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Tire Wars, Innovation Highlight Goodyear’s Relationship with NASCAR

Kraig Doremus

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The company has been a stalwart on the track since 1954.

Goodyear’s longstanding relationship with NASCAR continues today and includes a new agreement signed late last year that keeps the company as the official tire supplier of all three of NASCAR’s national series. Image from InfieldJen.com.


When Darrell Waltrip won the first race of the 1979 NASCAR season at Riverside (California), he pulled into victory lane and thanked the three g’s: God, Gatorade … and Goodyear.

Yes, Waltrip thanked Goodyear for the incredible tire they brought to the 2.5-mile track. That was nearly 40 years ago.Today, Goodyear is still supplying tires for NASCAR and has innovated along the way.


The company has been the sole tire supplier for the sport since 1997. There may never be another tire provider for NASCAR (more on that later), but it hasn’t always been just one manufacturer supplying teams with tires. Let’s dive in and look at NASCAR’s relationship with Goodyear and how it got to where it is today.

When NASCAR first started in 1948, the official (so to speak) tire supplier was Firestone, but just six years later, Goodyear entered the picture. A relationship that began 63 years ago continues today, making it one of the longest running sponsorships in any sport.

For Goodyear, there have been wars, trials, tribulations and unique innovation associated with its involvement in NASCAR. After all, things are never just peaches and cream when it comes to two organizations working together.


The Tire Wars

In the late 1980s and into the 1990s “tire wars,” took place between Hoosier and Goodyear. While Goodyear was the tire juggernaut so to speak, Hoosier wanted a piece of the action. Hoosier began showing up at tracks (occasionally) with a better tire. The problem was that they could not attract top name talent to run the rubber and eventually left the sport, but not before a memorable tire battle happened at North Wilkesboro Speedway in 1989.

At North Wilkesboro, Goodyear rolled out the radial tire, which had been redesigned (after making its debut earlier that season). The new tire replaced the commonly used Bias-ply tires. Off the track and in other racing series, the radial tires had made an incredible movement, so the company introduced them to NASCAR’s top series, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (then called the NASCAR Winston Cup Series — a sponsorship which ended after the 2003 season). The company received some motivation to introduce it quickly, however, as Hoosier announced in late 1987 that it would supply tires to teams in 1988. The bad news for Goodyear? Neil Bonnett won at Richmond Raceway in 1988 on Hoosiers, snapping a winning streak for Goodyear of over 500 races.

In the 1989 spring race at North Wilkesboro Speedway, Dale Earnhardt captured the checkered flag. Earnhardt winning was not the story line, but rather the fact that he won on Goodyear’s radial tires. His quote following the race is one that Goodyear executives could use to show that their tire truly was the preferred brand in NASCAR.

Earnhardt, who won seven championships and 76 races in NASCAR’s top-tier series before his death in 2001, said, “We knew we were in fat city with the Goodyear radials because the further I drove on them, the better I liked them.”

Rumblings in the garage area were that Earnhardt would not be able to master the radial tires like he did the bias-ply tires. Well, the Intimidator proved them wrong, prompting team owner Richard Childress to keep the car.

Childress told NASCAR.com, “I still have that car…It was the first win anybody had on radial tires. And everybody said, ‘That’s going to be the end of Dale Earnhardt; he won’t be able to run on them radial tires.’ Well, we went out there and won the first race on them.”

Later that season, Hoosier left the sport and briefly returned in 1994 with its own version of the radial tire…but it was too late. They left again and have since not returned. In 1997, Goodyear became the official tire supplier of NASCAR.

The Tire…The Most Scrutinized Part on a Racecar?

Tony Stewart criticized Goodyear in 2008 after a race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Stewart, now retired won three Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championships. Image from NBCsports.NASCAR.com.

Over the years, drivers have voiced their displeasure with Goodyear, but the company continues to do the right things and show both improvement and innovation. Two of the company’s biggest critics have been Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart (ret.).

After a 2008 race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Stewart stated that Goodyear supplied “the most pathetic racing tire” that he’d ever used in his career. Four-time champion Jeff Gordon seemed to agree with Stewart after the ’08 Atlanta race, telling the Twin Cities Pioneer Press, “I don’t disagree with him as far as the comfort level in the situation we were in. But we have to look at all sides of this and try to give the folks that are doing their jobs the ability and constructive criticism to try to do it better.”

Busch criticized the tire company after crashing in 2017 Daytona 500 saying that Goodyear tires were not good at holding air.

Goodyear: An Innovative Company?

