April 25, 2013
Most Seinfeld fans recall the episode when George lobbied to change the Yankees uniforms from polyester to cotton. After all, how could we possibly expect professional athletes to bake in the sun whilst eagerly awaiting a pop fly?
So, jerseys were changed. Games were lost. And George learned that cotton, while comfortable, made players lackadaisical. The new cotton jerseys were ushered out the door — and it was back to polyester.
Reading news of the Vikings uniform change yesterday, I was instantly brought back to that Seinfeld episode and left wondering how the change will impact the team.
Uniform changes are like “old faithful” when it comes to marketing tactics. When they’re done well, that is. Many collegiate and professional sports teams rely on uniform changes to elevate fan excitement during the offseason, garner media coverage and attract the attention of top talent (a la recruitment).
But, does a new uniform and visual identity translate into the kind of ROI fans hope for while cheering on the home team? It seems like it may. During the past 20 years, many teams have changed their uniforms. And it appears teams have typically fared better in the inaugural season of the new uniform than in previous seasons. Granted, it isn’t sustained success or a guarantee. But it seems the new uniform identities create a renewed sense of pride and camaraderie for the team and fans, resulting in better performance.
Maybe the finger crossing, unwashed jersey wearing and nail biting does nothing. Maybe we just needed new jerseys.
The Seattle Seahawks were the talk of the town last year when they unveiled new uniforms with a prominent change, the addition of neon green. Negative criticism of the uniforms did nothing to slow down the Seahawks 11-5 2012 season, which was a stark difference to the previous records: the team went 7-9 in 2011 (also Carroll’s first year as head coach); 7-9 in 2010 and 5-11 in 2009.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In 1997, Tampa Bay got mixed messages from fans when the team moved away from the Florida orange jersey to a deep red jersey. But, compared to the previous season, the team’s record was anything but mixed — the Bucs went from 6-10 in 1996 to 10-6 in 1997.
In 2011, the Buffalo Bills took a lesson from the past and unveiled new, retro-inspired uniforms – similar to gear the team wore in the 80s. The uniforms rallied players and fans for the upcoming season, resulting in a slightly better record than the previous season. The Bills managed to turn a 4-12 season in 2010 into a 6-10 season in 2011.
The Bengals shook up the uniform world in 2004 by adding a third jersey to the roster, accompanying the already existing home black and road white jerseys. Apparently, the third jersey was the charm. Cincinnati maintained their 8-8 record from the previous season and came on the field with guns blazing in 2005. While the season ended on a sad note with a loss in the wildcard game, the Bengals went from a 2-14 team in 2002 to a 11-5 team in 2005.
In 2009, the curse of the horrendous throwback jerseys reared its head for the Denver Broncos – and the team donned mustard yellow and brown uniforms. But the eyesore on the field didn’t impact, or distract, the team as much as one would think. The Broncos ended the 2009 season in the same fashion as the year before, with an 8-8 record.
New England Patriots
The Patriots modernized the teams much loved uniforms in 1993 and introduced the royal blue Patriots uniform, best known as Drew Bledsoe’s jersey. Fans were divided on whether they preferred the red or blue color, and the sleek patriot head (featured on the helmet) was often the brunt of the joke. However, the team rallied from a 2-14 season in 1992 to finish 5-11 in 1993. These definitely aren’t the Patriots we know and love (maybe?) today, but they improved.
The Eagles changed their uniforms from a dark Kelley green to a deeper blue-green in 1996, giving the team a meaner, more aggressive look on the field. Regardless of sentiment toward the jerseys off the field, on the field, the Eagles were able to match their previous season and qualify for the playoffs with a 10-6 record.
St. Louis Rams
The Rams came into 2000 with new jerseys and high expectations – the team was coming down from a Super Bowl win in 1999. While the new uniforms didn’t result in a repeat, the team ended 10-6 with a short stint in the playoffs. But, the magic wasn’t gone. In 2001, St. Louis turned a disappointing loss into motivation and had a stellar season with another Super Bowl appearance; franchise record for wins in a season (14); and Kurt Warner won his second MVP award.