In March of this year, VCU’s athletic program unveiled a new logo for the second time in as many years, toward the end of the 2013-14 school year. The logo was not placed on VCU apparel until Aug. 16 when the Black and Gold Volleyball scrimmage served as the official start of the 2014-15 calander year and introduction of the logo on VCU team uniforms.
Over the next few month, the remaining eight varsity teams participating in fall sports would debut the logo on their uniforms. Brand new jerseys can bring added excitement for both athletes and fans as well as coaching staffs and administration. However, whether strenous or not, selecting team uniforms is a process that often gets overlooked. The selection of team uniforms is a coaching staff’s obligation. Some steps are more complex than others, but as a whole a lot goes into the creation of team gear and merchandise.
The fundamental building block for all uniforms is VCU’s agreement with Nike. With the exception of specialized equipment such as baseball bats and gloves for example, all clothing and accessories for the school are solely produced by the brand.
According to assistant athletic director Keith Rafter, every year Nike sends out a link to a website allowing for what is basically total customization of uniforms. The site contains a number of templates that can be mixed and matched with virtually any combination of available school logos and colors. While this is without a doubt an enjoyable privilege for coaches and players, Rafter says he feels it is one that also comes with responsibility and a fair amount of pressure as well.
“Because the uniforms are customized, it’s not like we can return them if they don’t turn out right,” Rafter said. “Everything has to be perfect the first time around.”
Over the years, branding has become increasingly important in recruiting. Having the highly-coveted exclusive sponsorship with Nike provides the athletic program with a level of legitimacy that all universities strive for. Typically these types of deals are put in place for universities with major football programs. To put into perspective how rare it is for a non-football school’s program to be represented in its entirety, consider the fact that in-state rivals University of Virginia and Virginia Tech both have similar agreements in place. George Mason University, another college in the state, who shares part of the Atlantic 10 conference with a similarly large enrollment, is still searching for a brand to loan its exclusive rights to.
For many years now the men’s and women’s basketball teams have enjoyed wearing the trademark swoosh on their team uniforms; however, this is only the third season the Rams have dealt with Nike for all varsity sports. Among the many perks of an exclusive deal with Nike, which owns about 59 percent of the sneaker market share in the United States, is the allowance given to the university for apparel. Each year, VCU receives $10,000 to put towards making sure all student-athletes and coaches are outfitted from head to toe in Nike equipment.
What about the design and production process of the gear? Each team has a different way of going about getting new uniforms made, but generally speaking, coaches are given creative freedom. What each coach decides varies, but what has become a popular practice is allowing upperclassmen, seniors in particular to play an instrumental role in deciding what their respective teams wear.
Programs typically only get new uniforms every two years so dissatisfaction with a particular design means that student-athletes could potentially spend half their college careers wearing less-than-desirable uniforms.
Only time will tell how the new logo and uniforms will be received by athlete and fans, but with the many changes and recent developments that surround downtown Richmond, this one should fit right in for the VCU faithful.
Former NFL hall of fame cornerback Deion Sanders had a very simple, but telling motto that he applied to his own career as what he believed to be the secret behind any lasting success.
“When you look good, you play good,” Sanders said.
The Rams’ emblem provides VCU athletics with the opportunity to begin a new, community-energizing era in sports.
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