Skip to content

Let’s Assess the Nike/MLB Uni Snafu, FAQ-Style

Posted in:

Good morning! As far as I can tell, there’s nothing new to report at the moment regarding the ongoing MLB uniform controversy, so I thought this would be a good time to catch our breath and go over a few things, FAQ-style. Ready? Here we go:

Did you see any of this coming?

Nope. I’m very surprised.

But Nike had problems when they took over the NBA’s uniforms in 2017. Shouldn’t we have expected similar problems with MLB?

The Nike/NBA situation was different, because Nike was taking over that league’s uniforms on the fly. In other words, the NBA went from Adidas one season to Nike the next season. With MLB, Nike had four years to get their ducks in a row while using the Majestic template as a placeholder. Granted, some of that time was during the pandemic, but still. They test-drove the new template in spring training, in the minors, in the NCAA, and at last year’s All-Star Game. So yeah, even with Nike’s track record, I’m surprised that this rollout has turned out to be such a clusterfuck.

As the controversy has unfolded, what has surprised you the most?

Two things. First, I’m amazed that there’s so much negative reaction coming from the players. Having covered this beat for a long time now, I can tell you that most ballplayers don’t give a rat’s keister about uniforms as long as they fit well and are comfortable. Judging by the player comments I’ve read, these uniforms are clearly failing that test — especially the pants. When the players go so far as to get their union involved, you know it’s serious.

Second, I’m completely astonished by Nike’s lack of communication. As I wrote yesterday in my open letter to them, their silence in the midst of this chaos has led them to lose control of the narrative, which is (a) bad corporate practice and (b) very unlike them. It’s a case study in how not to handle crisis management.

I’ve seen quotes from some players who say they like the new uniforms.

If you see any quotes like that, Google the player’s name and the words “Nike endorsement deal.” When I’ve done that, I’ve found that every player giving positive reviews to the new uniforms is a Nike endorser, so their quotes are bought and paid for. If you find a player praising the new uniforms who doesn’t have a Nike deal, please let me know. Thanks.

Update: Marlins pitcher Bryan Hoeing says he mostly likes the new uniforms (except for the smaller NOBs). He does not have a Nike endorsement deal. Marlins beat reporter Noah Berger, who got that quote from Hoenig, says, “This echos the sentiment from most of the players I’ve chatted with about the uniforms.” In other words, most Marlins players seem fine with the uniforms.

Are you surprised there’s been so much media coverage?

Yes and no. On the one hand, this is more coverage than a uni story usually gets. But as I just noted, it’s pretty unusual to hear players complaining about their uniforms and getting their union involved, so that certainly pushes the story to another level.

More than that, though, I think it’s a perfect storm of timing. The football season is over, the NBA is on its All-Star break, spring training games haven’t started yet, and March Madness is still a month away, so sportswriters don’t have much to write about. Under those circumstances, a uniform controversy involving Nike qualifies as red meat.

Did you see the recent “article” on about the new uniforms?

Yes. It’s the equivalent of state-sponsored damage-control propaganda. Here’s my favorite passage:

Nike tested a number of moisture-wicking fabrics, seeking something lighter in weight that would improve on-field performance. The following Spring Training, four or five clubs tested jerseys with different fabrics and different sleeve types, providing MLB and Nike with feedback along the way. [Emphasis added.]

“Four or five clubs” — they don’t even know how many of their own teams were involved! You have to appreciate an operation that owns up to its own cluelessness, especially when they could have fudged it by saying “several clubs.” Priceless!

Isn’t this all about Nike being cheap and cutting costs?

I realize it’s tempting to think that way, but I don’t think it’s that simple. If you take a minute to think about it, it seems like the most cost-effective thing for Nike would have been to keep slapping their logo on the existing Majestic template — steady as she goes. Instead, they invested a lot of time, money, and resources into developing something new. Moreover, just because a fabric is lighter or thinner doesn’t necessarily mean it’s less expensive to produce. In fact, a thinner fabric that can withstand the rigors of running, sliding, daily laundering, and so on is probably more expensive to produce.

