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.)


MI Expat NY

June 9th, 2011 at 2:38 PM ^

I would have added to my post that it's more the larger corporations that act this way, not really the midsized corporations Brian mentions in his post.  The corporations that seem to bring in outside CEO's every three or four years and cycle rapidly through booms and busts.



June 9th, 2011 at 6:30 PM ^

It's a brand / marketing issue. CEO's work with their boards and the c-suite, but the damage is wraught by the Special K's and the brand managers who don't communicate that far up the chain.  They just have to move their product in their region in this quarter, which gets rolled up into the weekly/monthly/quarterly reports along with all the other product lines which end up on the CEO's desk as numbers, not experiences.

Everything's measured in sales / profits / market share growth quarter over quarter.  Noone keeps seasoned, experienced marketing people around because they don't tweet or foursquare or whatever neat softward gizmo launched this week.  And the only way to make anything happen is to make it look new.  Or find a new market or a new way to get your product placed in a new market.  Or at least show some sort of movement.  And so no stone goes unturned in the search for new.

Improved is a completely dated concept.

STW P. Brabbs

June 9th, 2011 at 2:48 PM ^

Your understanding of how public corporations operate is still the orthodox theory, sure.  It's the same rational choice model that was applied by Alan Greenspan when he thought that regulating those big, public banking corporations was essentially needless, since the executive in charge would naturally be averse to anything that would be detrimental to the health of the entity as a whole. 

I think what Brian identifies is much closer to the way things actually operate.  Corporate executives certainly do operate in a manner designed to maximize utility (which at that level of the corporate ladder can be translated directly to money) - their own utility.  They will work their balls off to make those quarterly reports as pretty as possible so the bonus checks swell magnificently.  And if the pursuit of those short-term numbers should ever compromise the long-term health of the organiztion, guess what is prioritized every single fucking time? 

Which is what Greenspan claims to have realized.  When he took a minute to stop stroking it to an old picture of Ayn Rand after Wall Street nearly imploded.


June 9th, 2011 at 2:05 PM ^

These things make me want to pluck out my own eyeballs and eat them.

You know what IS cool, Dave Brandon?  Not having throwback uniforms because you've been wearing the same awesome shit since forever.  When you are the Yankees, the Celtics, an original 6 hockey team, or freaking Michigan football, you should know by now that the outfits are working out for you.  You don't need to scour the earth to find a new look that some German pervert pulled out of his ass at the Adidas design center.  Perfection doesn't need an upgrade (unlike that dogshit pizza he was hawking for years). 



June 9th, 2011 at 2:07 PM ^

being a guy, i dont really care about fashion, so they could play in pink tutus for all i care

that said, apparently a lot of people care enough to beat this topic to death.  to which i say that any lost tradition or whatever is more than made up for by the buzz and interest from recruit-age kids.  the extra revenues is gravy, IMO

and facebook stays private for lots of reasons, the most important of which is keeping aspects of their operations a secret (which is only partially related to "making numbers")


June 9th, 2011 at 2:07 PM ^

Is there anything this fanbase won't complain about? Angelique Chengelis reported yesterday that the players liked the design, shouldn't that be important to us? Also, recruits are always eating up how Oregon has so many uniforms-those are f***** ugly-so who cares just accept it.


June 9th, 2011 at 2:13 PM ^

Don't tell me what to accept.  Its great that the players like them.  However, they aren't shelling out hundreds of dollars every year on tickets and clothing.  A sh-tty design is a sh-tty design, regardless of how much the fan base complaints or not.  Its a sh-tty design and is going to look stupid.  Its a shame and its all corporate mentality driven, just like Brian points out.  Its a sell-out and its sad.



June 9th, 2011 at 2:54 PM ^

Your right they aren't shelling out hundreds of dollars on tickets, they are dedicating hundreds of hours of their lives instead...hmmm..And its BS that we say the design is corporate mentality based-if the design was solely created to make money they would have designed the most radical yet LOVED design so every single fan had to own it.

Deep Under Cover

June 9th, 2011 at 4:24 PM ^

Are they requiring you to buy a jersey? Are you somehow not getting a hundred dollars worth of entertainment when you buy a ticket because of the jerseys they wear?  If its ugly, the accounting will show, but I don't see why people feel like they are losing financially with these new jerseys.

Bando Calrissian

June 9th, 2011 at 2:15 PM ^

That's cool and all, but how do you explain Penn State still remaining successful with uniforms that haven't changed since about 1902 and a coach who was around to implement them?  In fact, PSU's uniforms got even plainer for this season with the removal of the trim.

The claim that we need to do stuff like this to "attract recruits" and such, to enter into the Oregon arms race, is just silly.  We're Michigan.  We don't have Phil Knight in a box at Autzen listening to the playcalls on a headset, diagramming plays for his guests on a dry erase board.  Plenty of schools do just fine without crazy WR gloves and space-age everything.

