JERSEYS GET JAZZED
When World League football kicks off again, an American game will have a European look
BOSTON — LONG after Sunday's Super Bowl champion has been crowned, promoters hope that football-hungry fans will want to see dragons battle double-edged swords.
The dragons are the Barcelona Dragons, and the swords - or Claymores - are a Scottish team. They will be part of a revamped all-European World League that will play American-style football beginning April 8.
But to woo European fans to this non-native sport, it has to look more European. That's where sportswear designer Margaret Green of Green Design Group came in.
``When you translate something American to a new culture,'' Ms. Green says, ``you want to pick up something from the culture to help it gain acceptance.'' You might change the packaging or some words in the instructions to be more in tune with native consumers. And the sport Europeans are already in tune with is soccer.
``I tried to take the visual from the world of soccer and translate that into the world of [American] football,'' Green says. Another consideration was the big retail market in Europe for merchandise with sports-team logos (team jerseys, hats, jackets). So the uniforms not only have to identify the team, they also must appeal to consumers. National Football League-licensed merchandise is a $3 billion-a-year business in the US. The NFL is partners in the six-team World League with Fox Broadcasting.
The uniforms also had to reflect the sport's newness in Europe, Green says. In the NFL, ``you have [uniforms] that are steeped in tradition - the teams have been around 75 years. American football in Europe is something that is new, so the uniforms should be new and different.''
The size and placement of the numbers on World League uniforms may seem new, but it's not. Green was inspired by old-time football jerseys. The smaller numbers also don't interfere with the bold designs on the front. She was reassured that the numbers were big enough to see on television when she saw the Chicago Bears and the Pittsburgh Steelers play in their old-fashioned jerseys this past season. (The ``throwback'' uniforms were part of the league's 75th anniversary celebration.)
Sports uniforms in the US are somewhat bound by tradition, says Larry Weindruch of the National Sporting Goods Association. ``Other than incremental changes, they remain relatively the same,'' Mr. Weindruch says. If a team does change its look, it often coincides with the arrival of a new coach or the desire to shed a losing tradition, he adds.
College uniforms tend to be bolder, but a team like Penn State has a winning tradition and has stuck with its plain blue-and-white uniform for a long time. Black is a popular new trend in US uniforms, he observes: the Atlanta Falcons uniforms, for example.
What's interesting this year is that the San Francisco 49ers kept wearing their throwback uniforms - with the black shadow block behind the number - when they kept winning. ``Look to see if they wear them in the Super Bowl,'' Weindruch says.
The World League, which first appeared in 1991 but was disbanded a year later, has been retooled to better satisfy European tastes, simplify travel schedules (the three teams based in the US and Canada were dropped), and to please American TV viewers. Three of the six teams - the Barcelona (Spain) Dragons, the Frankfurt (Germany) Galaxy, and the London Monarchs - are holdovers from 1991, though their uniforms were redesigned. The new teams are the Scottish Claymores (they will play in Edinburgh), the Amsterdam Admirals, and the Rhein Fire (of Dusseldorf, Germany).
The World League's 10-game schedule will culminate in a Super Bowl-style championship on June 17. The teams are scheduled to start training in the US in late February.
In a way, the World League uniforms may serve as a test. ``There is the feeling that the NFL uniforms need updating,'' Green says, noting that the Dallas Cowboys' new uniforms - with stars on the shoulders and blue color blocks on the sleeves - were well-received by many fans.
Michael Lewis, vice president of design and marketing for Apex, which redesigned the Cowboys' uniforms, says it took nine tries before they ``got it right.'' The redesign, inspired by the franchise's original 1958 jerseys, was part of a three-year marketing plan (to include sideline apparel), in which a new product was introduced each Thanksgiving game. Thanksgiving is one of football's biggest days and, conveniently, coincides with the busiest shopping time of year.
``The most important things are the team's heritage, the credibility of what the team has been, and the target of where this team wants to go,'' Mr. Lewis says.
``The Cowboys are a dynamic team with dynamic management,'' Lewis says, thus the big stars work. A more conservative team - say, the Cleveland Browns - wouldn't call for as bold a redesign, he adds.
Lewis predicts that Americans will be seeing more clothing coordination: uniforms more carefully translated into sideline apparel and, of course, consumer merchandise. But, he cautions, you can't just start from scratch in the NFL.
``You just can't throw new colors, new logos on uniforms,'' he says. ``There has to be a lineage - or a thread.''