Nike re-brand couldn’t come at a better time

By Alex Roux

It’s no secret that it’s been a rough year for Illinois sports. Our football and men’s basketball teams have found the Big Ten basement in seasons that included lengthy losing streaks. We’ve seen better days as fans. Our sports egos have taken a bruising.

On-field struggles aside, Illinois athletics hasn’t exactly gotten the best publicity nationally, either. The football and men’s basketball teams made headlines for the wrong reasons several times this year. Remember the infamous Cliff Alexander hat-switch? Well, that footage ended up on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Photos of a nearly empty football student section at Memorial Stadium made the rounds on Yahoo! and Deadspin.

Did I say rough year? The 2013-14 year has been a disaster at times for Illini Nation. School pride from the student body is dwindling. This fan base needs something new to get excited about.  

Thankfully, Nike is giving us something to look forward to until our major sports teams come around. Currently, the University is partnering with Nike on an 18-month re-branding of Illini athletics. All 19 sports teams will get new uniforms with new logos and designs. The re-brand will also apply to Illini merchandise sold in stores, so get your wallets ready. The logos and results of the re-brand are set to be unveiled in mid-April.

I’m pumped. Our basketball uniforms are pretty sharp, but football has had the exact same uniforms since the Ron Turner era. And it’s not just football and basketball. It’s time to switch it up across the board. Whenever I attend various Illini sporting events I notice the lack of uniformity among our 19 programs.

The women’s basketball jerseys are different than the men’s. The baseball team has had the same design on its jerseys since I chased foul balls at Illinois Field as a grade-schooler. Some teams use the “Circle I” logo. Others use the plain old “Block I.” The underlined and italicized “ILLINOIS” appears on the backs of our volleyball jerseys.

We have an identity crisis. After the University was forced to abandon the Chief as its primary logo, it hasn’t really settled on one since. As a school without an official mascot, it’s hard to create an identifiable logo to represent our entire university. Especially if all you have to work with is the letter “I.” The Illinois state outline has appeared on the basketball court and football fields recently as well as in the “Our State, Our Team” campaign, suggesting that it may have a place in the future plans.

Still, no one really knows what Nike has in store for the Illini. No matter what they end up unveiling in April, one thing is certain: some people will hate it, others will love it. Either way, this can only be a good thing for our athletic programs. Whenever all 19 teams benefit, it’s a positive. Effective branding and flashy uniforms can even have a favorable impact on recruiting.

If you shop at NikeTown in Chicago on Michigan Avenue, you’ll notice that there’s no Illini gear to be found. You can find apparel for Michigan State and Ohio State, who are the benefactors of recent Nike branding efforts. It’s pretty sad that you can’t find any Illinois gear at one of our largest sponsor’s largest stores in Chicago.

Hopefully the re-brand brings more orange and blue to the stores. Hopefully it brings a more cohesive identity to the University and fans alike. And if our athletic teams lose, at least we’ll look good doing it.

Alex is a sophomore in AHS. He can be reached at [email protected] and