hall of Fame.’ Because the Hockey Hall of Fame (HHoF) had just announced a new section called ‘The Mask,’ and they’re collecting all of these masks throughout time,” he said. “And he tags Phil Pritchard, the ‘Keeper of the Cup’ and vice president of the Hall of Fame.”

Pritchard soon tweeted back that he thought it was a great idea, and was soon contacting Matarese directly.

“He was like, ‘Hey, I know you’re raffling off that helmet, but what can we do to get it?'” said Matarese. “Legally, it needed to be raffled off, because we stated it as being raffled off, but with the process that we use we can clone it, so it’s the exact same helmet. It was just organic digital conversation, someone tags this person, someone tags that person, and now the Hockey Hall of Fame’s like, ‘Yeah, we absolutely want this.’ It happened so quickly and so organically.”

During the conversation about putting the Winter Classic helmet into the HHoF, it came up that The Barn had also created a custom helmet for Ann-Renée Desbiens, member of the 2018 Canadian Olympic hockey team and goalie for Wisconsin’s Fond du Lac Bears, for the first women’s event at an NHL All-Star game. Soon they were making arrangements for that helmet to go to the HHoF, too.

Ann-Renée Desbiens' Barn-designed All-Stars helmet

Ann-Renée Desbiens’ Barn-designed All-Stars helmet. (Courtesy image)

Matarese and his family got to go up to Toronto to see the helmets at the HHoF and to meet Pritchard. To his surprise, Matarese found that some of the hockey collectibles he and his brother had held on to over the years were rarer than they thought.

“There’s a small thing my brother and I both have from like ’94 — they made a peanut butter called [former Pittburgh Penguin] Jaromir Jagr. I’ve got [a jar] with the peanut butter still inside,” he said. When he mentioned it, “[Pritchard] jolts over: ‘I want that.'”

It’s that kind of deep passion, coupled with sharp designs, that have NFL Sports reupping their contract with a shift away from projects where The Barn is told what to do to ones where it has more creative control.

“When I pitched the goalie helmets to NBC,” Matarese said, “I was like, ‘We can do very well,’ and they said, ‘We believe you.'”

The Delaware Thunder, Delaware’s Federal Hockey League team that launched its first season last fall in Harrington, which The Barn branded, is also getting some rep at the HHoF thanks to the custom helmets.

“I just got an email yesterday [from the HHoF] asking if we had any jerseys for the Delaware Thunder and the [Columbus] Cottonmouths branding that we did,” he said.

In addition to NBC Sports, The Barn is also branding The Midnight Riders, Delaware’s semi-professional soccer team with the First State Football Club, and has another school branding contract on the horizon.

Companies: The Barn

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