BRYAN DEE: When did you sort of realize that people cared about the looks of their favorite sports teams?
PAUL LUKAS: UniWatch started a little over 20 years ago when I had spent most of the 1990s writing about details of consumer culture, and it included a lot of deconstructing small details of brand design, package design, product design in really granular detail. And I realized I could sort of turn that same filter and train it on sports. And I realized I had internalized, you know, growing up, you know, as a kid and as a little leaguer and all of that, I had internalized a lot of opinions and a lot of sort of internal knowledge about uniforms. I was that kid in 7th grade who was doodling logos in the margins of his notebook instead of paying attention to the teacher. I was the little leaguer who was getting his stirrups just right, you know, on his Little League uniform. And I noticed it about other players, too. I had never really thought about writing about it, and then it occurred to me that the same sorts of details that I was breaking down and deconstructing in consumer culture, I could do for sports as well. And so that’s how UniWatch was born. And I knew it would be a good project, I didn’t really expect it to be such a long lived and durable project. And it turns out that, just like Jerry Seinfeld says, right, “We root for laundry,” people really care about that uniform no matter who’s wearing it. You know, the athletes come and go, but the uniform is what we root for.
BRYAN DEE: Absolutely. So, Paul, when you take a look at the State of Wisconsin, we’ve obviously had a couple of our major sports teams do some re brands relatively recently: The Bucks overhauled their look five or six years ago; the Brewers just did this past offseason; the Packers have done the exact opposite for what seems like forever. And then you look at some of the college teams in our state as well, Marquette’s got some legendary jerseys, Wisconsin’s done some cool things. When you look at the state as a whole, how do you kind of power rank the teams in our state in terms of look?
PAUL LUKAS: You know, ever since I was a little kid, my favorite color has always been green, so I love the Packers. And in fact if you go to the UniWatch blog, uniwatch.com, you’ll see that the UniWatch colors are pretty much the Packers colors. And that’s not because I’m a Packers fan, per se, I just love those colors. I love that color combo. To me, the Packers are kind of the essence of what football should look like, kind of an autumnal color palette for an autumn sport. I love that they haven’t changed things up too much. You know, it’s not broke, no need to fix it. And to me, that’s not just the best looking uniform in the State of Wisconsin, that’s one of the best looking uniforms in all of sports. The Brewers, you know, I was one of those people who thought that what they had been wearing the past 20 years or so, people said it was sort of generic, it looked like the logo from Cheers, the TV show, I was kind of one of those people. It’s not like it was a bad uniform, but it wasn’t special. It just felt sort of plain. And I love that they’ve gone back to the ball and glove logo. I really like what they’ve done there. I think, you know, if we ever get baseball back, the Brewers are going to be a very good looking team on the field.
The Bucks, you know, interesting you mention that, because I know the guys who did the Bucks redesign. I lived in Brooklyn, New York, and it was a Brooklyn design shop that did that design, that branding for the Bucks. And I like what they’ve done. Again, I like the green, which of course has history with the Bucks. And they have, you know, that unusual number font that they use, that kind of blocky font, but I think it works pretty well. And of course everything, looks better when you’re winning, right, and right now the Bucks are playing really well. And, you know, they’re one of the best teams in the league, if not the best. And they, you know, everything looks better when you have more points than the other team at the end of the game.
TONY SMITH: I got a question about the Packers. You’re talking about the Packers again, you like the classic and we know it’s classic. We had a discussion, Bryan and I, about just how classic it was, and I was thinking, you know, all the old hits like that classic stuff, but young guys like Bryan, they want new swag, man. They want new stuff. And are you getting any indication that there’s any desire for something new with the Packers stuff?
PAUL LUKAS: I admit, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Packers fan say, you know, that they don’t like the current uniforms or that they need something new.
TONY SMITH: Bryan’s not a fan.
PAUL LUKAS: But, you know, it’s interesting you say that, because if you look at the NFL right now, and oddly enough or ironically or tragically, you know, this season that is now in question because of the pandemic is slated to have more new uniforms than I can remember in years and years. So many teams have redone their uniforms for the 2020 season, whenever it actually happens. And a lot of them are going back after trying something a little more newfangled. Like last week the Buccaneers decided to basically go back to what they wore prior to their digital alarm clock number font jerseys they wore last six seasons and they’re going back to what they wore when they went to the Super Bowl. And it’s basically like they hit control Z, you know, on their keyboard and said, you know, the last six years, forget about that, we’re going back to what we wore before.
In two days, the Cleveland Browns are going to unveil new uniforms, and it is widely expected, it’s being hinted in multiple ways, that they’re going to be turning back the clock basically as well and going back to something that they had previously worn rather than the newfangled set that they wore and unveiled just five years ago.
And so a lot of times with the NFL, you know, when you try to be a little, you know, a little too gimmicky, a little too modern, fan base doesn’t always react that well, not just the young fan base, but, you know, the old fans.
And, you know, in Cleveland, they tried that big word mark on the chest, the big honking word mark down the side of the pants. I was at the unveiling in Cleveland when they did that in 2015 and they were saying, “Oh this is, you know, reflects the spirit of Cleveland,” and blah, blah, blah. Within three years they knew they had made a mistake, and probably sooner than that, and they had already told Nike, like, “You know what, we need to forget about that. Scratch that and go back to the classic really simple Cleveland Browns look.” And that’s what they’re going to be unveiling in two days.
BRYAN DEE: Last thing for you today, Paul, I feel like there’s been a lot of talk about NFL helmets recently. And obviously there’s a safety issue going on there where the NFL has a rule that you can only wear one helmet per player per year, and that limits you with some things you can do in terms of using throwback helmets. Do you think that might be something the NFL could attack or change to lead to some fun throwback helmet? I know the Packers have done some cool things in the past with their brown helmets, do you think that that’s something that might be on the agenda for the National Football League to address in the coming years?
PAUL LUKAS: Yeah, the one shell rule has been in effect since 2013. It is somewhat controversial. The NCAA doesn’t have anything like it; although, the Canadian Football League now has a one shell rule as well. So, there’s some split of opinion as to what, you know, where safety fits into these types of things.
But to answer your question, the league has basically said that they will reconsider and reevaluate the one shell rule for 2021. So not this coming season, but next season. And so that’s a possibility. And certainly if they do that, that does open up the floodgates for all sorts of design possibilities, not just for throwbacks, but also for alternate uniforms that would involve a different helmet shell, and which is something I’m sure the folks at Nike would be salivating over, you know, have all kinds of different alternate uniform possibilities. And they’re very restricted about that now because of the one shell rule.