- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2003

The stylish fedora of Tom Landry, natty overcoats of Vince Lombardi and starched white dress shirts of Dan Reeves once were sartorial signs of coaching eminence in the National Football League. Such dapper attire has disappeared from NFL sidelines, forced out not by changes in fashion but by a league merchandising program that seeks to turn each head coach into a model for the NFL’s thriving apparel business.

Coats, ties and dress shirts are out. Sweater vests, polo shirts and visors — each in team colors and bearing a team logo, of course — are in.

Coaches have been encouraged to wear clothes from a predetermined wardrobe since 1993, when the league formed its NFL Properties division.

However, the league is in its second full season of a 10-year, $250 million merchandising deal with Reebok, and its efforts to promote clothing lines by using coaches as models is larger and more complex than ever.

“The sideline gear is a major product line for us,” said Dennis Kayser, senior director of on-field operations for NFL Properties. “A lot of what we’re now seeing started by accident. But they’re really fashion models for us. Almost after every play, the coaches and guys on the sideline are what you see on TV.”

Fashion coordination, target marketing and seasonal retail opportunities are concepts that weren’t in pro football’s playbook in the days of Lombardi and Landry. Formal dress for coaches was common then, as it still is in basketball and hockey. Landry even endorsed his own signature line of fedoras.

All that changed in the 1980s, when a trio of prominent coaches — Bill Parcells of the New York Giants, Joe Walton of the New York Jets and Mike Ditka of the Chicago Bears — began wearing sweaters that bore team names and colors.

The new duds provided a eureka moment for the league’s marketing officials.

“The NFL and various teams began to see the kind of calls and interest [from fans] they were getting, and the thought was, ‘Hey, we could grow a business out of this,’” Kayser said.

That business now is one of the fastest-growing segments of a merchandise-sales empire that earns the league $3 billion per year.

Most major college programs also have apparel and merchandising deals with companies such as Nike and Reebok. But those programs don’t have the rigor and multiyear planning of the partnership between the NFL and Reebok.

“At Duke, I could wear about anything,” said Washington Redskins coach Steve Spurrier of one of his stops as a college coach. “We didn’t have a clothing deal at Duke. [I wore] a little golf shirt and so forth.”

Reebok’s entry into NFL merchandising ended a 10-year period in which a nearly dozen different shoe and apparel companies held a piece of the business — a situation that drove coaches and equipment managers crazy with frequent and conflicting style changes.

The process now in place for developing the wardrobes requires 18 months from initial sketches to game-day use, not unlike the time frame common to the high-fashion world of Paris and New York.

After Reebok and NFL staffers come up with design ideas for the next calendar year’s football season, a tour begins of each team, giving coaches, general managers, owners and sometimes even wives the opportunity to suggest changes.

By including teams in the planning and allowing coaches a degree of choice, the NFL and Reebok are able to get coaches to wear the gear without implementing a system of fines for noncompliance. The coaches receive no compensation for wearing the clothes.

Reebok creates a wardrobe of about 25 to 30 items for each coach, split into three groups based on weather: polo shirts for warm days; light jackets, turtlenecks and sweaters for crisp autumn days; and fully stuffed parkas for bitter-cold days in December and January.

The company then uses a full year to take orders from retailers and manufacture the clothing for coaches and stores. That means what each coach will wear on the sidelines during the 2004 season already has been determined.

Predictably, the 2004 look will rely heavily on the golf and casual workplace styles, that now dominate coaches garb. But over time, Reebok executives predict a greater variance that will give coaches more choices in what they wear on the sidelines every Sunday.

“We’ve now been with the NFL long enough to know which coaches are predominantly fleece guys, which guys are polo guys and so forth,” said Greg Grauel, Reebok’s vice president of apparel merchandising. “They’re all very astute and opinionated about this.”

Jody Foldesy contributed to this report.


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