On Being An Old Man With A Precious Lawn Comment Count

Brian June 9th, 2011 at 1:19 PM

Tomorrow at 8 PM Adidas and Michigan and Notre Dame will have an under-the-lights unveiling of the uniforms both will wear when the first night game in Michigan Stadium history goes down. That's odd: marketing 101 is "when you have bad news, release it on Friday at 5 PM." Michigan is treating their great unveiling like they're firing their coach for massive NCAA violations.

On the other hand, maybe it's not so odd. Yesterday the M-Den momentarily posted what looked like the official thing:

If that's what you're deploying, 8 PM isn't late enough. Broadcast the announcement from the Chinese factory where they'll be made at 4 AM Eastern.

The M-Den twitter feed later posted a three-part item expressing regret for the "mistake" that obviously failed to address whether or not those were the real McCoy. They likely are. Tom pointed out the close-up teaser image has the exact same M the mistakenly posted jersey does. If they're different, they're not much different.

Tomorrow we'll enter the ranks of schools that dress up like clowns for a little bit of money from a shoe company. Notre Dame will as well. I'll make some sarcastic comments, privately think anyone I see wearing one of the jerseys is a total sellout, and move on. This September we'll watch Clownz Faceoff 2011 and life will go on. It's not really a big deal. Everyone does it, and traditionalists sigh, and recruits say they're excited.

So why does this make me want to buy a shotgun, rocking chair, and lifetime supply of lawn fertilizer?

Well, there was a way to do this that would not give people hives. It did not require the assistance of a crack team of uniform designers, and it didn't have stripes conjured from one of their fever-dreams.


The numbers on the helmets (and the different wing pattern on them), block Ms on the socks and shoulders, and overall retro stylings of the mid-60s (like gray face-masks) would have provided a distinctive, historically accurate look. (Doctor Saturday pointed out that it would have been a look from an era when Michigan and Notre Dame were in one of their periodic snits, but whatever.)

It wouldn't have been much different. It would have been cool, though:


It would have been a genuine callback to another era of Michigan football. They could have brought out some former players, celebrated a Rose Bowl win, whatever. If they're going to do that in the Franken-uniforms they'll have to bring out a nighmarish assemblage of Horace Prettyman's arms and shoulders stapled to Bill Yearby's torso and head; the lower body will be a cyborg entity from 2211 that shoots postgame celebration laserz. The legs will stop at the knees because bony undead horror robots of 2211 come hovering or they don't come at all.

This bothers me because it makes it obvious that honoring the program's past doesn't crack the top several reasons they'll put the stripes on this fall, falling behind at least "money," "making Adidas happy," and "allowing Dave Brandon to 'create the future'." My money teat is easy to milk, but not that easy. I won't put on a Big Chill shirt with an Arby's logo on it and I'm not buying whatever that is above.

This makes me an old man but it also strikes me how stupid the corporate culture Dave Brandon comes from is. At a consumer-facing, mid-sized, publicly-traded corporation it's all about three months from now when you report your numbers and the stock price goes up or down and you're a hero or an idiot. Once companies go public they slowly lose the distinctive characteristics that made them successful in the first place and become a collection of generic suits*. The suits get paid exorbitant amounts of money to trade long-term goodwill for numbers that will allow another set of suits to increase the exorbitant amount of money they are getting paid.

The best example of how this doesn't have to happen is privately-owned Chik-Fil-A, which is still closed every Sunday for religious reasons and is so loved by Southerners that when the corporation bought the naming rights to the Peach Bowl it was generally regarded as an improvement. These are correlated factors.

These days a lot of tech companies are remaining private longer than they would have in the past—Facebook is the best example—in order to avoid the relentless make-your-numbers effect of being a public company. It seems like Michigan is announcing its IPO Friday night.

*[Once you get to the behemoth side of the scale you can maintain identity via monopoly: Google and Apple are distinctive entities that appear to have ethoses (ethii?) other than making money hand over fist; they can probably have these because they are making money hand over fist.]

