Saturday, August 11, 2012

Nike doing what Nike does.

Professionally, I've been in the footwear and athletic product business since 1997. I grew up drawing Nike, Adidas and Reebok basketball shoes as a kid (along with planes, buildings and cars). But my passion for shoe design became the way I make money...I'm blessed for that.

At one point, I had about 50 pairs of shoes...most of them were Nike...after purging my collection during my time at one of their competitors in the late 90s, I became a consultant...a perpetual free agent, if you I started collecting, and re-collecting Jordans and classic shoes that I once really liked. Everything from the AJ III (I've had six pairs of these since they originally came out) to Nike Air Max 95s to Nike Dunks that were as close to those that my Boilers wore back in the 80s as I could find.

I grew up pretty brainwashed by the have many of you.  I still love Nike gear...and think every now and again (about every two years), they seem to put something on the market that's truly revolutionary for the industry.  BUT, a lot about that brand and its tactics do little more than anger me.

A few years ago, I noticed that many of the shoes that I had purchased over a decade period had all be re-re-released...the market was flooded with retros.  Not just Jordans, but Flight '95s, original Air Max, Revolutions...My collection became boring and seemed like it was little more than a dust collector.  So I liquidated it via an online auction site.  As I looked at my office wall that no longer had Jumpmans and swooshes on it, but just had logos of companies I had done business with, I felt liberated.

Maybe having two kids had changed my perspective...or maybe visiting the factories that churn out "limited" edition shoes by the thousands gave me pause.  Whatever the case, I'm no longer a sneaker head...just a guy in the industry.

But before I liked drawing shoes, I loved Purdue.  When I was a kid, Purdue's helmets were a very dark gold color- kind of a shiny bronze, really...but they didn't seem gold, at least to me. But finding gold unis that weren't brown seemed like a bit of a struggle for the athletic department.
1995...old gold

As the 80s progressed, the gold got a bit brighter.  By the mid 90s, Purdue was truly metallic gold.  But, the licensing department felt like it had lost some control of the colors.  To tidy up the brand identity, they reigned in the colors to name Vegas Gold as the official color. No longer could you find mustard, goldenrod or yellow Purdue shirts in the stores...Purdue's official color was its color.  A lot of older alums didn't like it too much either.

That said, things do need modernization every now and again.  And the Vegas gold really wasn't too far off from what I thought of as was metallic...just a bit brighter.
2001...Vegas gold

But as time progressed, Purdue's colors went from gold to a metallic beige or urine color. For a long time, I thought the blame was solely on my alma mater...but this past year, I learned a little secret- Nike doesn't give a damn about if there was ever any doubt about that.

A few seasons back, Purdue wanted to honor the '67 Rose Bowl team with retro unis.  Nike gave them two options: use the existing gold (sucks) OR use Missouri's darker gold. Since they had that material lying around, they'd allow Purdue to use it.  Nice of them.  Purdue chose to go the cheap route and use Mizzou's gold- not too far off from the '67 team's color...but not quite right.  No matter, it was just one game.

This past year, I went to a Lids sale on Indy's West side.  they had piles of "Vegas" gold and black dummies.  Golf shirts, jackets, shorts, t-shirts...I thought I'd find Purdue logos on them since I was in Indianapolis.  But, the only logo on the apparel was the Swoosh.  Lids takes generic pale beige coaches shirts, t-shirts and hats with the swoosh and makes them into Purdue's.
2002...beige era begins

So Purdue, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt, and other schools are all wearing the same stuff.  The fans have kinda been duped.  The colors that we thought were ours, are really Nike's.  Nike calls the shots...and Purdue seems to just accept it.

The redesign of the train is a case in point.  Nike didn't like that the train wasn't symmetrical...for years they had expressed that it needed to be know, to help them out. So Nike redesigned the train to fit their make it easier on them- And Purdue's licensing department took this backhanded gift with a smile. Everything Nike does is in Nike's best interests.

Now, it's not completely Nike's fault that all of this happens. Purdue's athletic and licensing department seems to be quite content to be their dance partner and enabler.

As many teams in the top-25 were wearing the watermarked basketball uniforms four or five seasons ago, Purdue wasn't.  The little team out of West Lafayette wasn't a priority for Nike.  But, when about every team in the top-50 started doing it a season ago, Nike allowed Purdue to come along. But it really wasn't too cool at that point...just something Nike blessed in an effort to make sure basketball fans knew who was wearing Nike threads.

At least the jerseys are black

Today, on media day, the football team sported slightly-altered uniforms from last year with the new train near the base of the neck.  And Purdue's pre-season All-American flashed the shiny-palmed gloves to the cameras.  As Boise State, Army, Navy, MSU, Georgia, TA&M and the nation's perennially-elite have gloves with their school's logo on the palms, Purdue gets to pimp the Swoosh a bit more as "Nike" is on Purdue's palms.

But worse than the gloves...which are pretty played out already, Purdue's pants are little more than just really tight, pale, khaki pants.

As Nike continues to customize NCAA football uniforms, less-legible, more-rounded numbers are showing up more and more, and more teams are losing their identity as they take what Nike deems as appropriate.  At least Purdue already has black in its uniform...Oregon, Georgia, FSU, Kentucky, Arizona State, Stanford, Rutgers, Texas and many other schools have all thrown out school spirit in favor of Nike's agenda of completely white-washing the landscape of college sports (ironically in shades of gray and black) ugly uniform redesign at a time.