While there have been wars and criticism, there has also been plenty of innovation on Goodyear’s part. From the radial tire in ’89, to the wet weather radial tire for the NASCAR XFINITY Series in 2009, and finally to a multi-zone tread design tire for the 2013 race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the company has found ways to give drivers tires they need to succeed.

For the 2017 NASCAR All-Star race, Goodyear unveiled an “option” tire which contained lime green lettering on the tire (rather than the traditional “Eagle” verbiage in yellow) and was said to be up to 0.5 second faster than the “prime” (regular) tire. The catch? Any team that elected to use its sole set of option tires had to start at the rear of the field for the segment. It wasn’t a hit, but you live and learn for innovation and a non-points event is the perfect place to try it.

For the 2017 May races at Charlotte, which are held during Memorial Day Weekend, Goodyear customized its tires for the eighth year in a row. The tire did not feature the traditional “Eagle” wording but rather “Support our Troops.”

“Support for the military is part of the fabric of our company,” said Stu Grant, Goodyear’s general manager of global racing. “Goodyear’s rich history of making tires for the U.S. Armed Forces is a source of pride for our associates — especially the many that have served — and these tires are a reflection of our deep respect for all Military branches.”

A New Agreement

Goodyear President and CEO (center, right) and NASCAR President Brent Dewar (center, left) pose with current and former NASCAR drivers after the announcement that Goodyear had signed an extension with NASCAR. Image from Rubbernews.com

It does not look like Goodyear will be going anywhere anytime soon. The new agreement signed in November (terms were not disclosed) covers all three of NASCAR’s national series. For the past five seasons, research shows that Goodyear has been the most recognizable sponsor in NASCAR and surely the sport does not want to lose them. The two entities also recognize the value of having each other.

“We are tremendously proud of the pivotal role Goodyear plays in the best racing competition in the world and excited that NASCAR drivers will be crossing the finish line on Goodyear tires in the years ahead,” said Rich Kramer, chairman, CEO and president of Goodyear. “With this new agreement in place, we celebrate our enduring relationship with NASCAR and the continuing value of NASCAR to the Goodyear brand”

Ask media members and fans alike, and you’ll have split opinions. NASCAR fan Adam Peele doesn’t think we’ll see a new tire supplier potentially ever.

“As the sport has grown over the years, Goodyear has become a great part of it … It reminds me of one of my favorite sayings, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’”

Jay Busbee, who covers NASCAR for Yahoo Sports, wants to see one and believes it is possible.

“I’d like to see one, just for competition’s sake,” he said. “I think it’s possible if NASCAR continues to search for new sources of revenue.”

Key factors must be considered if another tire manufacturer wants to replace Goodyear. Is it worth the cost of manpower, hours and transportation? Goodyear manufactures more than 100,000 tires for the sport in Akron, Ohio. Also, is it worth the cost of the sponsorship? While terms of the agreement between NASCAR and Goodyear were not disclosed in November, would another company be willing to spend multi-millions of dollars to partner with the sport? Could they handle the intense scrutiny? We may never know, but if it happens, it will certainly be interesting.


For more NASCAR articles follow Kraig Doremus on Medium and Twitter. Follow Adam Peele (a_peele24) and Jay Busbee (@jaybusbee) on Twitter.


This piece has been presented to you by SMU’s Master of Science in Sport Management.


Front Office Sports is a leading multi-platform publication and industry resource that covers the intersection of business and sports.

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Kraig Doremus is the lead NASCAR reporter for Front Office Sports. He holds a B.S. in Sport Studies from Reinhardt University and is currently pursuing his M.A in Sport Education from Gardner-Webb University

Marketing

With 747 Warehouse St., adidas Delivered an Unprecedented Basketball Culture Festival

“adi-Palooza” officially cemented brand’s Los Angeles footprint.

Michael Ehrlich

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Can’t catch uncle Snoop. (Photo via adidas)

In their first season no longer the NBA’s official on-court apparel provider, adidas hit the All-Star break with unexpectedly strong momentum on the hardwood.

The emergence of Joel Embiid and Kristaps Porzingis as first-time All-Stars, combined with MVP front-runner James Harden, established All-Stars Damian Lillard and Kyle Lowry and a reunion with John Wall, set adidas up for a powerful on-court presence in Los Angeles.

However, what makes adidas unique across the industry is that their brand narrative extends well beyond the arena and NBA All-Star Weekend was a textbook case study.

The brand’s monumental statement with the launch of the massive 10,000-person capacity 747 Warehouse St. experience confirmed their reign as the only brand authentically fusing sport and culture.

