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Browns uniform makeover hits the halfway point of two-year project

Mar 27, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

ORLANDO, FL

The Morning Kickoff …

Halfway home: So you thought changing the Browns’ reverential/boring (choose one) uniform style was going to be as easy as choosing a new shirt off the rack?

Ha.

Nothing is that simple when marketing kingpins like the NFL and Nike tackle an old-school market seeded deeply in tradition.

One year ago this month, the Browns initiated the process of submitting a request to change their uniforms. In the back rooms of the NFL branding empire, this is gigantic news. The Browns haven’t had a thorough uniform makeover since they entered the NFL in 1950.

At the time, owner Jimmy Haslam said he didn’t know what would be the result. Everything was on the table -- including a change of colors. The only thing Haslam would guarantee was the helmet would remain logo-less.

Twelve months later, the Browns, working jointly with the NFL and Nike, are merely at the halfway point of the laborious process.

This much we know:

* The Browns have been presented sketches of several uniform options, and they are liking them.

* The changes, still to be finalized, are not going to be drastic.

* Once chosen, the new uniforms will be kept under tight security with no more than a handful of Browns executives having seen them. The new duds will be unveiled sometime before the 2015 draft.

“It’s exciting. It’s a long process,” said Browns President Alec Scheiner.

But two years …?

They really do this: There were months of market studies involving questionnaires and focus groups. The conclusions came as no surprise to Browns fans.

“The fans are incredibly passionate and proud of the team, the city, the uniform and the helmet,” said Mark Waller, the NFL’s chief marketing officer, who is overseeing the makeover project. “There’s a real sense that the city and the team co-exist and live off each other. So anything we do has to make sure we capture that real pride.

“I don’t think you’ll see anything that radically departs from that. I think you’ll see a real reinforcement of the (orange and brown) colors of the team and the tradition.”

Soon a committee of Browns execs will narrow the options to three jerseys and two or three pants. There will be the option of mixing and matching, so those present even more choices. Specific fabric must be tested for comfort and durability.

Then comes stand-in players dressing in the uniform options and simulating different game conditions in front of HD television cameras. And they will field teams – “not 11 on 11, but enough players to make sure,” said Waller – and do so in various weather conditions in undisclosed locations.

“One of the key components is making sure any changes in uniform don’t distract from a football standpoint and work well from a television standpoint,” Waller said.

They don’t want bright colors clashing so that jersey numbers can’t be read.

When all the tests are passed, only a handful of Browns executives will be involved in the final selection. Scheiner said those include himself; Brent Stehlik, chief revenue officer; Kevin Griffin, vice president/fan experience and marketing; possibly General Manager Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine; and Haslam, of course, who would make the final call.

“A small group of us have seen some of the drawings and some of the renderings and they’re exciting,” Scheiner said. “I’ve always said this, it’s important to link to our tradition -- we can’t lose sight of that -- but innovate as well. And I’m hopeful that where we’re headed, we’ll be able to do both and it’ll be really exciting to our fans.”

Panning the globe: The most recent project completed by Nike’s design team was for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They unveiled their new uniforms earlier this month.

Dark and edgy, the pewter and red uniforms feature orange swooshes below the neck and across the thighs, with numbers outlined by reflective chrome, and an oversized pirate flag splashing the helmet.

When it comes to uniform tradition, the Bucs don’t have it. Their original creamsicle-colored jerseys were legendarily laughable – like their football teams in the early going of the franchise born in expansion in 1976.

“The reaction has been very, very diverse,” Waller said. “A lot of people love it. Some reactions are a lot less positive.

“Ultimately, a lot depends on how the team performs in the uniforms. The Seahawks are a great example.”

When Nike won the huge contract as official apparel-maker for the NFL, its first makeover project was the Seahawks. The final product featured three uniforms with mixes of blue, white, wolf gray and neon green. The team has three distinct uniforms with nine possible combinations.

When they were unveiled, one headline on a football Website yelped: “Seattle Gets Biggest and Ugliest Makeover.”

Two years later, the Seahawks won the Super Bowl, of course.

And now the best-selling jerseys from the  period of April 1, 2013, to Feb. 28, 2014, according to nflshop.com, feature three Seattle Seahawks in the top six – 1. Russell Wilson, 5. Marshawn Lynch, and 6. Richard Sherman.

Bottom line: No matter the duds, winning sells.

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hastage #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

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