"All hail to our old beige and black!"


4thandshort said...

As a student I worked with the team for three years and in doing so one on the perks is you got a bunch of free Purdue gear. At one point my wardrobe was basically Purdue. I started in 01 and at that time Champion was Purdue's company. But that next year Champion got out of the college business and Purdue had to find someone else and they picked up Nike. At first I was excitied because you know Nike was "cool" but your right Nike seems to tell Purdue how to use their own stuff. I guess it's because Nike "gives" Purdue a lot of uniforms but I really wish Purdue would switch to another company. Can we just figure out what old gold is please and be done with it. As with anything these days when something gets too big a powerful for itself the quality is not as good and this has happened to Nike, Dell, Wal Mart etc... I really wish Purdue would make a change but seem to be content with Nike calling the shots on it's own brand.

Cpt. Longshanks said...

Your perspective on this was really interesting to read and is something I never thought about before. I always knew I didn't like the current uni's, but I couldn't place exactly what it was. The difference in gold from the Alstott era to the current day is absolutely ridiculous. If we want to be taken seriously as an athletic program then we need to at least have school colors standardized. Goood write-up.

jbrunner said...

bdowd, you make an excellent point in this article in that Purdue seems to have little or no control over how our new uniforms look. But at the end of the day, should we let some corporation affect how all of us feel about the University we love?

Note: I do think switching companies would probably be a good move for Purdue at some point in the future though.

Plang said...

You touched on something that has bugged me for a long time. Missouri has been pretty good about keeping their black and gold consistant on uniforms. Of course things have drifted some at that school as well, but compared to Purdue they've kept it tighter. Over the last 15 years Purdue has been all over the map.

I think I liked the 1995 colors the best. I actually bought a sweatshirt that was two sizes two big because it was the right color of gold. Dumb, but how often to you see old gold these days?

Also, you can't lump Oregon in with the other scools as Oregon is basically owned by Nike now because of the money that Knight pours into the place and the fact that they have a different uniform for almost every game.

Georiga Boiler said...

Actually Glidden get's the gold pretty close in my opinion.

The Accidental Expat said...

It's particularly shameful to think that Purdue had a very unique color (Old Gold) that nobody (or nearly nobody) else had, yet it was watered down just to make things easier for Nike, who I can assure you has the wherewithal to create custom and unique colors (see Oregon on any given Saturday). It's pretty clear that Purdue doesn't rate too high on the scale of importance over at "the Swoosh." The problem is that there are not a lot of other options out there-- Adidas are generally very picky as to the teams they sponsor and they tend to be schools with a degree of history and/or great success in basketball or football (Wisconsin, Michigan, Tennessee, UCLA, Louisville), and Under Armour, who can be a little... er, unpredictable with their choice of schools (seriously , North Texas?) and experimental with uniform designs (Maryland). I do see New Balance is making an inroads into CFB unis to go with their cleated footwear as well, but I doubt that the Purdue Athletic Department cares to make any changes-- they have a good thing going now, and aren't known for taking a lot of risks, like switching uni companies-- even those that promise to uphold school traditions and historical colors.

Interesting factoid: Despite playing second fiddle to the University Oregon, Oregon State University is content to stick with Nike (an Oregon company), nevermind that Adidas USA is also based in Portland, and Adi has its fair share of Oregon State grads working there. There was a time that Nike Godhead (and UO alum) Phil Knight actually gave financial support to Oregon State athletics specifically to keep baseball coach Pat Casey there, though with the Ducks assembling the best college baseball staff money can buy, I'm not so sure that arrangement is still in place. To say that Phil Knight wields influence over Duck athletics is an understatement-- he's run AD's he didn't like out of office, personally installed a crony who wasn't even a college graduate as AD (Pat Kilkenny), pushed quality coaches into early retirement (Mike Bellotti) and generally acts like the biggest bully on the block. I don't agree with Jim Rome that often, but he was spot on by calling Phil Knight "the richest owner in college sports today."

But yeah, bring back Old Gold.

PS: Wasn't Purdue slated to get a Pro Combat uniform a couple seasons ago (there was even a leaked photo straight from a team meeting). Whatever happened to that anyways? Guys?

Plang said...

Don't let UA fool you - they aren't so bad to work with. They are up and coming and just trying to get into as many schools as possible, but it is hard with Nike ruling over the landscape the way they do. The thing with Maryland is that the founder of UA is a Maryland grad, so he gave the school a boatload of gear for free if they let him monkey around with the uniforms for a game or two. But overall with other schools they aren't too bad. As I understand it, the schools have much more control with UA than they ever would with Nike.

The Accidental Expat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Accidental Expat said...

Plang, I have no doubts that UA or even New Balance would work closely with Purdue to get things right (though I recall North Texas players grousing about the fit of their UA unis, and I think the new UA Northwestern design is a bit overdone); it's the lack of will in the Boiler Athletic department to change the status quo and simply accept whatever Nike gives them, to hell with tradition and unique colors.

UA is based in Baltimore, and have been very aggressive in their desire to acquire new colleges. As Phil Knight makes Oregon Nike's premier testing ground and statement, so too goes UA's Kevin Plank, a former Terrapin football player with his alma mater. There was some talk in the sporting trade news last year about Nike actually buying Under Armour, but that rumor died rather quickly. Who'd have thought that we'd all pine for the good ol' days of Champion branded uniforms?