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Are the Nike’s New ‘Smart Jerseys’ a Game-Changer?

As most of you know by now, I generally don’t concern myself with the retail scene. As I often say, I cover what the players wear, not what’s for sale. Uniforms, not merchandise.

But I have to admit, the new NikeConnect “smart jerseys” feel like a potential game-changer, because they collapse the distance between what’s for sale and what’s happening on the field — or, in this case, on the court.

In case you missed it over the weekend, NikeConnect allows a fan who buys an NBA player’s jersey to scan the jersey’s jock tag with a smart phone app, unlocking highlights, stats, and other features relating to that player, along with a code that enhances the player’s performance in the NBA 2k18 video game and, of course, special access to limited-edition sneakers. And it’s a two-way platform — a player can send a message to fans who’ve bought his jersey. (There’s additional info in the video embedded above, and in this article.)

Look, I don’t buy jerseys, I don’t play video games, and I’m not particularly interested in communicating with athletes unless I’m interviewing them for a story. But I totally get that this probably seems very, very cool to a lot of fans. I’m usually the first to roll my eyes when Nike describes everything it does as “innovative,” but this seems genuinely innovative. And if they’re doing it for NBA jerseys, it seems like they’ll probably do it for NFL jerseys as well, right?

Meanwhile, as the tech site Ars Technica points out, this is all a marketing-data bonanza for Nike, because a customer who registers for the app and then scans the jock tag will essentially be saying, “This is who I am, this is where I live, this is how much I spent on the jersey,” and so on.

But there’s one thing that puzzles me: What’s to stop a fan from downloading the app and then heading to Modell’s, walking over to the rack of NBA jerseys, and scanning the jock tags from all his favorite players’ jerseys? Stealing a jersey is hard, but stealing a swipe of a jock tag seems like a piece of cake. Am I missing something? (I must be, because I figure it can’t be that easy.)

Even though I usually don’t care about retail jerseys, I’m curious about this latest development. For those of you who buy jerseys (which is, I figure, most of you who are reading this), does NikeConnect sound intriguing? Exciting? Boring? Other?


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LAST CALL for the Whalers raffle: Today is the last day to enter the raffle for some cool Hartford Whalers memorabilia. Full details here.

ESPN reminder: In case you missed it yesterday afternoon, my latest ESPN column takes a look at the best and worst of the NBA’s newly released alternate uniforms. Check it out here.

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Collector’s Corner
By Brinke Guthrie

Nice artwork on this set of early-1970s Texas Rangers programs, one of which is pictured above. Boy, that era of the team’s history takes me back a bit. As a side note: This Rangers cover was from their second season in Arlington, 1973. My family moved from Texas to Cincinnati in the fall of 1972, so it’s unlikely I would have ever seen this cover when I drew this. But there are similarities!

Now for the rest of this week’s picks:

• Terrific helmet artwork on these 1970s-1980s NFL school spiral notebooks.

• The blue and yellow on this 1970s Chargers pennant really pop. Their powder blue is the best, but this Air Coryell color scheme was terrific, too.

• These are called “NFL cloth patches” from the 1960s, but they sure do resemble the Chiquita banana NFL stickers from the early 1970s.

• Here’s a 1970s Tarkenton Vikings jersey by Rawlings. Not quite like the one Mary wore, but close.

• Look at the box art on this 1960s electric football game from Gotham, which was Tudor’s main competitor. Notice no NFL markings — even in the early 1960s, it was all about licensing.

• This is called a “Sportscan.” Apparently this was supposed to be a pint-sized water bottle for kids, and this one is adorned with a Patriots sticker. To me, it kinda looks like one of those little plastic lemons filled with lemon juice you get at the store.

• This 1970s Bengals promotional plastic mug was sponsored by Dr. Pepper and Sonic. I never saw these growing up in Cincinnati, as Sonic wasn’t in our market.

• The 1970s Great NFL Fun Book is a must-have. How can you miss with a full-color section devoted to all 28 NFL helmets and uniforms?

• Luv Ya Blue! We’ve got a 1970s blue-helmet Oilers helmet buggy here, along with a regular silver helmet.

• Note the spelling on this 1980s minor league Louisville Redbirds pin. It says, “Louavull luvs the Redbirds.” If you live in Louisville, that’s how you say it, or just drop the “a” and say “Luh-ville.” Non-residents tend to use the standard “Lou-ee-ville.” (Also: The eBay listing says this item is from the 1970s, but the parent Cardinals didn’t move their AAA team from Springfield, Illinois, to Louisville until the 1982 season.)

• From reader Jim Ransdell: An old black Saints helmet, like the ones they wore in the 1969 preseason.

