Thursday, 9 September 2010

Reviewing the new Nike Pro Combat range

Nike has launched its second year of their 'Pro Combat' line of uniforms for various college football teams to the similar vague disinterest that their 2009 set mustered.

For those unaware, college teams in American football have for the most part retained very minimalist and classy looking uniforms for long periods of their existence, such as the blue on white of Penn State, and the crimson of Alabama.

In an effort to sweep all of that aside and line their pockets in the process, Nike last year introduced a set of uniforms for ten teams it provides equipment for to use in their rivalry games, traditionally the last week of the season.

The results were mixed, with Ohio State's white on grey throwbacks looking relatively stylish, Missouri's black on carbon looking like something out of Transformers, and others offering so little difference as to appear just plain unnecessary.

Clearly not content with producing fairly inoffensive first designs, Nike went back to the drawing board for this year intent on making jerseys that would be unavoidably garish and in your face, and the resulting sets are pretty vomit-inducing. Virginia Tech's burgundy stripes on black helmet is particularly sickly, but take your pick from Miami's orange pyjamas, Pitt's Dark Knight inspired robotic look and Boise's metallic grey.

There is something strangely appealing about the shamelessly bombastic marketing however. Wander around the Nike website and you are bombarded with images of players exploding out of fires, emerging from swamps to roar next to alligators, and taming wild Broncos. Accompanied by hyperbolic audio tracks that attempt to claim that Pitt's uniform is inspired by the tough guys from the steel city, the effect is laughably entertaining.

There is an element of frustration with Nike's constant website reminders that the uniforms remain true to the spirit of whichever city or area they represent, when in reality a designer in the office has been let loose to run riot with Photoshop and indulge whichever fantasy their mood provoked that day.

Graphically the production is spectacular, and if the designs remained mere concepts they would probably be perfectly palatable, but in the glare of a real game, they just look slightly out of place, like a child's crayon drawing that somehow found its way through the development process.

Maybe more importantly, at the Uniwatch website, ESPN writer Paul Lukas took issue with the use of comparisons between football and real military combat, arguing convincingly that such casual references for merchandising purposes are more than a bit tasteless.

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