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Color and Sports Apparel: Exploring the Shades We Wear on Game Day and Beyond

sports jersey

By Alyssa Greenfield

Far beyond the stadium on game day, wearing the uniforms of our favorite sports teams can help us connect with strangers even when we’re far from home. They can show school pride long after we graduate. Wear the away team’s color in an arena full of people cheering for the home team and you might get some dirty looks. People even bet on the color of the Gatorade that will be dumped on the winning Super Bowl coach.

And did you know that University of Texas and University of North Carolina have trademarked their colors?

In celebration of International Color Day on March 21, we’re exploring color in the world of sports apparel and gear.

When similarities bring us together

group of fans cheering for their team

As a color management company, we were excited to discover the website Team Color Codes. Choose a team and the site will give you Pantone, HEX, RGB and CMYK codes for each of their colors. A couple of hours spent clicking through the site revealed just how intentional the color choices of sports teams can be.

Uniform colors can show pride in a city or state, but they can also show a team’s individuality. In Atlanta, the Falcons (football) and the Hawks (basketball) both wear red and black. Meanwhile, the Braves (baseball) wear blue and red.

In New York, the Islanders (hockey), Knicks (basketball) and Mets (baseball) all wear the same colors; the Giants (football) and Rangers (hockey) do, too. But then the Jets (football), Yankees (baseball) and Nets (basketball) all have different colors.

Unsurprisingly, Washington DC’s baseball, hockey and basketball teams are all red, white and blue. In Seattle, the football, baseball and soccer teams are all a version of green and blue.

The color conversation continues beyond official team colors. You’ll often find “color-coded” games where fans are encouraged to wear all black, all white or a single team color. It’s a way of taking team spirit to the next level.

Finally, in a somewhat opposite (but equally striking) approach, fans will be assigned a team color depending on their seating section. The result creates a stripe effect like the one seen here with WVU. Ah, the power of color.

… and when they make it easy to accidentally support the opposing team

disappointed sports fan

Let’s face it: some teams have very similar colors. No time does this become more obvious when two of those teams are playing each other. For a serious fan, showing up on game day wearing the opponent’s shade of blue in a sea of people wearing the correct hue can certainly be cause for embarrassment. We took a look specifically at college basketball conferences to see just how easy it is for this to happen (the result: it’s very likely).

In the Big East, nearly all teams are a shade of blue—specifically dark blue: Butler, DePaul, Creighton, Georgetown, Marquette, Seton Hall, Villanova, and Xavier. UConn will also join the Big East in fall 2020—another team sporting a shade of blue.

In the ACC, Boston College, Louisville, and North Carolina State are all red. Syracuse, Virginia, The University of Miami and Clemson are all orange.

In the Big Ten, Penn State and Michigan are blue. Minnesota, Indiana, Ohio State, Rutgers, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Maryland all feature a shade of red in their uniforms that can and does clash. Though Minnesota is more well-known for wearing gold (they’re the “Golden Gophers,” after all.)

Of course, some of these shades are more similar than others, but the risk remains.

Is there a way to avoid wearing the wrong shade?

rendering of different basketball jerseys

With so much pride and team spirit on the line, what does it take to make sure uniform colors don’t start causing problems?

Well, that’s largely in the hands of the companies manufacturing jerseys and other team apparel. As a business whose job it is to help other companies get color right, we can tell you there’s a lot of science—and sophisticated instruments and software—that go into it. These aren’t tools you’d find in even the most enthusiastic sports fan’s home.

We can also tell you that colors tend to look different if someone is watching the game in person or watching it on TV (not to mention that every brand and type of TV shows colors somewhat differently).

In the end, consistency of color, even more than the color itself, is key—something that’s even harder to get right when you’re working across multiple materials like different fabric types and even plastic elements on shoes and helmets. Change the material and you also change what goes into the color to make it look the same no matter where it’s found.

While we’ve mostly been talking about different teams with similar colors, avoiding any embarrassing moments on game day starts with color consistency on each individual team. Here are a few examples:

  • Think about football uniforms. They have multi-component helmets with reflective elements, a jersey, pants, socks, and sometimes matching shoes.
  • Then you have uniforms worn by cheerleaders and the marching band.
  • And the team mascot proudly wears the same shade(s)
  • There’s the official merchandise available to fans, including shirts, hats, sweatpants, scarves, keychains, car decals and just about anything else you can think of.
  • Plus, there are the team colors painted on the field or court.

Variations from a team’s actual color might not be so obvious if you’re wearing a team sweatshirt to run errands on the weekend. But if it’s game day and the color of that sweatshirt is slightly different from the color of your friend’s team t-shirt or hat, it becomes more obvious. Now imagine that on a stadium scale, and the importance of controlling color becomes clear.

We’ll just say it: while it won’t impact the final score, scientific color control could save teams—and their fans—from easily avoided embarrassment.

Want to learn more about the influence of color? Read the other posts in this series:

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