Once the calendar year changed to 1990, it seemed that many teams in the NHL decided to scrap their beloved, identifiable, traditional uniforms, which many teams had had since their inception, for a whole new, flashy, unique look. The same can be said for the NFL in the 2000s. With Oregon’s reign of wild uniforms, college football has gone from simple, recognizable uniforms to wild, exciting uniforms in their efforts to woo recruits. What went wrong with their old look? What caused those in charge to change their programs identity? If college and professional sports programs change their identities back to their former glory, or at least simplify their current brand, then they become more connected with their fans.
Let’s look at teams in the NHL as an example, since some of the programs are already shifting back towards their old brands. According to the NHL’s public relations committee, thirteen out of the top fifteen current best selling jerseys come from franchises who have either had their current look since their inception or have resorted back to it in recent years. The Pittsburgh Penguins, who in 2002 parted ways with their traditional Pittsburgh Gold and Black look for a more modern Vegas Gold, returned to their former colors this season. With their transition, their new jerseys are in the top ten in the NHL in sales. The same can be said for Toronto, who introduced a more “heritage” look this season.
People identify with sports teams just as they would with an ideology or political party. Sports teams seemingly act as an extension of oneself. Teams offer not just a connection with sport and its fans, but also aesthetic tastes. Traditionalists enjoy the simplistic look of Alabama’s football team or the Detroit Red Wings. When teams change their brand, they are connecting with a more modern generation of fans. But when they transition back, like the Pittsburgh Penguins, you experience a community coming together under one new, unifying look that bridges the older generation with the younger one.
The problem with traditional uniforms, however, is that the younger generation is much more intrigued by them. Recruits state that a team’s uniform is a part of the process of choosing a team. Many of them even claim that more traditional uniforms are unsatisfactory. While uniforms aren’t necessarily what gets recruits to choose their team, it’s what gets their attention to begin with. However, I believe winning can do the same thing. Alabama, for example, has been one of the more dominant programs of late, and they have done nothing to change their uniforms.
While I may be a traditionalist who wants to enjoy the sport for the game, not what each team looks like, I understand why people enjoy the new uniform craze. There will come a time when the craze will die down, and then teams can work to bridge communities together more than ever before.
Photo by Michel Curi