THE POWER OF THE UNIFORM

WHAT UNIFORMS MEAN TO A PROGRAM, ITS ATHLETES AND THE FUTURE
By Gavin Porter
New look. New swag. More hype.
That is the mission of equipment managers in the world of sports.
By teaming up with apparel heavyweights Nike, Adidas, Under Armour and Jordan, the competition for the hottest uniform is as fierce as ever.
But why does it matter?
“It’s all recruiting. What we put on our players and what we are showing off is part of our brand” said Jon Denio, who is the Director of Equipment at the University of Kentucky. “It’s what 16, 17 and 18 year olds are looking at on social media. They are the kids we are targeting and the ones who are paying the most attention.”
There is no doubt that the swag schools are hooking their athletes up with, plays a role in reaching future talent. Each piece and combination of the uniform has the ability to catch the eye of potential recruits before they ever step foot in a school’s facility.
And that is an advantage schools do not want to miss out on. So whether it is a clean, traditional look such as USC’s, flashy look like Virginia Tech’s new uniforms or a throwback like Pittsburgh’s, uniforms can provide schools with a serious recruiting advantage.

Social Media has only added to the uniform frenzy, as every piece of the uniform is viewed, liked, reposted or retweeted moments after being leaked or released. Debates erupt on Instagram and Twitter triggering praise and criticism over the newest gear.

In 2014, Kentucky’s combination of a chrome helmet with their black jerseys made the Wildcats the inaugural winners of the UNISWAG Uniform of the Year. Last season the Tennessee Volunteers took the crown from the Wildcats. But the Wildcats have added a matte blue helmet to its arsenal and are primed to make a push toward recapturing the title.

Denio and the Wildcats are not the only ones bringing new heat.

Over 20 different schools have revealed new uniforms concepts for the upcoming season. One of those teams is the Cincinnati Bearcats, who released the fresh “Bearcats Red” series just a few weeks ago.

“With the red, we tried something a little different that monitored our mascot,” said Blake Reid, who is the Associate Athletic Director of Strategic Operations at Cincinnati. “By having the Bearcat, we were able to utilize color blocking and usage of our secondary mark.  This offers a new opportunity to allow fans to interact with new red apparel.”

Fans should expect the Bearcats to don the new unis sometime in October.

The number of concepts and variables that go into the creation or alteration of a uniform might be more significant than you’d think.  Equipment managers and decision makers must take into account trends, traditions, current styles, what brands are capable of and what changes the head coach approves of.

“The toughest part about creating a uniform look is deciding the story that needs to be told while allowing our fans to be a part of the excitement,” Reid said. “We could go out and design uniforms just to look cool, but if our fans can’t be a part of the experience then we aren’t doing them any favors.”

Hitting the drawing board and coming up with a unique concept can definitely be a challenge. But schools understand that it pays off in the media, with current athletes and potential recruits. Uniforms are also more than a recruiting tool. They can represent far more than some new threads to a team and its players.

“The black uniform kind of ushered in a new era of Kentucky football,” Denio said. “The special chrome helmet was a primetime option. The guys even developed a mini superstition that they play better in big games with that combo.”

Superstition or not, players get hyped to wear something they have never worn before. Because of that the creation of new color combinations and patterns won’t ever stop.

“Swag becomes a part of the culture because the athletes spend so much time dreaming of playing,” Reid said. “This is their chance to go out and emulate those visions.