• And from reader Brett Thomas: Here’s a Pittsburgh Penguins T-shirt with Burgess Meredith, who played the Penguin on the TV version of Batman, as part of the logo.

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It’s good to be (or buy) the King: Any Elvis fans out there? For reasons not worth explaining, I have an extra sealed copy of the new A Boy from Tupelo box set, which covers Elvis’s earliest recordings. It features three CDs and a gorgeous 120-page book, and recently received a five-star review in Rolling Stone.

You can get it on Amazon for $25 plus shipping. I’ll go two bucks lower: $23 plus shipping. You want? Let me know. First come, first served. Thanks.

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KRC update: The latest installment of Key Ring Chronicles is a tale of addiction, depression, shoplifting, and a Walgreens discount card. Check it out here.

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The Ticker
By Alex Hider

Baseball NewsThe U.S. Navy will no longer issue its “blueberry” work uniforms beginning Oct. 1. That could have implications for the Padres, who used the blueberries as the inspiration for their blue camo jerseys (from Chris Weber). … Yesterday’s Ticker included a shot of Dodgers SS Chris Taylor wearing a cap with the New Era maker’s mark on the right side and blank on the left side– presumably a Sept. 11 cap with the flag removed. Sure enough, Matt Ryburn had snapped this photo of Taylor last Wednesday, showing what appears to be adhesive residue where the flag used to be. Matt also sent along this photo of Dodgers C Austin Barnes’s two-in-ones. … The Angels will give away these Angels/Anaheim Ducks winter hats tonight for “Ducks Night” (from Ignacio). … Casey’s Corner is a hot dog stand at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. The baseball aesthetic for the restaurant apparently came from an 1890 Spalding Baseball guide (from Ben).

Pro Football NewsA local TV station in Detroit is still using old Lions helmets on set (from Jason Berger). …University of North Carolina basketball players went to the Panthers/Bills football game this weekend, and matched the Panthers’ color scheme by wearing their BFBS jerseys to the game (from James Gilbert). … The Montreal Alouettes went GFGS this weekend against Ottawa (from Wade Heidt).

College and High School Football News: Love these 1899 Claflin University football unis (from Jacob Lipp). … In 1979, high schooler Dan Marino signed to play at Pitt. Check out how scuffed up that football is! Couldn’t they have gotten a nicer ball for the photo op? (From Tris Wykes.) … Here’s a look at the step-by-step process that the Arkansas equipment staff used to create the helmets for this weekend’s Cowboys-style uniforms. … The Rose Bowl — the stadium, not the game — may sell off the naming rights to its field to a wealthy donor. Key quote: “If the Pasadena City Council approves the motion, the field would be named ‘Tod Spieker Field at the Rose Bowl,’ though broadcasters reportedly would not be required to refer to it this way” (from @PoeyJost).

Hockey NewsNew mask for Islanders’ G Jaroslav Halak (from John Muir). … Joshua Tretakoff found this print for sale of hockey jerseys through the years. … ICYMI from the Baseball Section: The Anaheim Angels will be giving away these Angels/Ducks winter hats tonight for Ducks Night at Angel Stadium (from Ignacio).

NBA NewsAlong with jerseys and shorts, Nike is also taking over as the NBA’s sock provider. Here’s how they’ll be handling the hose this year. … The NBA will have new logos for both the playoffs and Finals this season. … Kobe Bryant was wearing a shirt with an interesting 8-24 logo in a video posted to social media recently (from Joel Swedlove). … Was Hakeem Olajuwon moving too fast on this DVD cover? Or did the producers not want to pay for the right to use Rockets logos? (From Ed). … Former NBAer Derek Fisher wore a rhinestoned Lakers-style jersey on Dancing with the Stars (from Mandy Lopez). … New court for the 76ers (from @deadendnights).

College Hoops NewsNew road uniforms for USC. The old version had lots of white outlining (from @grant3young). … New white uniforms for Oregon State (from @khamballer22). … Doesn’t look like there will be many changes for Gonzaga this year, other than a “Zags” emblem below the collar (from Sam Falcone). … ICYMI from the NFL section: North Carolina players went to the Panthers/Bills football game this weekend, and matched the Panthers’ color scheme by wearing their BFBS jerseys (from James Gilbert).

Grab Bag: Good story about a kid in England who caught a striping mistake on soccer club Everton’s kits in 1997 (from Chris Cruz). … Rob Golden found this wall of old Air Force squadron emblems at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. … Whoa, look at this cap that McDonald’s employees used to wear! Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions — plus a brim and squatchee (from BSmile). … Adidas has vaulted into second place in sneaker sales, passing the Jordan brand.