For two days, during one of the sports calendar’s busiest weekends, adidas delivered consumers unique basketball, music, technology, design and art experiences rooted in creativity and innovation, while showcasing their future Los Angeles office in the ROW DTLA area of Downtown.

James Harden even stopped by. (Photo via adidas)

While other brands hosted pop-up shops, product seeding or parties around Los Angeles, 747 Warehouse St. broke through the corporate clutter of All-Star Weekend feeling more like adidas’ interpretation of Woodstock or Lollapalooza versus a traditional brand event.

Beyond visits from adidas’ robust athlete roster, fans were treated to constant live music performances from an unprecedented lineup including N.E.R.D., Childish Gambino, Kid Cudi, Lil Uzi Vert, 21 Savage, French Montana, Pusha-T and Playboi Carti, among many others.

The festival was undoubtedly highlighted by a special surprise Saturday night appearance from Kanye West – who after touring 747 Warehouse St. and visiting the interactive Brooklyn Creator Farm pop-up – introduced Kid Cudi on stage and joined him for a rare performance of “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” that exploded on social media.

Pharell was just one of the guests adidas brought to the event. (Photo via adidas)

Further enhancing the consumer experience throughout the weekend, adidas hosted industry speaker panels, a music recording studio, product customizations, exclusive product launches and three distinct themes: an evaluation of performance in the Test Center, building the future of footwear on the Production Line, and driving culture and creation in the Engine Room.

Fans also had access to the brand’s most hyped sneakers – only available at 747 Warehouse St. via an innovative RFID raffle system – including exclusive releases of Harden Vol.2, Dame 4 BAPE, FUTURECRAFT 4D, SPEEDFACTORY, Y-3, and exclusive adidas Originals styles such as BYW (BOOST You Wear), and new models from the brand’s collaboration with Alexander Wang.

One of the largest spectacles of the weekend was Snoop Dogg’s celebrity game featuring the Southern California native’s West Coast roster versus 2 Chainz’s East Coat squad of hip-hop artists. Snoop’s winning team featured David Banner and Chris Brown while 2 Chainz drafted Trinidad James and Wale. The Pharrell Williams-designed “Hu Court” was standing room only with Michael Rapaport and Fat Joe serving as on-court commentators and even Nike-sponsored Odell Beckham Jr. made an appearance to check out the action.

Snoop and the fans were loving it. (Photo via adidas)

The overall scale of 747 Warehouse St., combined with the precise fusion of sport; music, culture, and creativity established a new bar for brand experiences. This was not merely an NBA All-Star activation, but truly a basketball culture festival, further cementing adidas’ unique footprint in Los Angeles and across the sports and culture landscape.

Team LeBron may have won the NBA All-Star Game on the court, but Team adidas captured the hearts and minds of the sports and culture world with 747 Warehouse St.

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College Athletics

What’s In a Bid: How Cities Land and Prepare to Host the College Football Playoff National Championship Game

Years of preparation culminate in a week-long celebration of college football, the fans, and the best teams in the country.

Adam White

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Miami-South Florida will host the 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship (Photo via the CFP)

Hosting the College Football Playoff National Championship takes a coordinated effort across host committees, cities, teams, and organizers, and although the festivities last just over a week, the preparation for the biggest game of the college football season begins years in advance. From Miami-South Florida and Indianapolis to Los Angeles and Houston, host committees for the 2021-2024 national championship games have put months, and sometimes years, into scoring the big game for their community.

How do they do it? What does the process look like? Come with us as we take a look inside what it is like to go from Request For Proposal (RFP) to being awarded a game, and what it means for the city.

The RFP Process

Arguably the most strenuous part of the process is the RFP. From collecting the correct amount of data, to being able to use that data to pitch a city as the best to host the game is a challenging endeavor.

“For a mega event like CFP, there is an extremely comprehensive request for information on just about every facet of the community, from venue information to accommodations to public safety and everything in between,” said Janis Schmees Burke, CEO of the Harris County – Houston Sports Authority. “The challenge comes, not from collecting and articulating that information into a proposal, but rather doing it a way that truly tells the unique story of the community you represent and then matching the region’s attributes to the specific needs of the event.”

Not only does the process require immense amounts of data and sometimes even years of planning, but rallying the support of the city is paramount for the bid to have any chance of success during the RFP process.

“We also try to find ways to connect our community in a tangible way and leave a lasting legacy as a benefit of hosting,” said Burke. “We work years in advance on some bids, while other ones are a quick turnaround.”

Luckily for many of the communities, having previous experiences with big games can pay dividends during the RFP process. Miami-South Florida, the host of the 2021 game, has a long history of hosting Super Bowls, New Year’s Six bowl games, and national championships, something the host committee says played a part in being able to earn the opportunity to host another game.

