On Saturday afternoon, the Arizona State Sun Devils athletic department sent out a memo stating the program will adopt more traditional football uniforms moving forward, adding the Sun Devils should primarily be wearing maroon and gold next season.
This announcement stirred some controversy in the Sun Devil community, and demonstrated the fact that fans, donors and athletes are not always on the same page. While this could seem a trivial issue, uniform designs play a key role in the marketability of a program to both the media and recruits, presenting the fact a discussion needs to be had within the community.
The school stressed that the decision was the result of the program attempting to avoid straying from its brand, likely insisting that this year’s “Desert Ice,” “Bring the Hammer” and “Desert Chrome” uniform variations were taking away from the iconic maroon and gold the Devils have traditionally worn.
- The Sun Devils donned these “Desert Ice” Adidas alternates in the Territorial Cup for the first time this year. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
- The “Be the Hammer” ASU alternates, worn against Utah this Novmeber in Tempe Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
- A variation on the “Desert Ice” uniform, the Sun Devils wore metallic golf helmets in Eugene against the Ducks Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images
- In a game at home against UCLA, ASU wore grey textured jerseys with white helmets and pants Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
This move from the program is likely the result of added pressure from fans who are insisting that it’s important for the tradition of maroon and gold on the Sun Devils’ uniforms to remain, especially in rivalry games.
While this seems to be a smart move to cater to these fans’ wishes, the ASU athletic department should tread very carefully in its decision to ditch alternate uniforms and color schemes. It makes sense to do it for the Territorial Cup and possibly the homecoming game, but there are many other factors that are affected when the players don a certain helmet or jersey each week.
Donors and certain fan demographics’ wishes are only one part of the equation when it comes to creating a successful football program. Just as important are the dollars that merchandise brings in from the fans. More uniform combinations simply means more colors for t-shirts, jerseys, hats, socks and whatever other items ASU could sell in their stores, which could go a long way to catching up to Pac-12 schools like Oregon, who has skyrocketed to the top of athletic department revenue in the past few years. A school like ASU that consistently ranks within the top five enrollment numbers in the country should have no problem selling additional merchandise, but would be surely hindered by a program unwilling to diversify its product.
The athletic department also seems to misunderstand the impact that alternate uniforms have on the school’s brand. Preserving the maroon and gold for most games and especially those with rivalry implications is important, but turning down new designs from Adidas because of external pressure is a risky decision.
There is another issue this change brings about, and it lies within the decision to only wear throwback uniforms to commemorate a “significant accomplishment.” This essentially rules out having Sparky back on the helmet, a feature many fans, and recruits posting on social media, have enjoyed over the past few years.
This also brings us to the Desert Ice uniforms, which are also all but gone. In the 2011 rebrand ASU expanded its color palette to black, copper and white. When the uniform department designed their “Desert Ice” uniforms, the ones worn against Oregon, they were met with national acclaim and attention. ESPN, USA Today and the NCAA all posted stories about them, resulting in ever-crucial exposure of the Sun Devil brand.
For programs such as Michigan and Penn State, the traditional uniforms and colors work because they have long been dominant football programs, combining for 13 national titles and almost 2,000 wins. ASU fans must not get too complacent in the color schemes of the Bruce Snyder and Frank Kush era, as the return to traditional schemes does little to attract new players, and could lead to Tempe being seen as a less desirable landing spot for high school players.
A university’s athletic program relies on desirable recruits choosing its team over all others, inciting the notion that your program is only as good as a young, talented player’s perception of it.
Last May, the guys over at Pick Six Previews surveyed 100 high school level recruits on the impact uniforms have on their perception of a team. They found that 72 out of 100 recruits found the statement “Uniforms have a great impact on my perception of a team” either “Moderately True” or “Very True”, while only 11 recruits rated it “Very False.”
Additionally, the survey found that a remarkable 33 percent of recruits responded at least “Moderately True” to the statement: “A school’s uniforms will impact my college decision.”
This survey clearly revealed that not only are uniforms crucial in developing a perceived identity for a program in a recruit’s mind, one out of every three will actively make a decision based on how they view the uniforms.
In this chart, it’s noticeable the teams who experiment with more uniforms such as Oregon, Baylor, Oklahoma State and TCU, all rated favorably with many recruits, while teams that stuck to traditional uniforms in Alabama, Penn State and Michigan rated poorly. It’s also noticeable that Arizona State had three votes for “Best Uniforms”, which, given context clues looking at the programs it is ranked against, would be a direct result of the newer alternates Adidas has provided the Sun Devils within recent years.
While it would be ridiculous to assume the entire recruiting process relies on a flag, duck or metallic finish on a helmet, the impact of these uniform designs is undeniable.
Notably vocal about the decision to nix the alternate uniforms next year was freshman receiver N’Keal Harry.
Smh... the uniforms were cold this year. https://t.co/8ib0nZeA8h— N'Keal#⃣1⃣ (@NkealHarry15) December 13, 2016
While proximity to home and coaches like Chip Lindsey, Todd Graham and Jay Norvell likely played a large role in landing the best recruit the Sun Devils have had in recent memory, one is forced to wonder just how much of an impact Adidas’ new color schemes played in his decision, too.
Of course, however, you can’t please everyone. If the athletic department doesn’t heed to the very fans and donors that keep it afloat each year, the Sun Devils will struggle to create an environment that will lead to a winning program. In that sense, it is those groups, not the school, that need to decide how to effectively present their program from the level of the uniforms, as complacency could have a more damning effect on recruiting than many may think.