MLB’s City Connect uniforms changed the future of baseball fashion

This season’s seven City Connect uniforms polarized fans, but Major League Baseball considers them a success.

Nike’s replacements, league officials say, aren’t just here to stay – there will be 23 more by the end of 2023 – they’re helping set the stage for even more radical designs in the future. .

In April, the Boston Red Sox became the first team to unveil a City Connect uniform, with a jersey that completely ditched the color of red in favor of yellow and blue, a tribute to Patriots’ Day and the Boston Marathon . The Red Sox were followed by the Miami Marlins, who paid tribute to the Sugar Kings of Cuba; the Chicago White Sox, who opted for an all-black pinstripe look and a gothic “Southside” font; the Chicago Cubs, who shouted at the Wrigleyville neighborhood that surrounds their ballpark; the Arizona Diamondbacks, who created gold uniforms with “Los Serpientes” emblazoned across the chest; and the San Francisco Giants, who winked at the Golden Gate Bridge. The final team on this year’s list, the Los Angeles Dodgers, revealed their views on Thursday.

While the looks rattled some traditionalists, they turned out to be a hit. Not including the Dodgers’ last-minute addition to the series, each team’s jerseys sold out. As sales exceeded forecasts, the league was unable to keep City Connect merchandise in stock, in part due to global supply chain issues. Those strong sales — and all the buzz the series generated — caused MLB teams to look at their uniforms in a different way.

“They’re getting a little more aggressive where they’ve been a little more traditional,” MLB chief revenue officer Noah Garden said. “They see what’s happened. They see the conversation that’s happening. They see the overwhelming positive support and they see it attracting an audience that they want to attract, which is a younger demographic that’s more fashionable. , loves the game, but maybe not being as traditional.”

Some teams, like the Marlins and Diamondbacks, incorporate the uniforms into their regular mix. All 30 MLB teams are expected to have a City Connect jersey by the end of the 2023 season. The popularity of the inaugural group of uniforms has clubs jumping into the series headfirst, including some of the more conservative teams. . According to league sources, the New York Yankees — whose uniform, with few exceptions, has remained intact for generations — initially expressed hesitation about City Connect’s designs. Now, according to sources, they are aggressively looking for a replacement.

Even the Dodgers’ “Los Dodgers” look — on the face of it, the least risque of the series to date — took a leap of faith.

“The City Connect uniforms were familiar by design because any change to our uniform is significant. The Dodgers uniform has remained virtually unchanged since the team moved to Los Angeles in 1958,” said the vice- Dodgers executive chairman and chief marketing officer, Lon Rosen. “We don’t have a third jersey, we don’t wear different jerseys based on days of the week or pitcher preferences, so an all blue uniform with spray paint accents and everything but our signature LA cap are drastic changes for us.”

Other teams, sources said, have already abandoned plans for more conservative City Connect designs in favor of more edgy looks.

“It’s definitely more open from the clubs, definitely more engaged in the process and definitely more excited about their launch,” Garden said. “Now we have clubs that were like, ‘I’m going to do it in three years’ to ‘How can I do next year?'”

While some criticized City Connect as a cash grab, Garden disputed this, saying merchandise sales were a small part of the league’s overall revenue. City Connect, Garden said, is more about using fashion to better market the sport.

“When I look at merchandise, I look less at the number that we’re selling, because at the end of the day, that number, compared to ticket sales and everything that we’re doing, really isn’t that huge,” Garden said. noted. “It’s more about marketing the product. When you see someone with a Yankees cap or jersey, or a Red Sox cap or jersey, they’re marketing the product for us. The more people that wear this product, the more relevant you are.”

In recent years, the league has collaborated with brands such as Supreme, Ralph Lauren, Aimé Leon Dore, Kith and Awake NY to introduce baseball products to the world of streetwear and fashion. The success of these collaborations and City Connect is accelerating the league’s plans in these spaces.

While the NBA took a holistic approach to uniform design, starting with the 2017-18 season and completely revamping fashion on the sports court with the City Edition collection, MLB took a much slower approach. and more cautious. Dr. Brandon Brown, a clinical assistant professor of sports marketing at New York University, said the partnership between Nike and the NBA is a case study in how MLB could approach changing fashion culture. in baseball. When MLB brought in Nike as their official uniform supplier in 2019, the hope was to bring the baseball uniform into the 21st century. But that won’t happen overnight.

“Yes [MLB’s] the fans were just younger generations, I think they would do more of an approach to go all-in. But because they understand they have older generations, they can’t go all-in,” Brown said. “I think that’s a first step. They’re not going to completely change their whole personality, but they’re at least changing their approach to connecting with the younger generation.”

Brown said MLB’s vision for City Connect taps into regional identity, with the goal of appealing to those who wouldn’t normally consider buying a baseball jersey.

“People always want to show an identity. The area is such a big part of that,” Brown said. “I love the quote from Jay-Z, where he says, ‘I made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can.’ Wearing the Yankee hat doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a Yankee, but it does represent the fact that you’re a New Yorker.So the jerseys, in essence, don’t just celebrate the team, they celebrate where you’re. comes from.”

It’s also an attempt to woo Gen Z.

“That’s why these City Connect shirts are so important,” Brown said. “They’re doing something different, and that’s what the Gen Z culture connects to, being different. MLB wants their teams to be in the mix of conversations. MLB wants their teams to be in the mix to represent the city ​​identity.

It’s not just City Connect. MLB has experimented with its uniforms in recent years with mixed success. At this year’s All-Star Game, an event in which every player has always worn their own team’s uniform, the league unveiled the American League and National League team uniforms. These received a mixed reception. The league’s Players’ Weekend also pushed the envelope, with nicknames on the back of shirts – including emoticons – although 2019’s most recent monochrome black-and-white designs were widely swept aside.

But the momentum is not slowing down. Much of the on-field mode change was player-driven. A young generation of stars, including Fernando Tatis Jr., Mookie Betts, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Tim Anderson and Ronald Acuna Jr., are reinventing the game’s sense of style. Anderson played a consulting role in rolling out White uniforms Sox, which have been some of City Connect’s most popular.

“We wanted to do something cool and be authentic,” Anderson told The Athletic in May. “I think it’s as authentic as it gets. Having Southside on the front end is relatable. Using that term makes it much more realistic for people who actually grew up on the South Side and have been Sox fans. their whole lives. I think it’s definitely really relatable and really cool and really dope.”

The game saw flashier socks, the rise of chains, the use of painted bats during the Home Run Derby, and the rise of sneaker culture in the sport, something that even extended to the shoes of the referees. Garden said MLB is considering further relaxing rules around self-expression and that painted bats may soon find their way into regular-season games much like colored custom cleats. This will only push uniform fashion further.

“We always have to make sure that everything we do stays tasteful and doesn’t take away from the product on the pitch, but yeah, that’s all on the table,” Garden said. “I think all of that should be on the table. Again, I think it’s all positive. I think that trend is going to continue.”

Neal T. Doss