(HT on the 60s uniform picks to "cutter," denizen of Michigan messageboards everywhere.)



June 9th, 2011 at 3:00 PM ^

problem is they took way too many design cues. Helmet numbers, shoulder stripes, and chest block M would all be fine on their own and could be pointed to a distinct era. Put together it's a hodge-podge mess that looks like a Michigan themed Mexican soccer jersey.

MI Expat NY

June 9th, 2011 at 3:00 PM ^

I disagree entirely.  Throwback jerseys/retro-style jerseys aren't just supposed to take cues from the past and update them, they are supposed to take exact looks from the past and lay them over the make-up of the modern fitting jersey.  That's not what happened here.

They also didn't take cues that "were probably thought to last forever."  Jersey elements are never thought to last forever, until you come to a design, and when you go to change that design, you say "you know, we can't do any better, lets stick with it."   That didn't happen at michigan, until, generally, the 50's or so when Solid blue jerseys with maize numbers was standardized.  

To go back to your original example.  The classic blue blazer is still classic and essentially the same.  It's a blue blazer, it's been what it's been for decades.  Yet, the fit and other minor changes have constantly changed.  That's exactly what Michigan's uniform has been for almost 50 years.  Arm sleeve length has changed, tightness has changed, tucked in vs. not tucked in, names on the back, nike log, adidas logo, venting under the arms, etc.  Compare any two jerseys 20 years apart and side by side they may look drastically different, but they'll still be essentially the same.

Ed Shuttlesworth

June 9th, 2011 at 1:45 PM ^

Yes, Dave Brandon is the product of a really, really stupid culture.

The fundamental problem, which bothers corporate hacks not at all, is that the Michigan uniform and "brand" have been pimped out as the shoe company's canvas, as opposed to the shoe company serving Michigan. 

You do that if you're effectively starting from scratch like Oregon, or nouveau riche like VA Tech or Boise, or if you're hopelessly and incorrigibly tasteless and redneck and prole like Ohio State.  You don't do it if you're Michigan.  If you're Michigan, you let the shoe company put their logo, real small-like, on your uniform and you take their check.

Until you become Dave Brandon's Michigan in which case, um yeah.


June 9th, 2011 at 2:26 PM ^

For Oregon, said shoe company is not just an equipment provider, but the creation of one of their most notable and involved alumni.  If Adidas had been created by a heavily involved Michigan grad, I would be more happy with an active partnership pushing the boundaries of design since whatever brought glory to Adidas reflected upon the school which taught them the skills neccessary to found it.  Instead, as you said, we have our own brand and should be a lot more stringent on how it gets liscensed out so as not dilute it.


June 9th, 2011 at 3:50 PM ^

You guys realize that someone at Michigan approved this design, right? It's not Adidas' fault - they probably don't give a damn what the special jersey looks like, they'll sell a ton either way. I'm sure Adidas came up with a range of options, over a couple iterations, and Dave Brandon looked at them and said, "this one is awesome!!!"

Zone Left

June 9th, 2011 at 2:55 PM ^

I really think he believes this is best for Michigan football. He comes from a mass commercial food industry and the conventional wisdom in that industry is that you need to constantly do new and exciting things to keep up. That he dealt with that for a long time combined with the success that schools like Oregon have had in recruiting and exposure by totally bucking tradition makes it pretty easy to see why he wants to do something like that.

Think about it this way. He can't really affect the product on the field on a day-to-day basis. He hired a coach and basically has to let him coach or has to let him go. These one-time gimmicks are his way of positively affecting the program.


June 9th, 2011 at 9:10 PM ^

that improving the bottom line was the first thing Don Canham did when he took over at Michigan. If you care about Michigan football, you want the program to make as much money as possible, create as much exposure as possible, because even though so many of us love traditions ....

