On Thursday, I took some time to digest the new 49ers black alternate uniform. After about 24 hours since it first surfaced, I have determined that this was the perfect time for these uniforms to exist.
Here are my personal thoughts.
Let me preface that the 49ers didn’t need an alternate uniform. In fact, if they wanted to introduce a new set for the upcoming season, they should have brought back a throwback. Those 1994 throwbacks are very popular and would have been a much better choice.
But due to the limitations of creativity for alternate uniforms in the NFL, the 49ers had little to no choice but to go with black. (Take a look at the alternate uniforms in MLB, NBA and NHL. All of them break away from the same template of the team’s standard design. In the NFL, all templates remain the same.)
But the question simply remains: Why?
The 49ers have a traditional, classic uniform. They have never worn an alternate before and they didn’t need to add one since their identity is so iconic. This appears to fall into the category of change for the sake of change.
In 2012, the year of Nike’s official takeover for the right to manufacture and produce the uniforms for all NFL teams, the company sought to make alternates for every team. Of course, there were some teams that did not want it. But with these new opportunities, some teams welcomed that idea.
These were ideas and some were scrapped while others were in the process of being created and made. This is standard with all leagues when a company and a team want to entertain the idea of a new uniform. When it comes down to it, it’s always about the money. Teams don’t need an alternate. A standard home and white set is always enough. But alternates provide a huge merchandising opportunity. The driving force for alternates is to find new avenues of revenue and this is the perfect opportunity to introduce new products.
So how does that fit in with the 49ers? Are they in some kind of dire state in which they need extra revenue? (They don’t — but it doesn’t hurt to find new ways to make more money.) The 49ers are one of the top valuable franchises in the league. They just opened up a brand new stadium. Their stock is high. The motive for green-lighting this might be because of the team itself.
If the 49ers were supposedly planning the alternate a couple years ago, the reason why they might have suspended its debut that year was because the team was doing so well. There was no need to introduce a new alternate when the merchandise sales were so successful. But now with the team not doing so well, it would be the perfect time to add some “spice” to the team. That might not be the real reason why the timing happened, but it sure wouldn’t surprise me that this was one of the reasons for this change. The timing just worked out.
But in a real sense, it still comes down to money. For years the 49ers have sold gold and black fashion jerseys and it has been popular among fans. The team has stated that the inspiration has come from the black jerseys the quarterback wears during practice, but once Nike took over in 2012, they were already exploring new alternates for every team. Black was the logical easy choice to go with. All it took was for the 49ers to approve and for them come up with a satisfactory public relations reason why they went with black. People will buy them.
The decision for any branding identity change always comes from the team. The manufacturer can propose a plethora of ideas and the team can say no to every one of them. But if the opportunity is good and the decision makers decide that they want it, it will happen. The 49ers threw tradition out the window with this new black alternate. They could have remained as one of the handful of “old school” teams like the Packers, Jets, Raiders who don’t have alternates. But even some “old school” teams can’t resist the urge for an extra cash grab alternate. In this world where money talks, everybody has a price. The 49ers found an opportunity and offer they liked and took it.
What better time to introduce a cash grabbing, non-traditional colored uniform? If the price is right, yesterday in the middle of the draft with very little warning during a struggling offseason of big changes. It didn’t have to happen, but everything just seemed to line up perfectly where the 49ers said “why not?” Coincidence? Convenience? It could be all of it.
Despite the negative feedback and trolling, the 49ers will continue to promote the black jerseys for a maximum of two games this year. Alternates are an accessory and not a requirement — they could be mothballed in a few years if they want to. Once again, that decision will come from the top.
The 49ers’ legacy of a red and gold team will remain always. It will just have an asterisk in the 2015 timeline. They’ve just christened this offseason’s transition period of 49ers football with a black uniform. In an ironic way, the color seems fitting for this new era.