Jerry Seinfeld famously said that supporting your favorite team is really just cheering for laundry. Back in the early days of professional sports, uniforms were a very loose concept. Old team photos show in the black and white graininess a group of stone faced average joes with glorious mustaches (only seen these days on a penny farthing in Portland) all wearing vaguely the same color long sleeved sweater, some with turtlenecks, some with initials of the team awkwardly seen the the front, some completely plain.
Team shirts eventually became more important, firstly for the game officials to keep track of players, but also as an identity for the team itself. TV coverage brought bolder colors, distinctive stripes. A quick browse of http://www.historicalkits.co.uk for old clubs will show that soccer is no exception. Single standard color shirts for decades upon decades explode into designs, a multitude of patterns and the full rainbow of colors, depending on the team.
I don't believe I am alone in thinking that everything our hometown franchise has done indicates that they are and will continue to be a classy, distinguished, professional, top-level organization. While comparing an expansion MLS side to a CL winning centenarian club side, or a World Cup winning national side seems to be an exersize in the absurd, after seeing the Atlanta United locker room at the Benz and touring the training facility in Marietta, most anyone could be convinced to listen.
With 500 channels on the TVs of people who still subscribe to cable, and an unlimited number of streaming options, fans can watch nearly anything they want, if they are will in to subscribe to the latest service. Photos of matches flow across all channels of social media, apps, and hang on walls in sports bars and man caves alike. How can a team stand out in all of that white noise?
By being classic. Even a new franchise can make the decision to be true to it's badge and colors and have an elegant, consistent uniform look.
Close your eyes. OK, don't, you are reading. But imagine IF you closed your eyes, and I said "Argentina" what would you picture? Regardless of the athletic, insanely talented head and legs sticking out of it, you definitely imagined a white and baby blue striped shirt. Now let's do Barcelona. Yup, blue-ish and red-ish/purple-ish stripes. Brazil? Classic Yellow shirt. From Pele to Neymar, it's always the same look for Brazil. Just last week, people were aghast, offended even, that Real Madrid wasn't in white for El Classico.
There is no reason for Atlanta United not to be included alongside those teams. OK, fine, maybe not in field acumen (yet) but certainly in their kit design.
Like it or hate it, the "5 Stripes" moniker isn't going away. No matter how hard some of us try to make people stop, it has stuck. Like gum on the bottom of our shoe. And yet, it's a name not seen in football elsewhere. And, sure, it references the crest, but that's not why it resonates. The guys on the field, on the TV, on your app, on the poster hanging at your local pub... are wearing five alternating black and red stripes.
I am here as a professional designer, as a #KitNerd, and as a collector of over 500 jerseys of various types, to implore, nay, to BEG Atlanta United and Adidas to stick with our primary kit design.
There are vague guidelines in MLS about new jerseys. Each team must have one new kit per year. As everywhere, your secondary has to fully conflict with your primary and your opponent. But different franchises accomplish this is different ways. Many replace their primary one year, their secondary the next. Columbus got rid of their primary, promoted their secondary to primary, and introduced a new secondary. Seattle, to whom most rules don't seem to apply, have a third jersey. I have not yet seen of a rule that would say we couldn't simply introduce another secondary every year. Goodness knows we can be rid of the concrete and strawberry soon enough.
Even if marketing and apparel providers conspire to encourage us to have a new primary, we should fiercely adhere to the five stripes concept. Simply "refresh" the look with additional pin stripes, gold outlines, zigzag detail on the edges. (See AC Milan) But please do not go horizontal like BarcagoldcupUSAlona.
In today's footballing market, replica kit sales are as important as pretty much anything else. The six-year, $700 million contract recently signed between Adidas and MLS will assure that merchandise, including jerseys, will be pervasive. So, there will be plenty of external pressure to create an entirely new concept, colors, and University of Oregon wackiness.
Atlanta United must not acquiesce. The organization is in a unique place of power right now, with the highest attendance the league has ever seen, insane numbers off season ticket holders, looking to set the single game attendance record on September 16th (Buy more tickets now!) and selling more product than any Adidas team save for the Chicago Cubs fresh off their World Series win. The team has greater leverage than likely any team in the league has ever had.
Is that leverage to keep the primary largely the same. Swap to red stripes on a black base shirt. Run the gold Adidas stripes down the side. Add a tiny gold pinstripe on either side of the main black stripes.
The names on the backs will surely change. But leave all five of the stripes on my laundry exactly where they are.