Comments (51)

    I don’t get it at all, seems like a total gimmick. There’s nothing notable about the jersey itself, it’s simply a product tie-in. Buy this jersey, get this app. After using it once, won’t people quickly realize that taking a picture of their jersey is far less convenient than simply going to, say, ESPN?

    Yeah, I don’t buy jerseys, but it doesn’t seem like that big a deal to me, either. It is easy to look up stats and highlights of a player. It is also not unprecedented to include discounts for other products or video game codes in the packaging of something you buy; shoot, they include that stuff on fast food drink cups and French fry packages. It sounds like scanning a QR code, which has been around a while. The one thing that sounds different and maybe special, is the ability for the athlete to send a message just to those who’ve bought his jersey, but with Twitter, athletes already communicate directly to their fans more than they ever have before.

    Even if I were a big-time full-price jersey buyer, I would have no interest in this. Why? Well, as Paul said,

    because a customer who registers for the app and then scans the jock tag will essentially be saying, “This is who I am, this is where I live, this is how much I spent on the jersey,” and so on

    Quit trying to know everything about my personal life. It’s not that exciting.

    The Steelers cloth patch is missing the word “Steelers”.

    Is is present on the Chiquita stick though.

    The link in the ticker to the Oklahoma “Cowboys-style” helmets goes to a blank page. And, isn’t it Arkansas who’s wearing the Cowboys-style uniforms?

    Those two-in-ones are completely ridiculous. Not only in their entirety but the color is nowhere near Dodger blue.

    Looking at all new NBA alternates over the weekend, I started wondering why (from a team perspective, not a Nike perspective) teams feel the need to change their uniforms so often — it seems counter-intuitive to me if you want to establish a brand like say, the St. Louis Cardinals — the birds and bat are sacrosanct to the people of St. Louis. Cubs, Yankees, Lakers, Celtics

    To me, that’s brand recognition, at least the kind I think they’d want. I couldn’t tell you off the top of my head what the latest Phoenix Suns logo is…


    I’m with you on that. And especially when it comes to logos and uniform colors. I get in today’s world of tv/streaming that you can see in the guide what teams are playing, but I long for the days when you turn the game on and can tell who is playing by the color of their uniforms… red and gold vs blue and yellow, oh must be the Niners and Rams. They seem to not get how visual identity forms brand loyalty, without a consistent visual identity how do you expect to reap those benefits?

    They looked good, missing the “ny” on the chest though. I wanted to see if the SB patch was embroidered or one of the newer patches.

    There was no mention of it, but wasn’t last night’s MNF game the debut of the Lions’ blue pants on the field? What did everyone else think of them? It wasn’t a bad look in my opinion, but it definitely looked different from what I’m used to for the Lions. I guess it will take since getting used to.

    It was their regular season debut, but they had worn them once during the preseason.

    Personally, I love the blue pants (although I wish they had contrasting socks).

    I loved them. I thought the new unis looked really sharp overall – first time I’ve seen them on field.

    In general I always like to see teams like the Lions, Niners, Saints, etc keep the secondary color pants that match their helmet. And while I prefer the silver pants with the white jerseys, I though the blue pants looked okay, with the same exception as Paul that I wished they went with contrasting socks.

    It looked really good on the field. For both the blue jerseys and the white, the numerals are outlined in anthracite. I ended up liking the way the silver pants stripe looked, partly because it spared us the execrable “ballet tights” look.

    That “Hockey Jerseys Through the Years” posters has some subtle errors here and there — either deliberate to avoid copyright issues perhaps?.. or out of ignorance.


    So people are giving away their personal information to marketers and jeopardizing their privacy in exchange for publicly available stats/highlights, a video game cheat code, the option to buy pricey sneakers, and a form message from a pro athlete? Bananas, in my view.

    The modern cliche is that if you’re not paying for it, then you’re the product. With this gimmick, the customer gets to pay for it and be the product. Genius, in a Reverend-Jones-Persuades-Them-to-Drink-the-Poison kind of way.

    “Uniforms, not merchandise”- Except the ad next to it that says “Show that you get it – UniWatch Merchandise” lol jk ;)

    The Carolina Panthers and University of North Carolina do not use the same shade of blue. On top of that, the Panthers were in their all whites on Sunday.

    Swiping a jocktag from the store with your phone and without buying the jersey? Knowing how supply chains and information systems work (thanks, Hofstra MBA!), I’m sure the jersey “knows” when it’s been purchased at retail.
    I just hope this shtick gets ridiculous enough to lampoon it. Can you imagine a sarcastic “message” from LeBron if he leaves Cleveland? “Bet you have practice burning this jersey…you’re crazy but it’s your life!” Or if you bought the jersey on clearance because the player got traded, “Aren’t you a little late? Thanks anyway!”