I’m not defending Nike here — they’ve made a lot of changes that I don’t like. I’m just saying I don’t think it’s as simple as saying, “Oh, they’re just being cheap.”

Do you think there’s time to make any changes, or just go back to the Majestic template, before the start of the season?

For most teams, the regular season starts in five weeks (and even sooner for the Dodgers and Padres, who open the season in Korea on March 20). I’m not knowledgeable enough about the manufacturing logistics to know whether they can make significant changes to the on-field product in that time. But even if it were possible, that would have major implications for the merch side of things, because tons of new-template jerseys have already been manufactured and ordered by stores. So if they change the on-field product, stores will be left with lots of inventory that nobody will want to buy, because (a) it won’t match what the players are wearing on-field and (b) it will carry the stench of a failed uni rollout. Even if Nike lets stores return all of that inventory for full credit, how would they get replacement inventory into the retail pipeline on such short notice? It all seems really fraught, and it’s hard to imagine them going down that road. As usual, uni merchandising is the tail that wags the dog.

However: Since there’s no retail market for pants, I do think they could make some changes there, or just go back to the Majestic pants. Hell, most teams have old pants lying around, so they could just use those.

But last year’s home pants were white, and the new home jerseys are off-white. So wouldn’t that cause a color mismatch if they used last year’s pants?

Here’s a funny thing I noticed yesterday: Judging by the belt loops, the Rangers wore last year’s pants with this year’s jerseys for their Photo Day session, and I don’t see any difference in the shades of white. Now, it’s possible that the photographer’s flash was so bright that it basically blew out the light-colored tones and made the jerseys and pants look the same (the flash has probably contributed to the see-through pants issue, too), but these photos suggest that the new shade of (off-)white may not matter so much.

Are there any parts of the controversy that you think are overblown?

I guess it depends on how you interact with uniforms. As I’ve written many times, my main concern is how everything looks on the field when I’m watching a game on TV. So even though close-up photos indicate that the new jersey fabric looks like a paper towel, that doesn’t really matter to me because the new fabric will likely look the same on TV as the old fabric did. Similarly, the switch from embroidered patches to printed patches is disappointing in terms of craftsmanship, but the reality is that a printed Mets sleeve patch will probably look the same to me on TV as its embroidered predecessor. (Speaking of: The A’s Ray Fosse memorial patch, which they wore in 2022, was not embroidered. Did anyone mind? Did anyone even know?)

Now, I realize that those elements might matter more to you if you buy or wear retail jerseys, but that’s a whole different realm. I don’t mean to dismiss that realm — I know it matters to many of you — but it’s not the beat that I cover and doesn’t factor into my thinking.

What happens next?

The first spring training game is today (Dodgers/Padres, 3pm Eastern), with a bunch more tomorrow and everyone playing over the weekend, so we’ll soon see how these uniforms look on the field. That will tell us a lot more than a Photo Day session or a press conference. I’m looking forward to it!





Substack Reminder

In case you missed it on Wednesday: For this week’s Uni Watch Premium article on Substack, I’ve written a lengthy letter to Nike with advice on how they should address the current controversy regarding their new MLB uniforms. I’ve gotten a lot of extremely positive response to this one (including a comment from longtime reader Louis Griffel, who said, “This may be the best piece that you have ever written”), so I hope you’ll check it out.

You can read the first part of the article here. In order to read the entire thing, you’ll need to become a paid subscriber to my Substack (which will also give you full access to my Substack archive). My thanks, as always, for your consideration.



Too Good for the Ticker

Holy shmoly, this is so awesome! I would totally watch a video of the entire game. My only gripe: The officials aren’t wearing goalie gear. Come on!

(Big thanks to Jim Vilk for this one.)



Can of the Day

For a second, I was like, “Who’d want dust made from insects?” Then I got it.

Very nice design. I’m both entranced and puzzled by the “Insect” script. Is it all-lowercase, and they chose not to dot the “i”? Or is it actually a short capital “I”? I can’t stop fixating on that question!