Bando Calrissian

June 9th, 2011 at 2:30 PM ^


Turns out the trim was only introduced because there were questions of whether they could get the trim in the exact same color as the rest of the jersey, as the trim was a different fabric and necessary for the way in which the jerseys were designed.  They've since found they can do without the trim with advancements in fabric and design, so when given the option, PSU decided to ditch the trim.


June 9th, 2011 at 2:27 PM ^

Good coaching, tradition, consistency, etc.  The lack of innovation itself makes them stick out, fashion wise.

Its not that fashion decides things, its that it can be a factor.  Oregon's rise is unquestionably in part due to the fashion that most (older) fans hate, but many (younger) fans love.

Oregon and PSU stand out on opposite sides of the spectrum.  Michigan has obviously been more toward the PSU side and has the iconic helmets, but as long as they keep those, I don't think any damage is done perceptions.

I'll get off your lawn now.

Ed Shuttlesworth

June 9th, 2011 at 2:10 PM ^

The athletic programs, and particularly the football program, have a lot of non-university affiilated persons as what Dave Brandon would call "customers," but that aside there isn't a whole lot of difference between the adidas brand fauxbacks, and absurdities like "Arby's Angell Hall" or "South Quadrangle Built by Home Depot." 

Mary Sue Coleman would never pick an LS&A dean who suggested such a thing and for that reason I can't understand why she would so blithely put a corporate tool in as the head of the athletic department.


June 9th, 2011 at 2:12 PM ^

Things change, this is just one thing changing for 1 game

The entire idea of a night game is crazy to old timers anyway, so why not double dip with a wacked out jersey

Its not the nickname, its not the fight song, its not the helmet, its just some goofy stuff on the arms


June 9th, 2011 at 2:55 PM ^

People aren't pissed about the uniform change simply because the current look is the way we've always done things (or because they just don't like staying up late).  Playing at night is about making your product (to use Brandon-speak) available to a wider audience (you're just going to reach more viewers in primetime).  It is the same reason we played during the day for decades (most people can't see in the dark). 

Tinkering with some of the best uniforms in college football (Notre Dame is equally ridiculous for doing this) is about changing the product itself, a product loaded with meaning/identity/history for countless people.  If Zingermann's opens a new location, that is a positive (or at least not a negative to anyone who isn't just bitching for the sake of bitching about the good old days).  If they start selling McDonald's-quality burgers instead of their current fare, then people are (justifiably) going to be upset about it.  The fact that these fashion abortions would make a dirty Big Mac look delicious only exacerbates the problem.


June 9th, 2011 at 2:14 PM ^

occurred about whatever virtue Apple retains by remaining private (to work there you now have to sign a promise you won't commit suicide); ask the kids picking up cancer as they pick through piles of discarded computer parts in various parts of Africa and India; ask those of us who suffered through two bouts of rampant motherboard failure with early maclappies (why we're not mcslappies); or--hell--ask Linus Torvalds, who says that when he met Steve Jobs the guy had no interest whatever in talking computing, programming, or innovation, just sales figures (Torvalds' conclusion--he's a flapping idiot). 

This is about as cranky--and self-contradictory--as Brian gets. (Why were you happy when a corporate CEO was installed in the first place? That was the time to piss and moan, not when--predictably--he does what CEOs do.)

The Adidas design is much nicer than the utterly generic unis in the photos. Denard is gonna make it shine.

I will buy Brian on a lot of fronts but as fashion maven--not.

Picktown GoBlue

June 9th, 2011 at 9:31 PM ^

suicide rates are actually below the general population rates as noted here.  When you have more employees than the population of Detroit, and you even provide the towns for the employees to live in, then you're likely to have all stories and problems that population can generate.  I believe this is the company that you're trying to talk about with the "will not off oneself pledge" and yes, they are the contract manufacturer for some of Apple's most popular products, but they are not AAPL.  Foxconn is secretive, but it is not a private company, traded on the Hong Kong and Taiwan exchanges.  Not trying to let them off for some of their business practices and how they treat employees, but they really don't fit the example here.


June 9th, 2011 at 2:17 PM ^

Michigan is supposed to be different, but all too often we are the same.  Like we need money to fuel good things, including expanding our number of varsity sports to include lacrosse.  New revenue streams, like selling special jerseys, are helpful to that end.  That means is not eggregious in and of itself.  However, in this particular case, the execution is hideous.

We will forever wish to have celebrated this event in our traditional uniforms, with perhaps a tasteful and discrete commemorative patch, a la the 100th game vs tsio.  That would have been cool.  People would buy those and wear them proudly.  If they sold jerseys with 100th game patches now, people would buy them.

Why is this not a win-win?  Why wouldn't his make the athletic dept., adidas, and the fans all happy?

