The Business of College Basketball Jerseys
College football jerseys have been big business for awhile. During the 1990s, Nike aligned themselves with the University of Miami, and the success of the Hurricanes program helped the company raise itself to new heights. The next big milestone was when Nike and Oregon teamed up to begin their run of creating weird, crazy, and loud jerseys. It resonated with recruits, and as Nike climbed to new heights, so did Oregon. Other teams were watching, and today you see many programs trying to come up with different uniforms to wear on the field.
Over the last few years, basketball has started to follow suit. If your school is aligned with Adidas , you may notice that starting with the conference tournaments, all the colleges who don the three stripes have worn new looks. The new Adidas template has a bit of a 90s flair, with an extra large logo on the shorts. Teams will maintain that through the NCAA Tournament. A few years ago, Adidas tried having their schools wear sleeves, similar to some of the NBA alternate jerseys, during March Madness. Louisville has taken a liking to that style, and they will continue that trend this year.
This year’s entries for Nike are though their “Elite” program. Nike is jumping on the all-white bandwagon that you’ve seen some soccer teams buy into. Whether you are a fan of these new looks, or not, really doesn’t matter. Colleges will only wear these through the Big Dance, and then come up with something new for next year’s regular season.
Teams are changing uniforms more often, because as long as there is something new on the market, there is more to buy. There is also more attention to grab, there’s another reason to turn on the TV, there’s another way to recruit 17 and 18 year olds who are still in high school. There are many reasons why the practice of pumping out new looks will only increase.
Soccer has been doing this for years. Every season, all the teams in the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, and even Major League Soccer change their look. No jersey is around for more than one season. Professional sports franchises, like the New York Yankees or the Chicago Bulls, who almost never change their look would rarely survive in today’s college jersey environment. The reason for this is partly because college sports tends to market itself to a different demographic.
According to Learfield Sports, a sports marketing company, college sports, as a whole, has 171 million fans in America. Compare that to around 156 million fans for Major League Baseball fans. Some of that has to do with more women enjoying college sports than pro sports. College sports fans are almost twice as likely as NBA fans to purchase a sponsored brand, and about a third of college sports fans are under the age of 34.
When you have a large demographic that skews young, and tons of Americans who are currently attending college, that lends itself to more opportunity for changes. Younger adults are more fashion conscious, they’re more likely to want to be part of the latest trends, and schools want to take advantage of that. If your school makes a deep run in a new jersey, it’s likely jersey sales will spike as opposed to little change if they stayed with what the team wore last year.
Let’s not forget a few other statistics. According to Forbes, a trip to the NCAA tournament is worth about $9.5 Million to each school depending on how deep they go. TV ad revenues are over $1 Billion. There is so much money tied to March Madness, it should be expected that a team’s look would somehow be included.
As with any new design, sometimes teams shoot an air-ball. Looking back, there have been many bad looks in college basketball (I vote that sleeves fall into this category). As I close out this article so that you can go fill out your bracket, let’s take a look at some of the more memorable college basketball jerseys over the years. That includes good and bad.
There are many more jerseys I’d love to feature, including Kansas, Georgetown, UConn, and my own Florida Gators. Unfortunately, I can’t have everyone. What are your favorite or most hated college basketball jerseys? Let me know at @rmackman on Twitter.