“With the experience of participating in previous CFPNCG bid efforts, we patiently awaited the next opportunity to submit the bid for this cycle,” said Michael Chavies, Chairman of the 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship Game Bid Committee. “Although we had a shorter period of time (approximately six weeks) to put our response together, our proactive preparation and organization were crucial to our ability to finally succeed.”

During the process, getting feedback from the College Football Playoff is key to the overall success of a bid and the timely nature of a submission. Led by Kathryn Schloessman, President of the Los Angeles Sports & Entertainment Commission, for the team out of LA, it was this kind of feedback that they believe allowed them to submit the best bid possible.

Los Angeles will host the 2023 CFP National Championship (Image via the CFP)

“What was good about this process is that we were getting feedback on what we were doing, what we needed to do, what we needed to change, so we weren’t guessing on what they were looking for, we were getting specific feedback into what they wanted so we could change our bid.”

As tedious as the RFP process can be on host committees, the ability to bring a marquee event to their city is well worth the time. For the selected communities, the work is just beginning.

Being Awarded the Game and Planning for the Future

With the RFP in the past, and host cities now beginning to gear up for games that are only a few years away, the extra lead time can provide major dividends for the committees and their constituents.

“Having five years to prepare is a wonderful advantage, as it will allow us to have discussions with the CFP to determine if there are adjustments or additions they would like to make for the event,” said Susan Baughman, Senior VP of Strategy & Operations at the Indiana Sports Corp. “We believe it also gives us the opportunity to work with the CFP to develop programs with deep ties to the community.”

Indianapolis will host the 2022 CFP National Championship (Photo via the CFP)

Beyond pure logistics, much of the preparation goes into educating communities about the event and what it means for the city, as well as making sure that the city’s constituents are provided with benefits beyond just having the eyes of a country on you.

“Our biggest goal is to educate the marketplace so everybody knows what the College Football Playoff National Championship is, given that it’s only in its fourth year,” said Schloessman.

It is this education that provides the foundation for making sure the best event possible is thrown.

“It is very important. Getting the legs of support and getting support behind how this is good for the city and the financials behind it is key and the lead-time helps,” added Schloessman. “You don’t want to have too much lead time, but for us to get all our ducks in order by 2023 to make sure we are in the best position financially to throw the best CFP event yet is critical.”

Having three to six years of lead time allows the selected cities the ability to continue to build community interest, education, and make the right adjustments so come January of their chosen year, the game can go off without a hitch.

Importance of Local Relationships

While having a compelling storyline and sales pitch for your city is great, as these host committees know, their bids wouldn’t have been selected without the backing of key constituents in each of their cities.

“We were lucky in the fact that we had done all the groundwork when it came to looking at all these ancillary venues and evaluating where the best places to put things would be,” added Schloessman when talking about why the bid process for LA went smoothly. “We had already made our inroads with all the particular people we needed to get in touch with.”

For Miami, a city built on big events, entertainment, and tourism, the backing, while expected given their track record, is still the most important part of the bid.

“When preparing a bid response for College Football Playoff National Championship, relationships with local officials and constituents are tremendously important and absolutely key to a successful result,” added Chavies. “In a monumental effort such as this, everyone has to be fully dedicated and on the same page in order to succeed.”

Houston will host the 2024 CFP National Championship (Photo via the CFP)

Even though getting the backing of key stakeholders is key, for cities like Houston, the support of the community and the residents living there is just as important.

“So much of the success that Houston has experienced in hosting sporting events is a true testament to the comprehensive support that our community provides,” said Burke. “It includes every resident of the Greater Houston Area which flows down from the immense level of support that our elected officials have provided over the years, as well as the local citizens that volunteer and show up in a big way.”

From volunteers all the way up to elected officials, events like the College Football Playoff National Championship wouldn’t go on without an immense amount of backing, and it is this support that can make or break a city’s bid for a marquee event or game.

What Being Awarded the Game Means for the Cities

When it all comes down to it, being awarded an event like the College Football Playoff National Championship comes with great responsibility, but also the opportunity to showcase your city and the best it has to offer to the thousands of people who make the journey and the millions watching on TV.

“The College Football Playoff National Championship will have a significant positive impact to residents and businesses while putting Indianapolis on a national stage as a great place to live, work and visit,” said Baughman. “National events like the CFP provide unique experiences through volunteer opportunities or once-in-a-lifetime experiences as a fan in your hometown, as well as building great civic pride as we entertain a nation of college football fans.”

