The Philadelphia 76ers decided months ago to join the growing number of professional sports franchises with a third set of uniforms. But they didn't debut this second road uniform at the start of the season. And they're not even going to debut it for a road game.
They're going to wait until a home game against the New York Knicks on Nov. 30--a nationally televised home game.
"First and foremost, we wanted our fans to see it first," 76ers senior vice president Dave Coskey said. "It's also a national TV game too, which from a retail standpoint is as good a place as any to roll out a uniform. We tried to do it before Christmas to make sure we had plenty of merchandise" available for fans to purchase.
The tale of the 76ers' new threads illustrates a continuing evolution in the marketing of professional sports, where planned obsolescence of uniforms has become a tool for goosing profits, turning the tradition of having just home and away uniforms into a relic.
Encouraged by apparel manufacturers and retail outlets hungry to capture an increasing share of the $11 billion licensed sports products market, teams in all four major pro leagues are creating new ways to stimulate consumer appetites: adding more styles of uniforms, redesigning the ones they have, remaking logos and changing team colors. Each change can have a ripple effect down the licensed products line, motivating fans to buy new T-shirts, jackets, caps, sweat shirts and dozens of other items.
Industry experts say that's smart business.
"Multiple [uniforms and caps] and changes in colors and logo are important in keeping merchandise fresh at retail and creating increased demand for licensed products," said Ian Gomar, senior vice president for marketing at Champs sporting goods stores.
And the tactic works.
Over the past three years, the New York Mets have added three fresh styles to their traditional white, pinstriped home and gray away game uniforms. The two new black game jerseys and a white one made a fashion statement. It also had another effect: Fan purchases of Mets apparel doubled.
The Mets also added two more styles of cap to their on-field attire. Their rank among Major League Baseball's 30 teams in cap sales jumped from around 15th into the top 10.
The Mets' marketing director, Kit Geis, said the team wanted a more contemporary look on the field, but also "wanted our fans to have something that was a little more appealing to buy [than the old uniforms]. Royal blue [the Mets' traditional color] is hard to match when you are throwing on jeans for the weekend."
The Chicago White Sox in the early 1990s returned to a more traditional logo and changed to a black, silver and white color scheme for their uniforms. White Sox apparel sales soared almost overnight to among the most popular in baseball and have stayed there since, according to Faust Capobianco IV, senior vice president of Majestic Athletic, one of three jersey suppliers to Major League Baseball, along with Russell Athletic and Rawlings.
Change Is Good
In the NBA alone, 11 teams changed their uniform designs between 1995 and last season, and 12 franchises have added a second road uniform, according to the league. This season, the Toronto Raptors changed their uniform only four years after the team joined the NBA to rid itself of the "expansionist" look, according to team spokesman Dave Haggith. The Atlanta Hawks, Seattle SuperSonics, Los Angeles Lakers and Orlando Magic also have changed their uniforms or added third uniforms this season.
Twenty-three of the 30 Major League Baseball teams have one or more alternate uniforms or jerseys. Several teams, including the Seattle Mariners, Florida Marlins, Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays have three caps. And in recent weeks, the Houston Astros, San Francisco Giants and Milwaukee Brewers have unveiled new uniforms for the 2000 season.
Ten NHL teams have three jerseys: the Washington Capitals, New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings, Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins, Calgary Flames, Chicago Blackhawks, Florida Panthers, Anaheim Mighty Ducks and the Phoenix Coyotes.
The NFL is the only league that mandates one home and one away jersey, although several teams, including the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots, have changed their logos and uniforms during the past few years, which combined with on-field success to boost licensed products sales for both franchises.
Some teams make uniform changes when a new owner takes over and wants to noodle around. Jeff Lurie changed the Philadelphia Eagles' uniforms after he bought the franchise in 1994 from Norman Braman. The recent changes by the Giants and Astros were made in conjunction with the scheduled openings of new ballparks.
Not everybody agrees that the changes are a good thing. Some who follow the sports industry said that adding more uniforms and changing styles gives teams short-term profits at the expense of long-term visual identity.
"I think it's nutty," said Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College. "It's very distracting for a fan to not be able to identify with one uniform. What the teams are gaining from product licensing sales they are losing from the disaffection it could engender amongst the fans."
