Thursday, June 27, 2013

Sleeved Jerseys Are Here To Stay

Last February, the Golden State Warriors made headlines when the NBA announced that the team would be wearing short-sleeved jerseys in a few games during the regular season.  Reaction to the news was overall pretty mixed (a poll on the San Jose Mercury News site revealed that 52% of fans didn’t like the look), but some just plain hated it.  Whatever your reaction, if you thought the Warriors experiment with sleeved jerseys was the last we’d hear of this phenomenon, you were wrong. 

Courtesy of Darren Rovell, news broke recently that more teams (at least five, apparently) would be sporting the sleeved look next season.  Shortly after that announcement, the Phoenix Suns (who have recently updated their uniform and logo) revealed that they would be one of the teams wearing the sleeved jerseys (despite the objections of at least one of their own players).  So with sleeved jerseys apparently here to stay, now seems like an appropriate time to look at why the NBA is moving in this direction, and how fans might continue to react to the trend.

During the initial reveal of the sleeved jerseys, the NBA made a lot of noise about how they were created with the fan in mind.  Apparently, the idea is that because basketball jerseys, unlike baseball or soccer ones, have no sleeves, fans are limited in the number of places that they can wear them (a supposition the hipster movement no doubt disagrees with).  Slapping on the sleeves thus makes the jerseys more fashion-palatable so to speak, with an additional benefit being that NBA fans (who tend to not possess the physiques of NBA players) can cover up their likely embarrassing biceps.  That, of course, fails to explain why the jerseys are so fitted.  Apparently, the NBA views scrawny arms as more of an epidemic among NBA fans than flabby spare tires (a supposition take issue with).

Of course, everything in the preceding paragraph is little more than fan service.  The true motives of the NBA are indicated in the headline of the article on announcing the news: Phoenix Suns will wear sleeved jerseys to help NBA merchandise sales.  Yes, the NBA is of course a business first and foremost, and one that has proved exceedingly effective at generating an impressive amount of revenue from replica jersey sales alone (hence alternate jerseys, Noche Latina jerseys, St. Patrick’s Day jerseys, throwback jerseys, and so on and so forth forever).

The sleeved jerseys are simply the latest evolution of this trend (and possibly the most lucrative one yet, considering that the “new” jerseys cost $110, as opposed to $60 or so for the traditional replicas).  These sleeved jerseys (as opposed to the throwbacks, or alternates) were met with negativity because many NBA fans tend to be traditionalists, immediately opposed to any change to the game they grew up watching (remember the new ball?).  Unfortunately for those fans, they will likely just have to get used to this kind of thing. 

Like any business, the NBA is interested in making money.  That’s why, in a not unrelated move, the NBA recently announced that they would be renting out ad space for the first time on the baseline of the court, and the backboard as well.  The league is searching for new ways to generate revenue, and as a result, ads will become more frequent on the court, and eventually move on to the jerseys as well.  And conveniently, the sleeves on these reviled jerseys will provide all that much more ad space.

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As a soccer fan (a sport where ads are everywhere), I recognize the need for the NBA to make money however they can (particularly if it keeps prices of tickets, condiments, and other game-related expenses elsewhere down), and I think many fans will eventually accept the reality of this issue, as well.  Not only in regards to the idea of these sleeved jerseys, but in-game advertising and other moneymaking opportunities for the NBA, as well.

Remember, there was a time when people criticized Michael Jordan for wearing baggy shorts, or Allen Iverson for wearing a headband.  Those accessories are commonplace now, and the sleeves probably will be someday too.  One mistake the NBA made with the Warriors jerseys was to intentionally mismatch them, pairing a solid-colored top with pinstriped bottoms.  The result is not easy on the eyes and likely one reason why Steph Curry called them “ugly” back in March.  If the Suns’ variant on the sleeved jerseys looks better, that will go a long way towards establishing the popularity of the new look.  After all, there was a time when wearing a t-shirt on the basketball court was cool.  No reason it can’t be again.

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