Outside of the opportunity to showcase the city on a national scale, the economic impact for an event like the College Football Playoff National Championship extends far beyond just game day.

“An event of this magnitude and prestige provides our community with not only a great sense of civic pride, but also a tremendous economic boon to the area,” added Chavies. “Tourism is vital to our economy, and this provides an incredible opportunity to showcase our region and attract visitors from all over the country and provide them with every reason to return.”

Hosting the game also allows football-crazed areas like Houston to be the pinnacle of the season, something that community leaders believe is one of the greatest benefits.

“Houston is football crazy, whether it’s our professional team or the multiple universities in town, we live and breathe football,” explained Burke. “Having an entire college football season culminate in its pinnacle event right here in our own backyard is a powerful experience that our community has embraced with arms wide open.”

And for areas like LA that typically see a slowdown in traffic during the winter months, hosting the national championship game gives the city a chance to throw its collective weight at an event of this stature.

“It is a great opportunity for us to bring a massive audience to the area at a time of year that it is so slow because of the fact it is so close to the holiday season, so this is one of the windows of the year where we want events like this,” said Schloessman.

Although it only lasts close to 4 hours, preparation for the College Football Playoff National Championship begins months, if not years, in advance to accommodate the thousands of fans and hundreds of media members that descend upon the cities of choice.

It is this preparation, along with the coordinated support of the CFP, its partners, and the community partners of the event that have allowed the game to grow in stature and prestige.

So to Miami-South Florida, Houston, Indy, and LA, the floor is yours. Let’s see what you got.

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Business

An NFL Offseason Offers Hope for Teams, but So Might a Rebranded Look

The NFL’s partnership with Nike has inspired some bolder changes in its first five years.

Scot Chartrand

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NFL teams reveal their new Nike uniforms in 2012–via NFL Films

The NFL’s Partnership with Nike Has Inspired Some Bolder Changes in Its First Five Years

For 30 of the NFL’s 32 team fan bases, it’s the offseason already. The focus is on what your favorite team could do to improve their performance and identity on the field next season.

But for several teams, there’s also the business side of improving the identity of the team.  Sometimes this can go hand in hand with the football side.  Sometimes, that identity can leave fans just as frustrated.

Today in the NFL, these changes have been further encouraged by the involvement of league partner, Nike, since 2012. What’s gone right under Nike? What leaves us wanting?  What happened before Nike?

We reached out to a number of experts in logos and brand identity for some of their thoughts on the past and future of brand and visual identity changes for NFL teams and explored how teams can make these changes.

THE WORLD OF NFL IDENTITY CHANGES BEFORE NIKE

There are teams that have maintained the same, basic look for well over a half-century. The Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, and others come to mind in thinking of a more timeless brand identity.

The lone star adorns the Cowboys helmet. Vince Lombardi’s famous “G” for greatness rests on Green Bay’s. Even Bubbles the Lion has been on Detroit helmets in some fashion since the 1960s. Their business side need not worry about that part of their identity.

Not every franchise has such a look…or one that might create a fan revolt if they tried to change it.

Over the years, NFL rebrands have either tried to modernize a look or completely overhaul it.  Sometimes, the rebrands were attempting to jump-start a floundering team on the field.  Other times, teams were in the middle of success.

Let’s take a look at examples of each.

Cincinnati Bengals, before and after 1981 change–via Amarillo Globe News (l) and Bengals.com (r)

Entering the early 1980s, the Cincinnati Bengals had failed to produce much success on the field since their founding.  Paul Brown took to Cincinnati and immediately created an identity similar to what the Browns had built under him in Cleveland with orange helmets designed to aid the quarterback looking down the field.

In 1981, the team switched from an orange helmet with the word “Bengals” plastered over it to today’s unique, striped orange helmet.  Strangely enough, their fortunes turned around on the field right away.

After defeating the Chargers in freezing temperatures to win the AFC Championship, they played in Super Bowl XVI against Joe Montana’s San Francisco 49ers and made another Super Bowl appearance at the end of the decade as well.

Todd Radom (@toddradom) of Todd Radom Design has worked in sports branding and design for a quarter century.  When we asked him about his favorite brand change in the NFL, he saw the Bengals as most notable.

This may be an outside of the box opinion, but the Bengals’ 1981 helmet and uniform change comes to mind first. They went from a bland, vanilla look to something truly ownable and noteworthy. The uniform has been degraded in the years since, but that first iteration was a brilliant one, way ahead of its time. The helmet communicates the franchise identity seamlessly and effectively. A winning tradition would have helped elevate this in the public consciousness.”