Several leagues have instituted rules that discourage teams from changing uniforms every year. The NHL, for example, limits uniform changes to one every three years. The NBA's rule is one every four years. The NFL requires teams to file a request for a uniform change 18 months ahead of time, which makes it impossible for a team to change uniforms two years in a row. Major League Baseball does not have restrictions.
The demand for authentic and authentic-style sports apparel took off about a decade ago and burgeoned with the hip-hop and rap crazes. The proliferation of stores such as Champs, The Sports Authority and Modell's made it easier for, say, someone in Los Angeles to buy an authentic Cal Ripken jersey.
Demand for licensed products has flattened in the past few years, however, mostly due to the clutter of authentic and replica products. Leagues have been looking for ways to jazz up sales, covering athletes with differents hats, jerseys, warmup wear, practice wear, sideline wear and outerwear.
Shawn Dean, director of promotional operations for Nike Team Sports, said "unless a team is changing designs or changing fabrics, [licensed replica products] is a tired business."
Marketers at Major League Baseball and the NBA said teams change and add uniforms and caps to stay fresh in the eyes of fans rather than to boost sales. They and others point out that an individual team's revenue from licensed product sales usually is a relatively small percentage of their overall revenue compared with tickets, television and concessions. But industry experts say that a few million dollars from retail sales can give a team the financial flexibility to sign a key player who might make the difference between a playoff and non-playoff team.
"The leagues want more and more licensing royalty money, and [introducing new uniforms, as well as adding to existing uniform sets] is a way to get it," said Peter Capolino, owner of Mitchell & Ness, a Philadelphia company that makes vintage sports uniforms. "They are pushing the market harder, coming out with new designs all the time. They are trying to pique the imaginations of the American teenagers . . . to create a bond at a young age so they spend lots more money on the sport throughout their lives."
Manufacturers work with clubs to plan changes on secondary items such as practice jerseys and caps on an annual basis. When the San Diego Padres changed the button on the top of their cap from blue to white a while back, Padres cap sales jumped.
"For the real avid fan, they will notice it and say, 'Now I've got to go and get this new update,' " said John DeWaal of New Era Cap, which provides all the game caps to Major League Baseball and is the only authorized seller of authentic baseball caps to the public.
The devoted, money-is-no-object fan buys authentic wear, which exactly duplicates what players wear during a game--except for size. An authentic jersey exactly like the one Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman wears during a game costs around $150. An Anaheim Mighty Ducks authentic jersey costs about $175. And an NBA jersey that is the same as the one Philadelphia 76ers star Allen Iverson wears, known as the Pro Cut line, runs $220. For the same baseball cap that Ripken wears, the price is about $23.
Because of its high prices, the "authentic" line is a relatively small proportion of the total sales from products sold by the leagues through licensed manufacturers such as Nike, Logo, Pro Player or Champion, usually amounting to less than 10 percent of sales, according to marketers.
"Die-hard fans buy the authentics," said Michael McGuinn, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of apparel at The Sports Authority retail chain. "It's our core customer, who is a season ticket holder, died-in-the-wool home-team fan and wants to wear what the home team is wearing."
Most fans turn to the lower-priced "replica" line, which features the same team logos and designs as the authentics, but uses less expensive materials and craftsmanship, and sells far more units than the authentics and earns more money for teams, according to apparel manufacturers and retailers.
Almost everyone agrees, however, that a winning team is the best sales pitch.
The Cowboys, Chicago Bulls, San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers, New York Yankees and Detroit Red Wings, all winning teams over the past decade, are among the top 20 in sales of licensed products, according to information from an ESPN Chilton sports poll provided by the NFL.
Most of those teams have hardly altered their uniforms at all over the past several decades, and the Yankees still sport the same cap and pinstriped pants similar to what Joe DiMaggio wore. With 114 regular season wins in 1998 and a second consecutive World Series championship this year, cap and jersey sales are booming, according to manufacturers.
"Sales has a direct relationship to how teams are doing on-field," said Steve Armus, a director for Major League Baseball Properties. "Winning, doing well in the postseason, matters most."