The great media unveiling of the Washington Huskies’ new Adidas football uniforms Tuesday night was anticlimactic, despite the smoke machine and Jimi Hendrix soundtrack. And kind of awkward, seeing as how images – accurate, it turned out – had been leaked onto social media all day long.
That might be just as well, considering no cameras were allowed aboard the boat on Lake Washington that harbored the uniform prototypes, and cellphones were collected just to make sure. We were allowed to sketch, I guess, but my drawing skills are from the renaissance stick-figure movement of art history, so not much help there.
You probably have seen them by now, if you care – and a shocking number of people do. The uniforms will be unveiled to the world on July 10, but as one who has actually laid eyeballs on them, up close and impersonal, I feel compelled to give an opinion.
I thought they looked clean and sharp – old-school enough to satisfy the traditionalists and modern enough to appease the younger crowd. We saw three combinations – gold pants and purple jersey, purple pants and white jersey, and white pants and white jersey, all with the previous gold helmets (that are not under Adidas’ purview). The plan is to unveil some gaudier alternate uniforms once or twice a year starting in 2020.
The purple should be deep enough, the shoulder stripes snazzy enough, any signs of black absent enough to make people happy. Except we all know that some people will be unhappy. When it comes to the aesthetic of uniforms (or anything else in life, for that matter), consensus is virtually impossible.
So my opinion hardly matters, even less so when it comes to sartorial decisions. Hey, I’m the guy who hopes that leisure suits make a comeback. Frankly, I’ve never been the sort that obsesses over uniforms. I barely notice them when I’m watching a game, to be honest. I’m thus constantly astounded by the fervor with which fans debate and gripe about the subtleties and nuances, the bells and whistles, the throwbacks and standard issues.
The Huskies are trying to tap into that passion with a reset of their entire athletic ensemble. And, of course, they love how it came out. Just like they loved the previous release of Washington’s Nike uniform, breathlessly unveiled on their website in April 2014 with the tagline, “New Era. New Look. Worn With Honor.”
Well, it’s a new New Era. As you may have heard, when their apparel contract with Nike expired last year, the Huskies chose to go with stripes over swoosh – Adidas over Nike, just like Kanye*. That might annoy Drake*, but those in the Husky athletic department are confident it will be a huge boon for everyone involved – fans, students and athletes.
(*Those rap references don’t mean much to me, but my teen-aged son counseled me and swears they’re relevant and will make me sound hip. I’m at the age where I care more about a sound hip than sounding hip, but whatever.)
The financial ramifications of the 10-year Adidas deal have been well-documented. Whereas Nike had been paying out about $3.5 million annually in product and cash, the Huskies will reap almost $12 million annually from Adidas – $5.275 million in cash, $5.58 million in product, and $1.1 million for marketing. That includes a $3 million signing bonus to be paid July 31, plus other potential bonuses down the road for athletic success.
That makes it one of the 10 most valuable apparel deals in college sports. But the Huskies believe the benefits go well beyond money – and will manifest itself beyond just uniforms.
The word they like to throw around is “differentiator.” They make the case that aligning with Adidas will make Washington stand out in an increasingly competitive environment.
Many Husky fans are ecstatic to be disassociated from Nike just because of the company’s strong, inextricable link with the University of Oregon. But that’s not the core of UW’s delight with Adidas, which is headquartered in Portland, right up the road from The Swoosh.
A long time ago, when Hertz dominated the rental car world, Avis had an effective ad campaign with the tagline, “We’re No. 2. We try harder.” That’s more or less what sold Washington on Adidas (in addition to the loot and swag).
With just 12 Power 5 schools using Adidas, compared with more than 50 in the Nike orbit, Adidas can give more individualized attention to the Huskies. And with UW as the company’s de facto flagship on the West Coast, they have a vested interest in making sure everything about the Adidas brand on campus is appealing, cutting-edge and relatable.
Put simply, to get their money’s worth, Adidas needs UW to thrive. And that’s a powerful motivator. The better the image that’s conveyed, the more shoes and gear they sell.
Speaking of which, here’s another benefit: Kids really like Adidas these days, I’m told. And when it comes to apparel deals and uniforms, it’s nice if Joe and Josephine Alumni like it, and if it reminds them of Don James. But it’s more important that the high school freshman phenom who is mulling over where to play in college thinks the Husky unis are lit.
That perception used to be the exclusive province of Nike. But since the days when Oregon had a monopoly on eye-catching, ever-changing uniforms, the rest of the world has caught up. And the Huskies especially like the fact that Adidas has shown a willingness to work with them, listen to them, and more or less cater to their needs. The Huskies view Adidas as a smaller, more nimble and more agile partnership.
Can Adidas maintain that hunger if and when they grow their client list and sphere of influence? Who knows? But for now, it’s a match made in apparel heaven.