New England Patriots, before and after 1993 change–via Patriots.com

Not all fans of this year’s Super Bowl participant, New England, remember the old Pat the Patriot logo on a white helmet with a striped red jersey at the shoulders.

The Patriots made one Super Bowl appearance in the old uniforms, but fell on hard times behind less memorable quarterbacks, such as Hugh Millen and Scott Zolak. That was until Robert Kraft bought the team from Victor Kiam and hired Bill Parcells in 1993.

That year, the Patriots conducted a dramatic rebrand to their “Flying Elvis” Patriots logo on a silver helmet with blue jerseys.  The look also welcomed new quarterback Drew Bledsoe, and within a few years, Parcells led them to a Super Bowl appearance in 1996.

It would not be until Tom Brady’s arrival with Bill Belichick in 2000 that the look (and another adjusted uniform) became as cemented in the minds of football fans, but the dramatic branding change paid off in New England.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers, before and after 1997 change–via St. Pete Times (l) and Buccaneers.com (r)

In the middle of the 1980s, things were so bad in Tampa that a local media outlet took a survey to determine which NFL team locals should consider rooting for instead of the Buccaneers (FYI, the Browns were the winner).

The “Bucco Bruce” logo of a swashbuckler with a sword in his mouth and creamsicle orange jerseys didn’t quite inspire fear and neither did the team’s play.

Enter new owner Malcolm Glazer, new head coach Tony Dungy, and the color known as pewter. The “Pewter Pirates” suddenly sported a large red pirate flag on the pewter helmet and a team muddled in failure for 15 years became a consistent playoff participant through winning Super Bowl XXXVII under Jon Gruden.

In these cases, the teams rode significant branding changes from rags to riches.

Two other teams made major changes while on top of the world.

Denver Broncos, before and after 1997 change–via NFL.com (l) and Rant Sports (r)

The Denver Broncos logo and “orange crush” persona were so iconic, that the horse in the middle of the D on their helmet came from not just the top of Mile High Stadium’s scoreboard—“Bucky Bronco” was actually a model cast from Roy Rogers’ horse, Trigger.

Denver had been a top-tier AFC franchise since John Elway’s arrival, but they had gone 0-for-4 in the Super Bowl to match the dubious achievements of the Vikings and Bills at the time.

The first year the team switched to the dramatic rebranded horse head along with the navy uniforms (fueled by design from Nike), they erased that tradition of losing the big game and claimed the first of their two back-to-back titles.

St. Louis (now Los Angeles) Rams, before and after 2000 change–via TheRams.com (l) and stltoday.com (r)

In 1999, Trent Green went down with a season-ending injury for the St. Louis Rams in the preseason, and well, the rest is history.  Kurt Warner’s improbable story resulted in a title, but the following year, the Rams ditched their bright blue and yellow colors they brought with them from the Golden State to wrap themselves in Y2K with Millennium Blue and New Century Gold.

They went right back to the Super Bowl after a year and fell short to New England, but the bold move caught the eye of Chris Creamer (@sportslogosnet), who is well known for his work for two decades on SportsLogos.net, a comprehensive database of sports logos for all things sports.

“At the time I was a big fan of the change the St. Louis Rams made to their logo and color scheme, back around the turn of the century. It seems odd to have this opinion now with everything retro being big, but by the late 1990s that yellow and blue of the Rams was aging poorly and needed an update bad – a switch to navy blue and gold while maintaining the classic horns and introducing the modern rams head logo was great for the era. It hasn’t stood up to the test of time (the color scheme, that is… the logo is doing just fine) and it could stand an update now, but as far as a classic look getting an update in 2000 that was a good way to go.”

Arizona Cardinals, before and after the 2005 change–via USA Today (l) and AZCardinals.com (r)

So, what about simply modernizing a classic look?  That’s what impressed Donovan Moore (@colorwerx), founder of ColorWerx, a website dedicated to preserving historical sports color data.

“My favorite logo change of all time is a completely biased one, but I believe is still worthy of mention: the Arizona Cardinals rebrand in 2005. I’ve been a die-hard Cardinals fan since the late ‘60s, and what makes that particular change so perfect (in my eyes), was the fact that they created a logo that completely modernized the look, while still preserving the tradition of the primary mark. Most people noticed the corresponding uniform changes, but were somewhat unaware of the logo change. Put them side-by-side and you can easily see the differences, but on the field, they still look like the Cardinals.”

These days, there are fans of some teams who would long for such an incremental change.

An incremental change wasn’t on the mind of two NFL teams who were quite successful in the 1980s and 1990s.

