The big professional leagues in Europe (i.e. the best leagues in the world) are now in the off season and won’t start up again until August. In the mean time, soccer fans get their soccer fix by immersing themselves in what we at Shorthanded refer to as soccer fashion season. This time every year teams debut redesigned team shirts to the eager anticipation of fans everywhere.
Think back—when was the last time you looked forward to the release of your team’s new uniform? In the United States, it’s pretty rare. That’s because here, team uniforms are near sacrosanct. Basketball, baseball, and football jerseys might change, but its usual slow and subtle. The exceptions tend to be when a team’s logo undergoes a dramatic change or when the team decides to rebrand itself. Witness the evolution of the New England Patriot’s uniform.
The Patriots have changed their uniforms, but it happened slowly over a period of years. The most dramatic change occurred in 1993 when the team changed the uniform’s primary color from red to blue. Simultaneously, the team ditched the “Pat Patriot” logo in favor of the current, streamlined moniker, affectionately referred to by fans as the “Flying Elvis”.
The evolution of the Patriot’s uniform typifies American traditions for uniforms. The basic premise: don’t mess with it.
The tradition is soccer is dramatically different. Uniforms (or “kits”) change annually and, often, dramatically.
This is surprising considering that soccer prides its tradition and history. Unlike in the U.S., soccer teams aren’t named for animals or groups of people or weather phenomena, they’re named after the team’s locale. For example, Barcelona’s team is “Futbol Club (FC) Barcelona” and the city of Manchester is represented by the teams “Manchester United F.C.” and “Manchester City F.C.”
Teams are not primarily “brands” as they are stateside; instead they are first and foremost the embodiment of the local community. Soccer fans blanche at the idea of introducing mascots or redesigning the team crest (a.k.a its logo). Fans organize protests and commit vandalism when an owner attempts to slap corporate sponsorship on a stadium. Teams do not change cities. They are as wedded to their places as the local cathedral or monument; anyone who dares to mess with the local symbol must be prepared to face fan and media wrath.
Team uniforms, however, are a different matter. Nothing illustrates the chasm between American and world attitudes to uniforms than this: soccer shirts always feature a corporate sponsors whose logo dwarfs the team’s crest. There is no team “Samsung” or “188Bet” or “AirAsia” but you wouldn’t know it from the the shirts of Chelsea, Bolton, and Queens Park Rangers. In fact, unless you know a team’s colors, you won’t know what team you’re looking at without a set of binoculars.
Sometimes that’s not a problem, especially if your team’s shirt sponsor is something cool. For a time Barcelona donated the spot on its jersey to UNICEF. Who’d be ashamed of wearing a shirt emblazoned with an organization devoted to saving children?
Other fans, though, have not been so lucky. FC Nuremberg were, for a time sponsored by a company called “Mister Lady” while Lyon’s shirts were once emblazoned with “Le 69.”