FEW IF ANY RECRUITS COME TO MICHIGAN BECAUSE OF YOST, CRISLER, SCHEMBECHLER, CARR, WINGED HELMETS, 11 NATIONAL TITLES, etc. They come because they believe they fit best with the coaching staff, know they can get a lot of exposure, and playing in the Big Ten better prepares them for a pro career. 18 year old kids don't remember Desmond Howard (they weren't alive) and they don't remember Charles Woodson (they were only 4) and they don't remember Tom Brady started over Drew Henson (they were younger than 5 - and columnists still make that mistake).

I'm all for tradition. I love it. But if a gimmick everyone so often keeps Michigan relevant to the top recruits and helps us win, then I'm all in. I'd rather have a little silliness and be relevant than become Notre Dame. 


Rush N Attack

June 9th, 2011 at 1:48 PM ^

but they're technically listed as "retro-style uniforms" on MGoBlue, not throwbacks:


"Watch live Friday (June 10) at 8 p.m. EDT as Michigan athletics director Dave Brandon, football coach Brady Hoke and adidas unveil the Wolverines' retro-style uniform for the first night game in Big House history, vs. Notre Dame on Sept. 10." .".


matty blue

June 9th, 2011 at 1:47 PM ^

this is not unusual, and indeed is true of most professions - you start doing it because you love it and want to do it forever, and as you get better at it you do it less and less.

i'm an architect, and i'm here to tell you - the days of working into the night to nail that front facade are long gone, replaced by sleepless nights worrying about rising health care costs and whether to fire that one guy.  passion gets replaced by pragmatism, nearly every time.


June 9th, 2011 at 1:49 PM ^

So that answers my question.  Ugly became an aesthetic as soon as it became massively profitable.  Or maybe Dave Brandon just grew up on the crime side--the New York Times side--where stayin' alive was no jive.


June 9th, 2011 at 2:37 PM ^

Empty symbols crafted to have meaning.  The consumer attempts to gain an identity from the purchase of certain symbols.  "If I buy a BMW I will be a luxurious person with an attention to detail and a love for fine machinery.  I will finally have an identity now.  Look at me go."  But they are really just the same person with a car loan, because the symbol has no tangible personal meaning.  It's really just a car, a nice one, but only a car. 

And the Apple "Apple" or the Mickey D's "M", or the Target "Target"  also don't really "mean" anything.  They are just some of the millions of empty symbols carefully crafted and recrafted by corporations and advertisers to construct meaning in the consumer mind so the consumer believes they have valid reasons to spend money - namely the spending will secure a product that will fill some lonesome hole in their psyches, as all the advertisements state.  And to some degree I'm fine with that.  It's all in the game, baby, and corporations aren't going to stop the invasion until we all are tortured, so why even fight.    

But when you start recrafting an M that does have tangible, personal meaning, does have some history, and is not just a longstanding corporate symbol to be tampered with,  that's unfortunate, and it makes me want to forcibly oust corporations from college football, because when we look around we know it's only going to get worse from here on out.


June 9th, 2011 at 1:57 PM ^

I love the '65 uni. It's different enough and still cool. It would also be an actual throwback. I would pay real money to own one. I would wear it with pride. I could never do that with the new costume.


June 9th, 2011 at 1:57 PM ^

I don't like the whole retro uni movement . Maybe that is why I don't have a specific problem with this design for Michigan's. 

It has Dave Brandon written all over it.

It's different and therefore will get people talking about "the brand".

It's controversial and therefore will get people talking about "the brand".

It will sell and might sell surprisingly well with the publicity it will generate. Probably sell better after  a Michigan win. My hunch is the players  and younger kids will LOVE it.

That said, the only sport that should entertain retro uniforms in baseball. Some of those Pirates / A's uniforms from teh 70's and 80's were really cool. The Red Sox white unis they wore recently with white caps and solid red socks up to the knees were cool.

God forbid anyone ever attempts to bring back the short shorts with long white socks look of 1970's basketball.


Bando Calrissian

June 9th, 2011 at 1:58 PM ^

If "This Is Michigan," maybe Michigan doesn't mean what it used to.