Comments (56)

    Hubris, pure and simple. The fact that Nike would introduce a template that causes teams to make changes to well loved historical uni features (Braves belt loop trim; Tigers belt loops, etc.) and also the general cheapening of the look (tiny NOB, ridiculously thin placket, “piping” cuffs) absolutely amazes me.

    I have to think that all the player complaints, to the point of getting the union involved, is going to hurt the bottom line. The person who is inclined to spend $400 on a jersey may actually take a step back, see the player complaints, and decide there is less value here than there ever was. Could these uniforms be this year’s New Coke?

    Completely agree. Just hubris. Nike is “NIKE”, and they know better than we do.

    …until it hurts their reputation and bottom line. Then they’ll have a cute “after widespread negative response” statement that doesn’t really take accountability, but not-so-subtly blames consumers for not understanding the greatness of their product. Pff.

    How hard would it have been for the USA Today to refer to uniforms as uniforms and not jerseys? It’s especially bad this time since the chief concern is the pants!

    “…the most cost-effective thing for Nike would have been to keep slapping their logo on the existing Majestic template — steady as she goes. Instead, they invested a lot of time, money, and resources into developing something new… a thinner fabric that can withstand the rigors of running, sliding, daily laundering, and so on is probably more expensive to produce.”
    I guess you are playing devils advocate here but,
    This assumes they invested a lot of time, money, and resources into developing the new template. When a new product is bad I assume the opposite, that time, money, and resources were not properly invested in its development before roll out. Perhaps I am just cynical, but whenever Nike talks about some new lighter material I just assume they are taking advantage of advances in technology to make something using less material at a lower cost, and the performance part is all nonsense.
    Also you are assuming the new uniforms will adequately withstand the rigors of play. I am not saying they wont, but we don’t know that yet either. And given the first takes on them, I wouldn’t be surprised if players wear through a lot more of these than past uniforms.
    There is one thing we can all be sure of, Nike is going to do what is in the best interest of their bottom line, the rest is all just marketing speak.

    I guess you are playing devils advocate here…

    I’m not playing devil’s advocate or engaging in a hypothetical thought exercise. I’m applying basic critical thinking to refute the “Oh, it’s all about being cheap” point of view, which I view as poorly thought out.

    This assumes they invested a lot of time, money, and resources into developing the new template.

    This is not an assumption. We know that they’ve been working on this at least since 2021, and I know from talking to team officials that a lot has gone into it.

    Also you are assuming the new uniforms will adequately withstand the rigors of play.

    Yes, I am assuming that. I think they did the due diligence of having players wear-test the fabric.

    Bad phrasing on my part, not playing devil’s advocate, perhaps I should have said you are giving them the benefit of the doubt and being fair about it.
    I’m too cynical about Nike to assuming anything but the worst about them.

    I am quite sure that any time/money/effort spent on how thin/cheap can we go on the on-field jerseys will pale in comparison to the cost savings of manufacturing the $450 jerseys. Yes, I get that the pants don’t factor into that – but how do you not photograph the final product to check for those things? You don’t if you don’t care and you only care about money. Or you are just too big and the different divisions at nike just fly down their parallel paths and don’t talk to each other.

    One question about the Cubs sleeve patch. In the article the other day, it was noted that the new patch is “printed” instead of “embroidered”. Does that mean it is silk screened or 3D printed? Reason I’m asking is, if it is silk screened, will it hold up to all the washings throughout the the season? But, if it is 3D printed with different colored filament, I would think it would hold up pretty well. And, as a consumer that spends lots of $ for an “Elite” jersey, I would hope it would hold up for many, many years. The authentic Cubs jerseys I have are well over 15 years old, and have held up very well over that time. Unfortunately, my Bears jersey has silk screened sleeve stripes that have not faired as well. It’s an authentic jersey I purchased in ’06. So, the sleeves are mesh (as they were at that time) and that might be some factor in the longevity. The stripes started peeling around the perforations. But, part of that might be due to how I laundered it over the years too. LOL

    Not 3D-printed.

    I don’t know how it will hold up to team laundering.

