Saturday, August 20, 2011

Is it the Future Yet?

Red Dawg.
The University of Georgia's Nike Pro Combat uniforms hit the twitter-sphere this morning, with much of the reaction geared around how RED the dawgs were going to be. And I can definitely see where they are coming from.

We've been seeing these uniforms for a few years now, an opportunity for the Universities and Nike to capitalize on big, national showcase games and sell a boatload of jerseys in a quick grab for cash. And, of course, the fans respond and throw their dollars at the chance to add to their collection of team junk.

Kudos to you, Nike.

But I do get curious about the positioning of these uniforms marketing-wise. In materials it comes across strongly (to me at least) that these unis are presented as 'the future look of athletics'.

I think they look more like something out of Any Given Sunday.

But maybe that is the future. Problem is that - aren't we already in the future? It is 2011 after all, and if Back to the Future is any guide, we should be getting our DeLorean's hover conversion any day now. So, if we are now finally in the future, when will a school jump and sport the new 'future' unis full-time?

I think the change will be prompted by the big boys: The NFL. Have you forgotten that Nike will be supplying the NFL with on-field apparel starting in 2012? I sure had.

In an interview with Darren Rovell of CNBC in October 2010, Nike Brand President Charlie Denson:
We plan on changing the NFL jersey dramatically just like we've done with the college programs, using new thinking and the greatest technology available. The NFL program hasn't had the same type of advancement in recent years.
I believe that if Nike takes the NFL in the direction of the Pro Combat two things will happen:

1) NFL jersey sales will skyrocket. Absolutely go crazy. The world's #1 sports league - and one of the greatest marketing engines ever - will bombard their audience with the new looks. If you think you've seen enough ads - you just wait until 2012.

2) College teams will follow suit. Not only can 'Nike schools' now claim that they outfit their players with the same thing the pros wear, but aesthetically - the audience will get used to it.

The reactions of fan bases to these Pro Combat jersey designs is decidely mixed (if you can be 'decidedly' mixed). While they appreciate the novelty of the uniforms (and they buy them), they appreciate or understand that it's a one-shot or once-a-season thing.

I believe that college fans today think that Pro Combat is a nice place to visit - they just don't want to live there.

BUT - when Nike introduces this to the NFL, and we see it on TV every Sunday, we will get accustomed to it. The NFL will look new, shiny, and exciting. College football will look like they're wearing leather helmets and tear-away jerseys. NFL - fast. College - slow. That's how it will come off on TV.

And colleges will seize on the opportunity. Because then it'll be an opportunity to gain a competitive advantage. NFL-bound prospects will want to look like the pros, and they'll go to the schools that will dress them like a pro. And the non-Nike schools won't like that, so they'll turn to Russell, Reebok, and Under Armour and demand they develop a 'new' uniform so that they don't lose the 'sexiness' battle for the top talent.

The future look of college football isn't too far away.
And if you believe that my point that players will lean one way or another when selecting a school based on what uniform the team wears is stupid - then you aren't paying much attention to the things that matter to college athletes. They want to be treated like royalty (turn on ESPN during a national signing day) and they want NFL scouts to think they are an NFL talent. What better way to do that than look like an NFL player?

And that's when college football will enter the future. And in 2012, you'll be able to see it coming.

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