Kids are welcome to run on my lawn, but not to take a dump on it!


June 9th, 2011 at 2:22 PM ^

Thanks for the shout out, Brian.  I largely agree with everything you have to say about not only the throwback jerseys, but also about some of the less then enviable workings of corporations everywhere.

I think one of the problems here is that there's a difference between a throwback uniform and a throwback jersey.  The uniform includes everything from head to toe and as Brian points out, there were some distinctive features on the mid-60s uniform that would have made it a throwback to the teams of that era.

The problem is that you can't readily sell that entire look unless there's a major market out there for white socks with block M's on them or mini-helmets with numbers on them.  The main item that Michigan, Adidas and M-Den will sell will be the jerseys and they have to look distinctive enough for the common fan (or more specifically, the demographic that buys these things) to be interested in purchasing.  Quite frankly, a simple blue jersey with number on the front and back and no name probably doesn't meet that objective.  Maybe adding a block M on the sleeves would do it, but that's evidentally not the direction the Athletic Department is going at this time. 

I think that's unfortunate because one of the major marketing points about Michigan is tradition coupled with innovation.  We certainly see that in the stadium renovations, and for those responsible for it (including David Brandon), I say congratulations--well done.  But these uniforms--which look like a composite of a late 19th century look coupled with a varsity football "M" sweater--misses on both counts.  While I will withhold final judgement until we actually see the entire "look" unveiled tomorrow, right now I have to say that they don't look very appealing.

When properly done, throwback uniforms can be pretty neat, but there's always an urge to tamper with what's classically good.  I thought it would present a pretty fun (and easily marketable) narrative for both Michigan and Notre Dame to play this first night game in Ann Arbor in replica uniforms from the 60s--certainly both team's helmets would be different looking (different wings and numbers for Michigan, shamrock for Notre Dame).  It appears to me that U-M is going in a different direction with this.

One final thought.  David Brandon did say words to the effect that the version of the uniform first provided in the Detroit Free Press was inaccurate.  In actuality, they do have a lot more in common than Brandon might have led us to think--and that's unfortunate on his part.  By and large, I've agreed with most of the things he's done during his tenure and I applaude him for the way he handled the NCAA investigation into Michigan's football program (if you want to see how not to do it, cast your eyes to Columbus, Ohio).  Later this month, he'll be publicly presenting the FY 2012 UM Athletic Department budget and he's stated in the papers that he'll be putting together a long-term strategic plan to grow Michigan athletics.  It's a big responsibility and I wish hiim well on it.  My only point is this--there's no need to get cute about some things, and that includes the throwbacks.  When all else fails, go back to what works best--that's why UM hired Brady Hoke, isn't it?


June 9th, 2011 at 2:34 PM ^

I'll take a #1 with Chick-Fil-A sauce over that sh-tty "throwback" jersey every day.

 P.S.  I suspect that those of you that know what I mean likely agree whole-heartedly.



June 9th, 2011 at 2:44 PM ^

...Chick-Fil-A sauce was not developed by Chick-Fil-A corporate, but by a local franchisee in Fredericksburg, VA and that up until a few years ago, you couldn't get that sauce in every Chick-Fil-A location?

The sauce was an innovation and a break from the traditional condiments that were available at most restaurants.


June 9th, 2011 at 2:35 PM ^

I don't think the throwbacks (or retros, if you prefer) are great, but I also don't share in the wailing and gnashing of teeth over them.  Despite their apparent disconnection with Michigan history and their rugby styling, my Michigan degrees are not going to burst into flames because of them, nor are they going to cause people to point and laugh when I wear the rest of my Michigan gear.  The brand and the tradition extend far beyond what the team wears for any one game (or say, our record over the last three seasons).

If you hate the jerseys, don't buy one.  Flood DB's inbox with complaints.  That is your right as fans and alumni.  Since the concern is that DB is too corporate, do your part to make sure that the ROI on this project is underwhelming.  At the same time, if people snap up the jerseys like crazy, and the recruits love them, then maybe we have to accept that not everybody shares our sense of nostalgia.

Just out of curiosity, did any of the get off my lawn folks ever own one of those starter jackets with 15 different Michigan logos on them?


June 9th, 2011 at 2:41 PM ^

...consideration, history buffs/tradition mavens:

1884 Team Photo (stripes!!!):1884 team photo

1889 team photo (stripes!!!): 1889

1890 Team Photo (some stripes!!!):

1918 Team Photo (stripes on sleeves!!!):
1918 team photo

1920 team photo (stripes on sleeves!!!):1920stripes

The team sported this jersey from 1918 - 1920.

So, to say that this is unprecedented is simply inaccurate. People who bemoan that the "UTL" jerseys hearken back to rugby or soccer uniforms are willfully or blissfully ignorant of the origins of American Football.

My lawn is open to anyone who wears one of the "UTL" jerseys.