Carmen Policy speaks at a press conference unveiling an ill-fated 49ers helmet in 1991–via San Francisco Chronicle

The San Francisco 49ers unveiled a “49ers” helmet in 1991 that replaced the “SF” they had won four Super Bowls with and scrapped it six days later.

Also in the 1990’s, the Miami Dolphins had prepared a very avant-garde design that would be a violent shock to the system for most Dolphins fans that was dismissed before any public unveiling.

Even the Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns kicked around prototype helmets in the 1960’s with logos that would stun many fans that weren’t aware.

It’s not that teams didn’t try major rebrands prior to Nike’s work with the NFL…

NFL IDENTITY CHANGES UNDER NIKE

After replacing Reebok as the NFL’s exclusive manufacturer in 2012, Nike sought to bring with them some of the same revolutionary branding they had created for universities, such as Oregon.

At first, the only team in the Pacific Northwest tried Nike’s magic.  In the following years, teams became bolder.

Seattle Seahawks Nike uniform–via Tacoma News Tribune

NFL Rebrands by Year under the Nike agreement:

  • 2012:  Carolina Panthers, Cincinnati Bengals, Seattle Seahawks
  • 2013:  Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings
  • 2014:  Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • 2015:  Cleveland Browns
  • 2017:  Detroit Lions

While some were more modest upgrades and modernization of the brand, others were much more dramatic.  Seattle, Jacksonville, Miami, Tampa Bay and Cleveland are generally considered to be among the greatest changes in terms of rebrands in this group.

SportsLogos.net’s Chris Creamer saw the perks of teams trying to be bold in utilizing Nike for rebrands so far as well as the drawbacks teams have faced.

“Nike taking over the NFL has led to some interesting and out-of-the-box designs – their Miami redesign would’ve worked if the team was an expansion franchise, but alas a history (with championships) is involved there, so it changes how one perceives it. I can’t say I was much of a fan of what they did with Cleveland, Tampa Bay and Jacksonville, but I’m never going to fault a company for trying something new, I’m just not necessarily a fan of the result.”

On the other hand, fan sentiment seemed to applaud redesigned uniforms in Seattle.  It certainly didn’t hurt that the team has since experienced success in them with a Super Bowl title and two appearances coinciding with the Russell Wilson era in 2012.

However, as Creamer noted, some fans in places like Cleveland and the three Florida teams have been less receptive.  A visit to some of the pages of the SportsLogos.net Forum section of his site will often find discussions about the two-toned Jaguars helmet and the appeal of the Dolphins’ throwback jerseys as examples of fans hoping for change already.

Todd Radom sees some improvement in the work Nike has done as the contract has aged along with some opportunities ahead to improve their work:

It’s still early, but Nike has corrected some egregious mistakes, particularly with regard to neck trim. I think it’s safe to assume that we will begin to see a wave of changes next year and beyond, so the jury is still out as far as I’m concerned.”

Those windows for change of the initial teams to rebrand under Nike are now starting open.

As noted, Nike’s contract with the NFL began in 2012.  According to the NFL Constitution and Bylaws, teams essentially must wait five years after a change in branding to try again.

NFL Constitution and Bylaws Article XIX 19.9

NFL Constitution and Bylaws Article XIX 19.9–via NFL Digital Care

NFL 2002 Resolution G-3 and Attachment–via NFL Digital Care

It’s not just the five-year waiting period, though.  Besides the notification of March 1, of the year prior, it takes two years just to design a new uniform as noted in a report published by CBS Sports last year that dealt with dissatisfaction around the Cleveland Browns uniforms.

Cleveland Browns huddle–via NFL.com

Cleveland will have to start the process now, but still wait until 2020 to see the finished product. However, fans in Jacksonville and Miami are eligible this upcoming season—provided that pre-work has gone in.

So what is sparking all this fan interest in uniforms and logos?  Is it just Nike?

Again, we reached out to our experts for their thoughts on the evolution of fan interest in team branding elements.

From Todd Radom’s perspective, he noted, “Some folks have always cared about this stuff, but the sheer number of uniforms that are trotted out these days and the marketing behind them has really ramped up interest tremendously. There was a time when NFL uniforms were, for the most part, functional and very utilitarian. Third jerseys, the use of throwbacks and, yes, ‘Color Rush’—have all helped to ramp up fan interest.”

Chris Creamer remembers an earlier time that piqued his interest, sharing as follows, “Pre-internet, I just presumed I was the only person in the world who cared about the uniforms being worn. I’d point out the throwback helmets and jerseys during the NFL 75th anniversary games in 1994 and the others in the room would usually respond with ‘huh, I didn’t even notice.’

