Why Nike Won't Take NFL Uniforms to College Extremes

Nike still has a couple months before they officially take over as the NFL’s uniform provider but they’ve made a lot of headlines lately for their release of team logo gloves and snazzy team colored cleats. What has been released so far leads to a very natural question: will Nike do to the NFL what they’ve done to college football?

I say no and there are some logical reasons why.

Kirby Lee-Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

Personal connections
The University of Oregon has been at the forefront of the modern college football uniform craze thanks to Nike’s designs. This is no accident considering billionaire Phil Knight, Nike’s founder, is a graduate of Oregon. Knight has a vested interest in Oregon standing out in the crowd and one of the ways he has helped his alma mater in that regard is with his money and his athletic apparel company. It has proven to be a recipe for success for Oregon and others in college football but isn’t a formula that needs to be followed in the NFL (more on that in the next section). Not only that, but the personal motivation, at least as it concerns Oregon, doesn’t exist at the NFL level.

College football is played by kids, the NFL is a man’s game
It should be noted that the success of the Oregon football program was largely preceded by the genesis of their uniform experiment. The designs not only got the media talking about Oregon football, it got recruits looking towards Eugene as well. Better talent begat better results on the field and Oregon football is now recognized as a national power.

Now, other schools are trying the same approach to getting the attention of the nation’s highest rated recruits with annual games featuring Nike Pro Combat designs. It may sound silly but recruits take note of things like this and react to it. However, I have a hard time believing a player coming off his first NFL contract will take the uniform design into account when he reviews his options in free agency. NFL organizations just don’t have the same motivation to field an elaborate Pro Combat design like college institutions who are always seeking to differentiate themselves from their peer institutions to attract top level talent.

No Fun League
Chicago Bears wide receiver Earl Bennett was fined last season for wearing orange shoes and was later told that if he did it again he would be removed from the game. It is that sort of thing that makes some say the NFL stands for the “No Fun League” and I highly doubt that Nike won the next uniform contract because the league wants to make a departure from those kinds of tight-wad policies. While the Pro Combat uniform designs seen in college are made by Nike, the individual institutions have their say in the design process. Take that same process and replace an NCAA athletic office with the NFL and you can bet that Nike won’t have the ability to go as far with their designs. My brother, Matt, said it best on twitter:

No way the “No Fun League” becomes “Nike’s Fun League”.

The league is involved in every uniform change to the point that they are tested with a television audience in mind. If it doesn’t look good on camera, it won’t be approved. With that in mind, doesn’t it seem reasonable that the league won’t let the uniform designs get to the point where a fan turns on the tv and says, “what team is that?”

Nike is a hype machine
Hype is nothing new to Nike, they’ve been doing it with Air Jordans for decades to the point that people are willing to trample other people to get the latest design. A product release isn’t just a product release, it is a marketing opportunity for the company. All they’ve had to do is post some images to their facebook page and websites, including this one, use it as a talking point. It gives Nike an opportunity to promote their brand far beyond the gloves or cleats worn in the Pro Bowl. Just because the possibility exists that they will make drastic changes to NFL uniforms and use that opportunity to promote their brand doesn’t mean that drastic changes are on their way.

Of course, I could be completely wrong and considering the Pittsburgh Steelers already have an alternate design with a yellow helmet, that is a real possibility. Perhaps Nike will unveil a set of uniforms that look like the various mock ups that have been floating around message boards for months. However, the NFL is a different animal than college football and the circumstances surrounding the rise of the Pro Combat design are much different in the NFL. I do expect some changes. In fact, I held off buying a new Lions jersey this year because of the change in the uniform contract but I’m not convinced that those that purchased a new jersey this year will feel as if they are wearing something completely outdated as they file in to Ford Field in 2012.

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