Sports uniforms can provide for interesting fan discussion and debates. This week the Tampa Bay Buccaneers debuted their new 2014 duds, which at first glance look very different than the uniforms we have become used to seeing in the NFL. Tamps Bay’s new uniforms look very futuristic, colorful, and bold, but as I looked at the changes it got me thinking about uniforms in sport at-large, and how some teams have remained traditional and conservative, while others have really pushed the envelope with changes.
The Seattle Seahawks completely revamped their uniforms a few years ago, adding the previously never seen color of bright neon green to the league. At first, many people disliked the changes, but after a Super Bowl win it’s amazing how quickly a team can be re-branded (I have heard reports Seattle’s apparel is currently the #1 seller in the NFL).
On the other hand, several teams in sports have elected to stay traditional, including the New York Yankees, Boston Celtics, Green Bay Packers, and Pittsburgh Steelers to name a few. With these teams you won’t see any infusion of neon green anytime soon, nor will you likely witness crazy new fonts to be used for the uniform numbers. The teams you see today will likely look exactly the same for decades to come.
Does the uniform make a difference?
A common sport psychology question I hear has to do with uniforms and the impact they have on team cohesion, dynamics, and ultimately success. Unfortunately, the question is near impossible to answer as there are countless confounding variables that cloud the direct correlation between uniform type and on-field success. What I mean by this is that a team might hate their uniforms, but at the same team be loaded with talent and play in a city that gives them strong fan support. In this case the team might be successful, yet still hate their uniforms. Conversely, a team that loves their uniforms might lack talent on the team as well as fan support, and play poorly (but not because of their fondness of the uniform).
Alternative uniforms and the use of the color black
In the old days of sports teams only had 2 sets of uniforms – home and away. Today, it is not uncommon for teams to have an alternative uniform (or many), providing fans with more ways to spend their money on team apparel. While this may drive revenues for the league, it could also take away form the overall branding of the team, and even turn some fans off (can you imagine the Green Bay Packers changing their uniforms?).
The use of black was a popular trend in the 1990’s where seemingly every professional team either adopted a black, alternative uniform or strongly considered one. Some felt the uniforms were more menacing and intimidating, and would therefore give the team a psychological edge. It’s possible the black uniforms might have helped along that pursuit, but when nearly every team has a black uniform it essentially washes away any perceived psychological advantages.
Back to Tampa Bay for a moment – these new uniforms are certainly different than anything I have seen in the league today, and will soon trigger fan reactions both good and bad. If fans hate the uniforms, the team may end up going back to their old uniforms (usually this happens when a club sees the bottom line impacted in a negative way). If, however, fans respond positively to this new look we could be on to a new trend of uniforms for the future, complete with over-sized helmet logos, transistor numbers, and lots and lots of colors. One thing’s for certain – these aren’t the days of leather helmets anymore!