Friday, 3 November 2017

Olympic Catastrophe

If you happened to catch The Hockey Show yesterday, you probably have a good idea on where I stand regarding Nike's new Olympic hockey jersey designs. I've always been about having each team looking unique with respect to each country's imagery. Things like the Canadian maple leaf, the Finnish lion, the rising sun of Japan, and the stars and stripes of the United States are all things that should be prominent and vitally important in the designs of those country's jerseys. Nike, it seems, is more concerned with pushing their innovations than what it means to suit up in your country's national hockey jersey.

From Nike's announcement,
In the pursuit of gold, generations of designers, explorers and tinkerers have sought a magic formula. For athletic apparel, that formula often comes from a just-right combination of fit and weight. When that balance is perfected, critical grams are shaved (after all, triumph comes in the tightest of margins) and athletes are free of distractions. This is paramount because when athletes look and feel good, they play well. Nowhere is this clearer than in winter sports, such as hockey.

In a word, Nike's latest national team hockey jerseys represent alchemy. "It's what most inspired us to look at the jersey as a whole and transform it into something special," says Scott Toudjine-Williams, Nike's Senior Creative Director for Olympics Apparel. Part of that involved upgrading to a lightweight and breathable ripstop material and incorporating more mesh (for example, in the collar) to increase ventilation.
Ugh. Does anyone tire of the corporate jargon bullpoop that is spewed all over us?

Look, these jerseys are going to be used at the Olympics. I have never, in all my watching of international, high-level hockey, seen a hockey jersey rip on the international stage at the Olympics. Why? Because that's not how the game is played at that level. The hooking, holding, and grasping of jerseys just doesn't happen that would facilitate rips and tears in a jersey at the Olympic level. Essentially, Nike is innovating something for the sake of relevance.

The ventilation idea is something that all jersey designers are moving towards ever since the CCM AirKnit designs went the way of the dodo. Lighter fabrics and jerseys that allow more air flow through the fabrics are essential for keeping players cooler, but this isn't an innovation in any way. It's simply the continuation of a trend that has been very prominent since Reebok snagged the NHL contract. Nike, in fact, was one of the innovators in the 1990s who opted to use mesh on jerseys when they began making Olympic jerseys. I have a Belorussian and a Latvian jersey with mesh under the arms, so can Nike really claim innovation when they've been doing it for two decades?

No, what should really bother you, as a member of any nation's fan base, is the following:
But this idea of alchemy truly comes to life in two major ways: First, in the graphic trim package. "To us, this is game-changing!" says Toudjine-Williams. "Elevating the fonts, crests and numbers takes us to another level of performance and visual standpoint." Here’s how they did it:
  • A shift to single-layer laser-perforated numbers (instead of layering up heavy twill) that they applied by heat (rather than stitching them down), both of which increased breathability and articulation.
  • Doing away with the previous large, heavy center-front crest in favor of a small, intricate, badge (select teams were moved to a new configuration led by country name rather than their crest), which reduced weight, resulting in better articulation for the athlete.
  • Consolidating fonts across kits. (Though select teams got a unique font.)
First off, to quote Walter Sobchak from The Big Lebowski, shut up, Scott Toudjine-Williams, you're out of your element.
In owning a Nike jersey from a past IIHF World Championship, this idea of single-layer numbers applied by heat is pure trash. They don't stay attached to the jersey very well, and I'm pretty sure that the added few grams of threads for players aren't slowing them down by any measurable margin. In utilizing this method of applying numbers, though, it becomes clear that Nike is out of its element in knowing that some of these jerseys take a ton of wear and tear. Sew the damned names and numbers on so that they don't need to fixed later on!

The change from a "large, heavy center-front crest" to "a small, intricate, badge" is downright insulting to the countries for which these athletes have been chosen to represent. As every athlete on the planet has been told, you play for the logo on the front, not the name on the back. The "small, intricate badge" - extra commas in that line excluded by me because because I actually edit my work - on the upper shoulder reduces the country's logo to being smaller than the Nike logo which is pure corporate pornography. If Nike is going to insist that their logo be larger than the country's logo, I want to know who sold his or her soul in signing off on this garbage.

Further to this, the statement "select teams were moved to a new configuration led by country name rather than their crest" is why Nike has turned a prestigious event such as the Olympics into a glorified beer league tournament. Their crest is a major identifying piece of that country's image and culture, and it should never be "moved to a new configuration" by anyone or any corporation. This is the logo that represents the country in international events which, ironically, is very similar to how the swoosh represents Nike internationally! You cannot tell a country to transition to a word mark if you wouldn't do the same!

This consolidation of fonts really makes no difference in the big picture, but if you won't let select teams wear their logos, why do some teams get to pick their fonts? Why is it different strokes for different folks, Nike? That seems highly discriminatory regarding granting the wishes of what some teams want to wear while telling other teams what they have to wear. While I get that you hold the jersey rights, shouldn't the teams get final decisions on the designs and elements they use?

Finally, you literally came up with four jersey template designs and applied those templates to twelve teams. This isn't innovation. This isn't even design. This is laziness. The lack of options for teams to choose from is pretty evident in these four designs, and it really makes me question who decided this was a good idea. For instance, why do Korea and the USA look so similar? Could you not have found ways to change one of those jerseys so they visually look different from one another? The jersey template idea failed in the NHL when fans and teams demanded more options, yet you seemingly ignored the hard lesson learned by Reebok - a major competitor - and went ahead and did the exact same thing.

So in saying that, I'm gonna go ahead and do the same thing - these are awful and I want nothing to do with them. Pull your heads out of your collective rear ends, Nike. The Olympics are about the participating countries, not you.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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