    As always, I don’t care one little bit how it performs as a retail consumer product.

    They appear to be sublimated, and while I haven’t performed any stress tests or anything, in my experience, sublimated printing tends to be not quite as vibrant to start with, but laundering doesn’t seem to adversely affect it either.

    I’d be amused if anyone from Nike actually drops the $5 to get through the paywall to read the entirety of that open letter.

    Nike should get out of the uniform business for all team sports. The number of problems with the on field (or court or pitch) product is just terrible. See through pants, jerseys that don’t fit right, incorrect team colors, etc.., etc… All this on top of awful design choices, again, across the board. 80% of the City Connect looks are bad. Most of the new NBA alternates are just confounding. And pro soccer kits are redesigned just for the sake of selling more year over year, usually with worse and worse results.

    Counterpoint. I’m a fan of the City Connect & Statement/City Edition unis for one simple reason—it allows teams with classic looks to sell merch dump garbage on a yearly basis without being tempted to update their standard home/road unis.

    I’m not sure I accept the premise of this argument. Teams/leagues have found a trillion ways to sell merch for years without changing their uniforms. Look at how many teams in the NFL have had the same uniforms for 20+ years, and then look at the number of teams who changed it up only to revert back to their classic look. And yet, the NFL sells a TON of merch. The Yankees–a team who I otherwise despise–manage to sell a ton of hats and jerseys without ever deviating from their classic look.

    And on top of all this, the Spring Training and BP hats for MLB teams this year demonstrate that there’s a way to do a merch dump that fans will respond to: good designs that are a new twist on the familiar elements. Perhaps New Era doing a good job with those is increasing my frustration with Nike bungling the other uniform elements.

    Not sure if this has been covered (the general topic has, not sure if we’ve seen this particular one), but SNY just posted a tweet of “Photo day 2024 in Port St. Lucie” which shows the Mets’ home jerseys with the “e” split across the placket: link.

    I thought/hoped they would shrink/adjust the script a bit to keep the “e” in one piece but I guess not…

    Looks like the Mets roundel patch on the sleeve has a similar sort of texturing like the D-backs sleeve patch? Obviously not rendered as snakeskin but on Lindor’s it seems like there’s some texturing. I’d have to see more detailed pics to see if Nike changed their patch construction.

    Paul, you brought up a good point about how much attention has been paid to the uniform issues, it surprised me as well, but given there was a relative lull in other sports news, it makes sense this ended up being the big story that it became.

    Pete Alonso’s left sleeve is turned up which obscures maybe 40 percent of the ad patch. Good work Pete!!

    My impression from social media (and some more traditional online media) is that a whole lot of people seem happy to pass the buck on behalf on Nike and put the blame squarely on Fanatics. In fact, it seems that in some corners you’ll get piled on if you even deign to suggest Nike not only proposed the very changes people are complaining about, but even proudly touted them.

    Maybe Nike are just making the calculation that they don’t need to put out any communication, because anything they say isn’t going to work as well as the disinformation of the sycophants and might even work against it if they have to be forthcoming about what is really going on?

    Quick typo note…

    In other words, most Marlins players seem *find* with the uniforms.

    Separately, I agree that the open letter to Nike was great writing. Can you share an email address at Nike (and perhaps Manfred) that we might amplify your message?

    Typo fixed. Thanks!

    I don’t currently have any “insider” email addresses for Nike or MLB. Just the usual customer-feedback addresses.


    Why weren’t there similar uproars during the test drives you mentioned? Were the designs or production quality different during the previous tests, like last year’s All-Star Game? Or were they the same, but nobody made a stink about them because they weren’t the official, permanent unis yet?

    Some questions come to mind in regards to all star game. Did players not notice a big difference with the jerseys because they weren’t comparing a same design uniform? Did they have their custom pants with the new design?

    It will be interesting to see what ultimately breaks Nike’s back regarding this year’s baseball uniforms: Open revolt from the player’s union or the total rejection of the jerseys at the retail level. Reminds me of the Pontiac Aztek debacle.