Don Canham was a marketing genius.  Slapped the M on everything he could think of.  But I never got the impression it was anything having to do with some kind of corporate culture of "brand imaging" and shoe company millions and stuff like that.  At the end of the day, Canham marketing was a byproduct of the product Michigan was putting on the field, and the identity of the University as a whole.

This Brandon notion of Michigan Football as an "image" and "brand" is molding the program into something different based on the ideas that make corporations make money.  The program isn't molding the marketing, the marketing is molding the program.  "Retro Style" uniforms.  Adidas formulating its own CYAN profile for "Sunshine Maize" or whatever it's called, which is just another word for highlighter yellow.  RAWK.  Arby's logos on a Michigan hockey jersey.  Dancing boxes of fries.

I find this to be a mistake, and not the only agenda or process by which Michigan Athletics can raise the funds it needs to maintain its growing slate of varsity sports.  I like a lot of things David Brandon is doing, but the growing corporate/business culture of Michigan Athletics is getting a bit offputting. 

Indiana Blue

June 9th, 2011 at 2:01 PM ^

I really don't care if the uniforms have pepperonis all over them (DB - please don't).

I am in total agreement in going back to the "snit years" (great reference BC !) .... in the words of Bo .... "to hell with Notre Dame".

Go Blue !


June 9th, 2011 at 2:04 PM ^

Personally, I find all this fashion concern a little effeminate, no offense, even though I agree with all the big picture concerns about corporate milking and whatnot.  I find the luxury boxes, big scoreboards, and especially the rawk music far more disconcerting than one-game uniform gimmicks.  It seems like the mgoblog position on these things is more about personal preference than the anti-corporate stance taken in this post.  In other words, it feels like a weak excuse to justify complaining about what the author finds to be an ugly shirt.

Promote RichRod

June 9th, 2011 at 2:04 PM ^

uniforms being terrible and DB being a corporate douche that just doesn't get it as an AD.

Your understanding of corporations, however, is poor.  What you are calling "selling out" when a company goes public is actually "good governance."  Private companies owe no duties to the public and the SEC so they are free to serve their own interests.  This often leads to a distinct personality and corporate culture.  If the company goes under then the owners have no one to answer to but themselves (I'm being simplistic here).

When a company goes public, it now serves at the hands of the shareholders.  The public actually owns the company and the company owes duties to its shareholders.  So, if a company is doing market research to find out how to appeal to as many people as possible (even at the expense of corporate culture) it is acting in the interests of the owners...the public.  Also, the SEC has certain reporting guidelines and advisory services like ISS push companies to adopt certain governance practices because they are in the best interests of shareholders.  Everything becomes homogenized by necessity, not necessarily out of a strong desire to pursue short term gains to the detriment of the brand.

The problem (which you have noted) is that DB is importing this line of thinking to the Michigan athletic department.  It has no place there, whatsoever.  Michigan football is not supposed to be a profit-maximizing entity.

Bando Calrissian

June 9th, 2011 at 2:09 PM ^

"Michigan football is not supposed to be a profit-maximizing entity."

Well, yes it is.  Michigan Football is vital to the bottom line of the entire Athletic Department.  The question is, however, to what extent and means we go to "maximize" the profits.  David Brandon is theoretically right in his corporate intuition to milk every last resource, but he seems to be wrong in overlooking the fact that not every one of those resources is correct or necessary for Michigan.

Promote RichRod

June 9th, 2011 at 2:21 PM ^

You have no understanding of what a "profit-maximizing entity" is supposed to be.  UM is a nonprofit government entity, not a for-profit corporation.  It's mission is not to maximize profits, it is to educate students, foster research, provide for sports programs, etc.

The fact that the football program is profitable does not mean it is a profit-maximizing entity.

Bando Calrissian

June 9th, 2011 at 2:24 PM ^

The Athletic Department has been a financially separate and entirely self-sufficient entity from the University for over a century, and intentionally so.  So, yes, Michigan Football needs to be a profit-maximized entity to pull its weight within the AD budget so we can have 25+ varsity programs.


