As a Nebraska football fan, I dread the months of July, and August. Not because those months are painfully slow for news, the season feels light years away, or I’m already tired of predicting the team’s record for the upcoming season.
I dread this time of year because I know that any day now the new Husker football alternative uniform will be released. If we’ve learned anything over the first three years of the “Unrivaled” series of alternate unis, it’s that they are routinely bad, mediocre at best, and downright awful at worst.
Of course, this is also the time of year where I start to get my hopes up and think “maybe this is the year that adidas knocks it out of the park and creates some spectacular.” Surely, the three stripe folks – having recently lost Notre Dame and Tennessee, and reportedly being on the ropes with Michigan – will bring out their “a” game. Right?
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A post on medium.com entitled “Adidas: Sports Apparel Laughingstock“* chronicles a laundry list of screw ups and failings by adidas.
*As a public service, I should warn you to don protective eye-wear before clicking on that article, as it contains some images of athletic apparel that should come with an NC-17 rating. We’re talking those Zubaz-inspired shorts adidas teams wore in the 2013 NCAA tournament, the cummerbund / fanny-pack look from this year, and some horrible Notre Dame alts.
The alternate uniform history of adidas is such a dumpster fire that none of the Nebraska “Unrivaled” designs – and I use the word “designs” lightly – made the article.
A couple of quotes from the piece pull no punches:
- “The pecking order of each of the Big Three sports apparel companies is abundantly clear: Nike is the gold standard, Under Armour is the millennial brand and adidas is a running joke.”
- “Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank called adidas ‘our dumbest competitor’ this past February — and he wasn’t wrong.”
- “Yes, Nike and Under Armour have had their misses with new uniforms, but they’ve also had a lot of hits. Adidas, on the other hand, almost exclusively sustains misses.”
- “Making good-looking sports uniforms isn’t rocket science. All it takes is basic fashion rules and common sense. Unfortunately, adidas no longer has either.”
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This may not be the best time to remind you that adidas provides apparel and footwear for each of NU’s 24 sports. Nebraska’s contract with adidas was renewed in 2013, and expires in three years (June 30, 2018).
I’m not a sneaker-head nor an expert on the athletic apparel industry to say that adidas must go and [insert name of your preferred provider] should take over. Certainly, if we’re just looking at this through the lens of ugly uniforms, EVERY provider has some disasters. For all of the cool looks Nike has given Oregon, they’ve had their fair share of flops. And any discussion of ugly uniforms must contain Under Armour’s long-standing desecration of the Maryland state flag.
It’s worth noting that NU’s 2013 renewal with adidas (approximately $8 million in cash and $7.5 million in apparel and equipment), is, in the words of Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman “not a significant increase over the deal we had before.” So why did the Huskers stay with adidas? The Omaha World-Herald reported the deal was “more than any other apparel outfitter was willing to offer”. The World-Herald cited discussions then-AD Tom Osborne had with Nike.
In other words, for Nebraska to have gotten out of their deal with adidas, they would have had to take less money and/or equipment from somebody else. At a state school where the Athletic Department gets no tax dollars, the answer is pretty easy: take the money. But while Nebraska made the right choice in the short-term, did they make the best call long-term?
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What is the impact of a bad apparel relationship? Off the top of my head, three things come to mind:
Recruiting. It always comes back that recruiting, doesn’t it? If a main reason for having alternative uniforms (aside from merchandise sales) is to impress recruits, are you doing your recruiting a disservice by wearing “laughingstock” uniforms provided by a “running joke” of a company? In other words, could you potentially lose a kid because he would rather wear the fancy costumes made by Nike or Under Armour instead of the silly suits made by adidas?
Merchandise. As noted above, the other big reason for alternative jerseys is the prospect of selling new things to a fan base that loves to buy Husker gear. But answer this: how many people do you know who purchased a replica version of any of the three previous “Unrivaled” uniforms? Of those folks, who many paid full price? I considered buying a t-shirt replica of the 2014 duct tape jobs when the Nebraska Bookstore was closing, but even at 75% off, I couldn’t pull the trigger. Had the design been better, I probably would have bought one at full price.
Program perception / brand. For argument’s sake, let’s agree with the notion from the Medium.com piece that adidas is a distant third in the apparel pecking order. How does that reflect on Nebraska being an adidas school – especially when one can make the argument that Nebraska is not in the top-tier of adidas schools? Additionally, how does it reflect on the school – and the Nebraska Football brand – when they wear uniforms that are mocked and ridiculed?
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So where do we go from here?
Even though I’m typing this while wearing a Nebraska shirt made by adidas, I don’t really care if the Huskers wear Nike, adidas, or Under Armour. I not naive enough to think that by going with one of the other two everything magically becomes peaches and rainbows.
That said, I’m ready for a change. Until adidas can a) prove that they can design their way out of a wet paper bag or b) give one of their premier schools something unique that is not all about adidas, I’m willing to see what the other guys can do. Maybe it will better. Maybe it will be worse. But right now adidas is the 9 and 4 of athletic apparel providers. Bad enough to make you want change, but just good enough to keep them for another year.
Regardless of what happens in 2018, for the next three years, we’re linked arm and arm with #teamadidas. For better or for worse.
Hopefully, the Huskers can improve their on-field/on-court success before the next negotiation period to make them more attractive to all three companies. A winning team and/or program on the rise will have better prospects than one mired in mediocrity.
As for this year’s alternates and the dread I’ll have until they are released? Let me close with something I wrote last summer after another underwhelming uniform was released:
I’m beginning to think the biggest issue is my expectations. I want Nebraska to have something cool. Something unique yet classic. Something the five-star recruits want to wear, but the farmers at the coffee shop will like. Admittedly, that is a tall order. Yet every year, I keep expecting the design team at adidas to deliver it. Unfortunately, I don’t think they can.*
*Nor am I sure that Nike, Under Armour, Reebok, or any other apparel provider could deliver something I’d love, but I wouldn’t mind seeing their concepts…
I think for 2015, I will need to greatly lower my expectations. I should expect adidas to provide Nebraska something that is on the line separating flashy and gaudy. Something that looks like it came off a generic corporate template, instead of being inspired by Nebraska’s rich history. I should expect a mediocre alternate from adidas, because that is all they have ever given us.