    Or some combination thereof. I can’t imagine a lot of people are interested in spending $450 on a jersey, even if there wasn’t player controversy.

    I’m also curious what the actual production cost per shirt is. Because there ain’t no way the margins are slim on those.

    Not surprised by the media coverage at all. The only time ESPN et al pay any attention to MLB is when there’s a controversy.
    MLB is the awkward kid in school. Not cool. Not hip. Easily picked on. The TV talking heads, bloggers, etc ignore baseball—until a problem surfaces. Then they all laugh and point.

    Yes. The Astros’ cheating scandal was probably the last time before this that the talking heads noticed baseball.

    It honestly feels like Nike is putting its stamp on its era. Team owners often order up new uniform designs to define their stewardship of the team. While good results are possible, change for change’s sake is never a strong strategy.

    Whatever Nike’s reasons–cost-saving, trying to be cutting edge, true belief in their unique clothing science–they don’t care about the kind of details beloved by the Uni Watch community. Belt-tunnel trim and multiple loops, embroidered patches, sturdy appliques, non-dinky names and numbers–the little details aren’t important to Nike.

    It’s dumb to be surprised by Nike putting manufacturing constraints and supply-chain issues front and center. It’s like being shocked that a tiger bit your hand when you reached through the bars to pet it.

    Regarding short- and long-term cost effectiveness of the new template, I would think that several of the changes (all NOBs being the same size, all sleeve stripes being moved to the end of the sleeve, all “patches” being screened on) are to make the retail size of things more efficient. In other words, Nike wasn’t necessarily “cheap” by developing the new template, but they were probably looking to cut the unit cost of making jerseys in the long run.

    “I’ve found that every player giving positive reviews to the new uniforms is a Nike endorser, so their quotes are bought and paid for.”
    Good work, Paul!

    MLB uniforms used to be the coolest in team sports but not anymore. Nike has waited patiently with the Majestic end of run, slapping a swoosh on it in the meantime. Now they are on their own and they mess it up on all fronts: the fabric, the piping, the sleeve ends, the printed wordmarks and logos, the bad fit (and lack of customization for players) and keeping quiet about it. Granted, a lot of fans will not be bothered by this, most players who are protesting right now will soften their tone once the season gets underway (and the pants are less see through) but the overall feeling is one of failure by MLB and Nike.

    My bet is, they change the pants, keep the jerseys as is. I say this for 2 reasons.

    1. The pants seem to be a bigger problem. I know there’s evidence the old pants could a times be a bit transparent, but this new template is really bad. It’s completely sheer. Couple that with the players hate and there’s more of a necessity to change them.

    2. They won’t change the jerseys because the jerseys are already for sale. They’ve gone out to the public. *Maybe* they change the jerseys for next season but for this season, those are the jersey’s they will wear. There is no fan-based incentive to keep the pants whereas the jerseys are already merchandise generating revenue. They won’t want to bend on that and they won’t want to toss out a bunch of retail stock.

    To me, the smaller NOBs aren’t a big deal. Yes, they look cheap, but that’s only because we’re accustomed to seeing that style on unauthentic replicas and shirseys. Frankly, the pre-2024 NOBs are bulky and oversized compared to any other sport – that’s good if you’re trying to pick out the pitcher’s name from the upper deck, but it’s not well-suited to TV.

    On the other hand, transparent pants and ironed-on patches? I can’t see any argument for those.

    Early in, Paul assumes that the current situation calls for a crisis-communication response by Nike. That seems obviously correct. But I wouldn’t be surprised if, to the highest levels of Nike executive leadership, “crisis communications” is the playbook you turn to when an intrepid reporter has found the overseas child-labor/slave-wages/both factory where the latest product line is manufactured, or when an American child is beheaded by a piece of Nike equipment, or some such. Objectively poor product design? That’s not a crisis, that’s Nike’s SOP going back to the early retail shoe days. Players not loving uniforms created under a new league contract? That’s not a crisis, that’s what happens every time, and that’s a problem historically solved with a combination of muscular indifference and throwing money at the league, teams, and players, none of which involves or requires public communications. And the public noticing and joining player concerns about poor design and manufacturing quality and substandard functionality? That’s basically unheard of. Nike has never really faced quite this public response challenge before, and the situation doesn’t fit the established scenarios for crisis communications of exploited foreign workers or harmed American children. I expect everyone below the VP level in Nike’s marketing operation is champing at the bit to roll out the crisis communications playbook, but the senior folks with go/nogo authority just don’t see the MLB rollout as fitting the paradigm. Yet.

