It started innocuously enough, with a sign on the outfield wall. And soon there were three or four. Before you knew it, there was advertising behind home plate, rotating inning by inning.
Some people loved the throwback nature of the signage – it reminded them of Ebbetts Field or the Polo Grounds – harkening back to days when ballparks weren’t multi-use and had incredible character.
Then, in 1992, we woke up to find the MLB logo on the back of our caps. No matter, it represented the game that we love, and it was a small logo near the base of the neck.
A couple of years ago that same logo made its way to the back belt loop of MLB pants. As an aside, you always knew when a player replaced his “gamers” with an old pair, as the logo was noticeably absent.
It took more than twenty years, but the creep continued. Beginning with last season’s playoffs, and much to the chagrin of Phil Hecken and Paul Lukas, New Era placed their logo right there on the temple.
Since the snowball had already started rolling, the powers-that-be decided to simply get out of the way. Which led to the announcement made at this week’s Winter Meetings that will forever alter the sartorial arc of Major League uniforms.
For years we have discussed the blurred lines between amateurs and professionals. In that context, we normally discuss money – money paid (or not) to athletes. But one way the lines are not blurry at all is in licensing. Whether you work for Boston College or the Boston Red Sox, whether you draw a check from San Diego State or the San Diego Padres, you are looking to maximize licensing revenue. And, as such, you now make your uniforms, well, uniform.
Starting in 2020, MLB uniforms will look no different than college uniforms. There are few pieces of iconography in our world left unperturbed by commercialization and advertising. To be clear, I am not a “get off my lawn” guy, and have been perfectly okay with the inundation of advertising in ballparks across the country (although I could do without the ads on the foul pole).
Once Under Armour begins outfitting Major League teams (including base layers and outerwear), their logo will be front and (off) center, on the right chest of every Big Leaguer.
We have known for some time that UA won the licensing right to MLB uniforms (Majestic has been providing uniforms since 2005). But it wasn’t until the current meetings in Maryland (UA’s home state) that we learned where their logo would reside. According to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, having the logo on the front of the uniform rather than the sleeve more than doubled the license fee. While we don’t know the actual deal terms (they are yet to be disclosed), we can now affirmatively state that there is a price tag for everything.
Baseball has been criticized in many circles for being anachronistic, being too tied to its past. There is consternation that basketball and football are better at appealing to younger fans. That, no doubt, was the impetus for this deal. No doubt, being affiliated with Bryce Harper, Steph Curry, Cam Newton, and Jordan Spieth will help attract a new, young audience.