    News for you, until there is a “major” change to Detroit’s helmet, a local affiliate isn’t going to go to any lengths to change a silly set prop. I’ve worked in TV for an ABC affiliate and have decorated sets, that sort of “attention to detail” is way, way down on their list of priorities.

    Various outlets have yet to update the recent minor logo changes to logos like the Bucs, Panthers, and Jaguars, or even more significant changes like Dolphins. I’ve also noticed that stuff is typically ignored in local media settings.

    I’d imagine that the jock tag chips only activate after the jersey is purchased. This is similar to the need to activate a gift card before redeeming it.

    I don’t but retail jerseys, but I do like purchasing jerseys worn by players.
    Would be so nice if they extend this technology with game-used stuff: with the tag, you could see the highlights of that particular game, download/stream it on NBA League Pass or have the complete stats sheet. Way better that just a piece of paper given by Meigray imho

    With the Navy getting rid of the blueberries, maybe the Navy re-institutes the service Khaki’s as a primary uniform and that will (finally) get the Padres to return to their glorious brown.

    Ah, a boy can wish…

    RE: the jersey tag, it’s a little gimmicky. Im sure it will work great with the “youth” though. I buy jerseys now, not nearly as much as I used to when I was younger. If I was to buy one with the scan tag thing, I feel like I might try it once then be done with it. But Im almost forty and don’t have social media and don’t really care about what athletes are up to on their own time. People that are into that kind of thing might LOVE this.

    “Rob Golden found this wall of old Air Force squadron emblems at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.”

    Not really sure why but I was surprised by the number of Native American and Demonic images.

    In 2017, would we permit such images of defiance and rebellion to be used by men entrusted with the defense of this country? These aren’t mere football teams; they’re servicemen who cradle in their hands the beating heart of democracy.

    So I buy jerseys occasionally, usually for my favorite team and very rarely for the teams in the city I recently moved to. To me, this seems like more of the same with paid access to the team. Those with greater amounts of expendable capital will be able to have greater access to the team while kids and the poorer individuals will be restricted. The whole jersey tag gimmick seems gimmicky.

    I’m a fan of the new NBA Playoffs logo, but not the new Finals logo. As for the Cowboys-inspired Arkansas football uniforms, those look damn good. The Cowboys’ navy blue jerseys and (normal) silver pants are one of my favorite uniform combos and Arkansas picked a good one to imitate. Having Jerry Jones and Darren McFadden on the Cowboys’ side of things helps in this case.

    “If the Pasadena City Council approves the motion, the field would be named ‘Tod Spieker Field at the Rose Bowl,’ though broadcasters reportedly would not be required to refer to it this way”

    Are broadcasters generally obligated to refer to stadiums by their proper (corporate) name? Are there repercussions if broadcasters use colloquial non-corporate names for places like the Superdome or Rangers Ballpark?

    If I buy a jersey for me or my kids it’s almost always an inexpensive knockoff or used on Ebay. $30 or $40 is the most I’ll pay for a jersey. The knockoff jersey quality is generally pretty decent these days. I do feel a little bothered by the maker committing theft of intellectual property but I get over that feeling quickly when I see jerseys that retail for over $100 knowing they cost only a few bucks to make. The NBA jersey download thing seems just like Paul said it is. A tool to get you in some marketing wheel where your spun from retail a option to social media and back to retail option. I want no part of that.

    Not sure if the tech exists at all points of sale that could “activate” the tag when it’s sold… I think NFC would be the only way to go about that?

    Anyway, if it is possible to “steal” a scan without purchasing, Nike may not care because they’re just getting a little more refined marketing info. Pretty soon, you’ll be getting daily emails from Nike about their latest jersey sales, or you’ll see ads as you’re scrolling through Facebook. And if you don’t bite then, they’ll send Draymond Green out to your home to force you to make a purchase.

    You may already be aware of this, but when Don James began his tenure at the University of Washington back in the 70s, he changed the Husky uniforms to look like a purple version of the San Francisco 49ers

    Loved seeing the NFL Fun Book included in Collector’s Corner. I got that when I was a kid through one of those paperback book clubs they would have at school. A couple years after that particular book, they came out with a new edition, NFL Fun Book II, and the cover was an artist’s rendering of all the NFL mascots looking at the book. (This was in the early ’80s, so don’t look for any Jaguars, Panthers, Titans or Texans).


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