    “Clusterfuck” in one paragraph and then “rat’s keister” in the next; article must be rated PG-13 so Paul only gets to use hard profanity once. Lol, great read.

    The most interesting thing about the coverage of this debacle to me, as someone alluded to above, is the Fanatics element. I honestly believe that part of why this has taken off the way it has is that people have built up such an inherent dislike Fanatics (for a lot of valid reasons) that they are eagerly jumping on them here – even though, as Paul has pointed out numerous times, this is mainly a Nike issue. In fact, I’ve seen a lot of prominent social media accounts in the baseball sphere repeatedly parrot the claim that this is all a Fantatics issue and they simply “pay Nike licensing” to use the swoosh logo. I truly wonder if there were no Fanatics involvement but the exact issues were present if it would be getting nearly as much play.

    My only gripe: The officials aren’t wearing goalie gear. Come on!

    That would have been fun.

    Oh, and thanks to Brandon Gutierrez for sharing that tweet with me.

    I’ve kind of been over this whole “moisture wicking lighter faster” fabrics from day 1. It should almost just be a footnote in the design of new uniforms. Yes these uniforms will keep you cooler and less sweaty when it’s hot out. But it will also keep the other team cooler and less sweaty too, so there is no advantage to either team.

    Also, has the weight of any fabric ever hindered or aided anyone? When someone steals 1500 bases in a season, will there be an asterisk next to it saying Rickey Henderson did it in the age of heavy cotton fabrics and Mr. 1500 did it in an age of moisture wicking cool fabrics? I mean, decades ago I was running track in a polyester/mesh tank top. I understand technology of fabrics can change, but is it really so pronounced it is changing outcomes of games or helping break records?

    The short answer is yes, especially in swimming and track. I’d consider for a moment Mike Trout trying to track down a fly ball in a uniform from the 1920’s vs Mookie Betts wearing modern gear. Clearly someone would have a legitmate advantage.

    Couldn’t have said it better myself.

    Nike keeps trying to fix what wasn’t broken, and they ended up breaking it.

    How does this affect the City Connect uniforms? I believe Boston plans on wearing the yellow jerseys again this year so will they be on the new chassis, er, template?

    …seeking something lighter in weight that would improve on-field performance

    I can’t wait to see Ronald Acuña steal more bases and leg-out more doubles now that he’s not lugging .95 ounces of tackle-twill fabric on the base paths.

    Taking a peek at the game right now, nothing looks glaringly bad. Unis seems a bit more form fitting and there’s maybe a little see-through effect on the Padres’ white pants, but nothing awful. Dodgers script looks like what we have seen.

    A lot of the Nike “lighter faster whatever” verbiage betrays a technical set of mind that sounds like you’re building a cool new gadget rather than a baseball uni. And a lot of the gratuitous Nike changes make me think of the stereotypical techbros on a mission to “break stuff” in the name of changing paradigms, bigbraining the edge curve, immanentizing the eschaton, or whatever the hell else they think they’re achieving.

    No doubt that impresses the hell out of bigwigs with delusions that their industry is deploying some kind of space troopers (‘sup, NFL & NCAA). But try that on a John Kruk.

    A lot of the Nike “lighter faster whatever” verbiage betrays a technical set of mind that sounds like you’re building a cool new gadget rather than a baseball uni.

    Yup. That’s why they like to use terms like “chassis.” It’s all about selling a certain kind of fantasy.

    I think we’ve found an all-star game concept I would watch! Come on NHL… make it happen! What would be the harm in changing it up for a year??

Comments are closed.