As the Premier League gets ready to kick off another season of soccer–Americans might understand it as the NFL of England–ESPN is exploring the economics of the uniforms (called kits) in its interactive, self-ascribed “parallax-athon,” More than a Shirt.
Illustrated by Robb Harskamp and coordinated by ESPN Creative Director Neil Jamieson, the site lets you scroll and scroll . . . and scroll to explore the most valuable kits in the Premier League, which have been presented with a thickly extruded, borderline cartoonish look.
But there’s a dichotomy at play: As innocent, and even cutesy, as these kits may have been rendered, hard numbers you’ll read along the way flesh out the unbelievable, shrewd deals that are funding the modern game of soccer. For instance, as the top-sponsored team in the Premier League, Manchester United was promised $506 million from Nike in exchange for the rights to produce and sell its jerseys over 13 years, while Chevrolet paid another $490 million to get place their logo front and center on the shirts. That’s $108 million generated by the team each year, just for getting dressed. The Chevrolet just started this year, and Nike’s existing contact runs out in the 2015-16 season, when Adidas, with the biggest-in-history $1.3 billion, 10-season manufacturing buy takes over.
“I find the weight of [Robb’s] lines, his palette and his minimalist approach humanizes products in a way that photographs can’t,” Jamieson tells Co.Design. “It’s that connection with fans that I wanted to explore. The relationship between the whimsical art and the business-world content of this piece creates an interesting tension which I think enhances storytelling and ultimately serves the fan better!”
And when you begin to think about these numbers, it becomes clear that, as sell-out as all these silly logos may be, American sports aren’t far behind the NASCAR look. NBA commissioner Adam Silver has stated that sponsored uniforms made “good business sense,” and you only need to take a glance at the WNBA’s sponsor-riffic jerseys to see the sort of odd world that will look like.
It’s a shame. Because while any love-of-the-game purity of professional sports may have been sold away decades ago, and you’d be pressed to find a modern professional stadium that wasn’t named after a corporate sponsor, at least we’ve had those team mascots and logos to cushion the blow. We had a team to root for, not just a company.