By Tony Grossi
The Morning Kickoff …
New duds are coming: During NFL owners meetings last week in Phoenix, the Browns committed not only to changing their uniforms but also to consider every facet of the team’s marketing brand.
They key word in the above paragraph is consider. They will consider new colors, which may end up being new shades of brown and orange – or something altogether different. They will consider a new secondary logo, something different from the block B inside a football shape.
For the next two years – yes, it will take that long – the Browns will work closely with NFL marketing and Nike on an apparel makeover. They are now engaged in a 24-month process, the likes of which the Browns’ franchise has never undergone.
Everything is on the table to be discussed except for one thing.
“I will say there will be no change to the helmet,” owner Jimmy Haslam said exclusively to ESPN Cleveland. “But we will look at everything else. We may change a lot. We may change a little.”
When Haslam initiated the process for a uniform change, he had in his mind minor tweaks to the traditional white-on-white and brown-on-white ensembles. Minor changes, done without market research, would have resulted in a 12-month process overseen by NFL marketing. He thought the new uniforms would be ready for the 2014 season.
But after further consultation with the league, Haslam decided to go through the more extensive, 24-month process recommended by experts in the field of brand marketing.
“I think we’ll have a better idea of what we want to do after that,” Haslam said. “This allows you to change anything you want. That doesn’t mean we will. I want to be perfectly clear about that. We just want to get a lot of input from our fans and take our time with it. Because you can do it only every five years.”
Why a uniform change takes two years: The only ownership committee on which Haslam sits is the business ventures committee. A key member of the league’s business ventures management team is Mark Waller, who has been the NFL’s chief marketing officer the past seven years.
Waller supervises every team’s application for uniform and branding change. He said at any given period, three to four teams may be involved in the 24-month process to update their look. He termed the significance of the undertaking “huge.”
“Ultimately, (the uniform is) the expression of the club and the brand the fan is most familiar with,” Waller said. “They wear them. They buy them. And it’s the strongest identity they have other than the game itself. So it’s a hugely important piece of work. And from the league perspective, our league rules are you can only change once every five years. So you’ve got to get it right.”
So why does it take 24 months to come up with a new uniform style and/or logo?
“We really want to make sure if you’re going through a significant change that fans are going to notice, you get fan input on it,” Waller said. “So there’s a research period, a couple of months. We work with the team. We provide the team with some background experience on best research techniques, but it’s conducted by the team in their market with their fans, and they’ll decide do they do just season ticket holders or also single game buyers, do they want to involve sponsors, or not?”
The Browns are currently in this phase of the project.
“We’ll then sit down with the club and the ownership, all of the club’s key personnel and kind of get their input and also compare what they want with what fans are saying,” Waller said. “You say you want to change from X to Y. The fans are actually here. So how do we manage that difference?
“We do the research … on the club brand and what it stands for. That alone is a six- to nine-month piece of work. Then you go to start design briefs and develop potential logos. If you change colors and logo, you’ve actually got to do material testing because there are some colors now that have never been used before. If a club comes up with a color that isn’t part of our uniform palette, you have to see if you can manufacture it. Can you do it to the quality standards required? So it adds a whole extra time period if you’re using a color that’s never been used before.”
Designs are sketched in Portland, Ore., by Nike, the league’s official apparel manufacturer. At some point, Nike presents three to five uniform options. They are simulated on a screen to make sure numerals are easily readable and any striping does not blend together on TV.
“It’ll be interesting in the Cleveland work to see how open fans are to explore it,” Waller said. “I think the passion of the fan base has a huge bearing on the work that you do. The more passionate and deep rooted the fan base is, the stronger their views are going to be. And so the more you’ve got to be aware of those."
Waller has input in every uniform change; he has 25 years experience in branding and marketing with global companies such as Guinness, and then United Distillers, handling marketing for Johnnie Walker, Dewars and Tanqueray brands. Ultimately, the decision rests with Haslam and his inner circle of CEO Joe Banner and President Alec Scheiner.
Jazz it up: When the Browns were reborn as an expansion franchise in 1999, the effort was made to connect it as closely as possible to the bedrock franchise made famous by Paul Brown. Same name, same colors, and all that.
But at some point, I felt the NFL openly encouraged the Browns to change their uniform, ostensibly to spur stagnant sales of club merchandise. The drab white and brown colors are either loved by the traditionalists or hated by the younger generation. A poll I conducted last year in the locker room indicated players respected the old uniforms but preferred a new look.
“Definitely since I’ve been (with the NFL) we’ve never encouraged them,” Waller said. “This has absolutely came out of the ownership and that’s their desire.”
Haslam said he has “no idea” how extensive the uniform changes will entail. He’s open to anything, including merely subtle changes. He anticipates the rollout of the new look to be a major event.
“Hopefully it will generate a lot of excitement right around the time of the 2015 draft,” Haslam said.
|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. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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