June 9th, 2011 at 3:24 PM ^

But I think we're probably into semantics.  Yes, the football program seeks to maximize profits - but only inside of very specfic parameters and even then, "maximize" isn't really the goal.  Share-holder driven corporations do seek to maximize profits because that's about the only thing shareholders care about (their shares).  Michigan Football has no shareholders, no shares to maximize and a mission entirely devoid of profit concerns.  It does have fiduciary responsibilities to the athletic department and the university, but not profit-maximization.  And that is where the conflict lies that has the board so riled.



June 9th, 2011 at 2:35 PM ^

Brian's point is not that profit-maximization is the problem, but that the corporate form with its necessary agency-principal relationship creates a system where the corporate agents respond primarily to short-timeline consequences even when other decisions would better maximize profit or value for the principal's over a long time horizon.  "Brand management" is often at the core of that problem because brands, like other capital assets, can pretty easily be strip-mined for quick value in a manner that injures their long-term viability.  Its similiar to how a conglomerate can buy a smaller brand that has earned a reputation with consumers for high-quality products, and then sell less-expensive lower quality goods under the brand for increased prices.  Lots of short-term profit, but eventually the high-quality repuation evaporates and it becomes another generic brand.


June 9th, 2011 at 3:36 PM ^

For have never been around any "non-profit" institutions. The goal at this companies is never to "break-even", but acquire as much money and profit as possible...the "mission" isn't really any different than any company's business plan mission statement. While they are not technically going to make a maximum profit to enrich stockholders, they pretty much are to enrich higher salaries for executives, professors, staff, and upgrade their indirect profit stuff, like facilities, equipment and such. While technically accurate, their mission to "educate, research and provide" is as secondary a goal as "build a great widget that will revolutionize X for people" is to a profit company's making a buck.


June 9th, 2011 at 2:22 PM ^

Your claim that the "public" owns public companies strikes me as ludicrous. Public companies are owned by a handful of wealthy shareholders, and the executives they employ will do anything to please this small group of people in the short term (which means increasing profit each quarter at whatever cost to the company). As you note, it's always about the best interest of the (big) shareholders, and not necessarily the workers, and certainly not the public.

I also envy your faith in the SEC's impact.

Promote RichRod

June 9th, 2011 at 2:30 PM ^

but my expression of the goal of public companies is accurate.  Large institutional shareholders of course have more sway but you have not been paying attention if you think smaller shareholders do not act as a check on the whims of public companies' boards.  Look at the influence of ISS, the passage of the Dodd-Frank act as it relates to executive compensation and SEC reporting requirements and tell me shareholders' interests are not of central importance to public companies.

Companies that focus solely on short-term profits to the detriment of everything else are bad companies.  I'm not saying they don't exist - they're just doing it wrong.

Response to your SEC edit - I work with public companies every day in reporting to SEC.  The SEC scares the absolute hell out of company executives and they do whatever the SEC tells them.  It serves as a massive deterrent and gives shareholders a ton of useful information about the company if they care to look.

MI Expat NY

June 9th, 2011 at 2:22 PM ^

Your understanding of corporations is great in theory, but I'd argue poor in reality.  Yes public companies are responsible to its shareholders (and regulator agencies designed to protect said shareholders).  But, the people who run the corporation also have their own self interests that aren't so easily put aside.  The easiest way to align the shareholder and "suits" interests is to report higher revenues/profits/etc. in the next reporting period.  This raises stock prices, which shareholders like, and often triggers extremely large bonuses for the suits, which they obviously like.  This continues until there comes a reporting period where the corporation has to pay the ferryman for their past short term solutions, the suits get fired, receiving an often insanely large golden parachute on the way out, and the cycle begins anew.  

In short, I think Brian's comparison is apt.  Corporations often sacrifice the long term good of the brand for short term profits.  


Promote RichRod

June 9th, 2011 at 2:33 PM ^

and work with executives every day.  Most of them really care about shareholders (though they grumble about onerous requirements) and they all definitely focus on long-term profits.  The caricature is pretty inaccurate in practice.  A few bad apples make all executives look bad.