With Ivy Funds, the first jersey sponsor in club history, emblazoned across the front, Sporting Kansas City entered a new era Wednesday with a bold new two-tone primary jersey.
The Kansas City Star
It's distinctive. It's bold. It's very Sporting Kansas City. There aren't any other jerseys like it in MLS. (Literally: No other team in the league has two different colors of the classic adidas stripes on the shoulders.)
I don't expect that everyone will like them, though. Some might not think they pop enough. Some might not think the team went far enough to be bold. (Especially considering what teams like Colorado unveiled earlier this week.) Some might just not like the look.
My take is that most people will come around when they see the jerseys in action on the field. Or their friends wearing them to the park. Or the bar. Or to school. (This, by the way, is the exact same thing I said about the re-brand itself back in 2010. The exact same thing.)
According to Chad Reynolds, Sporting KC's creative lead and one of the guys who helped design the uniforms, the idea of a distinctive "split kit" actually "pre-dated the rebrand." But it wasn't until Sporting KC proved it could move merchandise that the team and adidas were able to realistically explore something like it. In 2010, KC was dead last in merchandise. Last year, they moved up to third in the league.
Aside from the obvious two-tone pattern, however, most of the telling details on this kit are quite subtle. Subtle doesn't sell jerseys. It never will. Color and "coolness" sell jerseys.
But the subtle details help establish membership, identity and association with something larger than just the person wearing it. (It's why we wear jerseys and not just T-shirts in the first place, it's also why bands sell shirts with tour dates on the back.)
On this kit, the first subtle detail to point out is the state line that runs through the crest. "Kansas" is in light blue; "Missouri" in dark. Kansas City is a unique city that straddles two states and it's not a coincidence that the line runs right through the crest and over the heart. Sporting Kansas City is a locally owned franchise and a fairly sizable chunk of their 30-man roster (as of right now, six players were born in KC). The divided city is part of Sporting KC's identity. This jersey doesn't tell that story as much as it represents it.*
*A classic storytelling lesson that every journalist learns on the first day of class: Show, don't tell. That's what this jersey does.
Reynolds said this fits with adidas' plan of using brand elements from its MLS teams to help "tell stories and [provide] details that really make the kits special and tie them to the fans and the city."
Watch adidas' project manager Mike Walker talk about the kits and the state-line detail a bit more:
The second detail to point out is the rule line that runs to the left of the darker blue field that represents "Missouri." It's a design element that really makes a tremendous difference. It helps define and separate the two color fields and, in Reynolds' words, it makes the jersey "classier and feel more modern."
"The second we put the extra line on the kit," Reynolds said. "It was like, 'that's it, that's the direction we've got to go.' "
He's right. Compare the replica (sans the star and stripe):
To the authentic jersey:
The other subtle detail to scope is the checkered neck tape on the inside the collar.
According to Reynolds: "The checkerboard pattern is a nod to the flags" that the fans in the Cauldron wave.
Another major influence for the design team here in KC was to design a jersey that fans could wear out in public and not just to the games.
"We wanted to design a shirt that any fan could wear out with his friends on a random Friday night and he wouldn't look out of place," Reynolds said. "Soccer allows you to play to that fashion side so much more than hockey, baseball, football."
Overall, I like the new kits look. They are a bold look without being too dramatic. The colors balance each other out, making the jerseys crisp and not tacky. Kansas City and adidas absolutely nailed the simple details: the proportion on the Ivy Funds logo is dead-solid, the color continues effectively onto the back, and the collar is unique and functional.
The designers also didn't fall into the trap of adding too many elements. These are simple and these are clean.
I'm still not a big fan of the "Sporting Blue" color, but the addition of the "indigo" blue to this kit makes it more palatable to me. Mostly because it breaks up the monochromatic look of last season's primary kits.*
*I was told on Wednesday that the team will have the option of wearing the light blue or dark blue shorts/socks with this kit too. A dramatic improvement, fashionably, in my book.
In person, on the back of a player, they are quite sharp. Much sharper than on a hook or in a photo. That's because, as with most design (and, fashion too), the details make the difference.