The internet changed all of that when I discovered that there were plenty others just like me and they all thought they were all alone in their interest. The explosion of interest is fantastic for me because I run a site dedicated to this topic, but I also wonder if it puts too much pressure on teams to tinker with their look and to try and come up with a reason for every little design element perhaps complicating a design.

Back in the day, a team would have two stripes on each sleeve and it wouldn’t be for some manufactured reason, it’d be because it looked better that way.”

To Creamer’s point, when the MLS’s Columbus Crew SC rebranded back in 2015, they actually identified six separate elements to a simple soccer roundel.

So, these days, fans don’t take rebrands that lightly as evidenced by the infamous one-day L.A. Chargers logo last year that involved the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Lightning exploring their relationship dynamic on Twitter and sparked a quick retraction.

LOOKING AHEAD TO CHANGES IN 2018 AND BEYOND

So, what’s on the horizon in the NFL?

As already noted, the Jaguars and Dolphins are eligible to make a change—as are any teams that have not made a change since 2013.

Tennessee Titans owner Amy Adams Strunk confirmed last training camp in an interview with The Tennessean what had been rumored previously, that the Titans would be changing uniforms (and likely helmets) for 2018.  She went on to add that the changes are “not minor.”

In fact, Titans fans need to ready themselves for this in April. Back in Jacksonville, one of the newly eligible teams to make a change appears ready to take another swing for the fences with Nike.

The Titans aren’t the only fan base that can look forward to this upcoming April.

As rumored last year and confirmed this week by Mark Long of the Associated Press, the Jaguars will have new helmets in 2018 and will feature more teal in their uniforms in a redesigned look.  The impetus here might be the team’s former coach now serving in the front office—Tom Coughlin.

Chris Creamer agrees with the suspected changes ahead with the Jaguars.

“The Jacksonville Jaguars need to re-embrace the teal part of their identity; I realize the Dolphins use something similar in-state, but there’s nothing necessarily special about this club wearing black and gold (also… Saints?), not to mention that gimmicky helmet. One of those designs folks will look back on ten years from now with a chuckle, and twenty years from now with a ‘they need to bring it back!’”

So, we have two teams making changes to their identity this offseason.

What else would our experts like to see?

Dallas Cowboys huddle–via Bleacher Report

For Donovan Moore of ColorWerx, it’s cleaning up some aspects of “America’s Team.”

My most hoped for uniform change is one a lot of uniform aficionados have been waiting for: the Dallas Cowboys. Although they made a very subtle color change in 2012 to match the helmet color to the road pant color (at least in print – the helmets used to be Silver-Blue), they are still using Silver and Navy helmets with White, Royal Blue and Silver-GREEN pants at home (yes, they are officially called Silver-Green). I truly believe they could easily standardize the color scheme without too much of an uproar from the traditionalists.”

Los Angeles Rams’ Jared Goff–via WPVI-TV

Todd Radom looked ahead to two teams rumored to be targeting notable changes in 2020.

Let’s start with the Rams, who are a disjointed mess. Then we can shift our attention to Cleveland, a franchise that needs to blow many things up and start anew—and yes, this sentiment applies to their on-field look too.”

The Orange County Register confirmed last year that the Rams have begun the process of making the change, but have yet to decide when. Originally, they were to change uniforms to coincide with moving into their new stadium in Inglewood, Los Angeles Stadium at Hollywood Park. However, with the project delayed by a year, the Rams may very well give the new uniforms the same fate.

Perhaps the Rams will return to something closer to their look when in Los Angeles most recently?  Don’t get Rams fans started…

Los Angeles Rams “Melonheads” fans–via Los Angeles Daily News

There are a whole host of possible changes and tweaks diehard fans have thought about that weren’t even mentioned.

Occasionally discussion will arise topics like the Philadelphia Eagles and Kelly green uniforms (owner Jeffrey Lurie has said he’d love to see this). Additionally, the Denver Broncos and the old bronco in the D logo on helmets occasionally will arise as a possible change (Color Rush helmets tried this the last two years).

After all, beyond the traditional uniforms, teams can experiment further with throwbacks and now Color Rush uniforms to stir the imagination and support of fans.

Branding and identity are big business.

So, it’s the offseason again for most teams, and all hope springs eternal for next season.

What can we expect? We’ll know soon enough.

…and for other teams that won’t see April showers bring new branding flowers, it’s another opportunity to stir up more and more interest in their team’s identity and only increase awareness of branding, uniforms, and logos.

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