Chicago City: The 3rd Kit Debate

Imagine this for sale...

We all want it. But how will we get it? (image: boards.sportslogos.net)

Daniel Casey weighs in on the epic flag jersey debate, and has an interesting proposition for a certain supporters group to consider…

A new season means a new jersey. A jersey is a record of how long you’ve been following a team. It’s an object that holds a memory, an object of luck, and an object of status. If you’re a supporter, then you want your team’s jersey. You want the authentic kit, you want the replica kit, you want home and away, you want your favorite player’s name and number, you want your new prospect’s name and number, you even want the option of your own name and lucky number. And you can have it, for a price.

Less than a week from now, MLS will promote “Jersey Week” and our Chicago Fire will not be among the teams participating. So let us keep the dream alive and once again revisit the notion of a third kit, of a Chicago city flag jersey.

For the Fire in recent years, there’s been talk of a third kit based on the city of Chicago municipal flag. The club had this briefly in 2005, so a new version would, technically, be a throwback. Recent Twitter convert, forward Chris Rolfe (@ChrisRolfe17), has a sweet background picture of himself in this jersey on his profile, which I think has certainly done a lot to re-ignite this third kit debate.

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Remember me?

There are many reasons to have a third kit. Third jerseys were originally used because teams’ colors were too similar. This matters in soccer. Anyone who has watched English football will come to realize that 95% of teams are either blue or red. Variation usually takes the form of vertical or horizontal stripes (I refuse the term ‘hoops’), but again these usually take the form of red or blue. For many North American teams the default away jersey is white, making for a blank and boring looking visiting team.

Earlier this year, Sean Hojnacki wrote a cute piece for The Bleacher Report called “The Coolest Alternate Jerseys in Pro Sports.” Even though for Hojnacki the only pro sports are MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL, he expresses the right attitude towards third jerseys, “…it’s helpful to have a third jersey as a change of pace. Unless your team’s kit is so classic that it could hang in a museum…an alternate jersey can be a powerful thing.”

Hojnacki gets to the heart of the matter: third jerseys (and all jerseys) exist to look cool. That’s certainly true. Practically speaking though, none of these reasons are the reason a club decides to have a third jersey.

Third kits are a means to make money. If you buy a new home jersey every season, you probably also debate buying an away jersey. A third kit creates an additional revenue stream; we supporters will pay for it and the team can’t afford for us to not buy a jersey. When you’re not wild about the new home design or away, when you don’t like either kit, or the change in design isn’t enough to warrant a new purchase, this is when the third kit rears its head. A third kit can be a throwback or homage or a symbol of the team’s involvement in a new tourney, but most likely it exists to make more coin.

Sports jerseys are to men what shoes are for women. It’s a cliché at best, and actually a bit of a nasty stereotype, but for my purposes here it will have to do as an analogy. I have several jerseys. My wife rolls her eyes when I want a new one, just like I do when she wants another pair of shoes. But that’s because we’re each not thinking about the other’s preoccupation the right way. Women can’t wear just one pair of shoes (otherwise like men they would only have sneakers and a decade-old pair of dress shoes). Their shoes have to match their outfit, be suitable for the event, and be appropriate for the climate. This means several options are necessary. This same logic dictates the acquisition of jerseys.

Capitalism has done this to us. We’ve become collectors. I do it when I buy vinyl even though I have the music digitally. I do it when I buy books I already own because a new edition has come out or because I don’t want some “now a major motion picture” or Oprah badge on it. And I do it with jerseys. Thus, I desperately want a third Chicago Fire jersey option. But at the moment it’s become clear that the front office will not oblige.

Over at Hot Time in Old Town, Fire stalwart correspondent Ryan Sealock has tackled the Chicago city flag jersey issue a few times (most recently here, but also back a couple of years ago). He’s pretty much summed it up for most supporters, so why keep belaboring the point?

Well, because the front office of the club has slightly more important things to concern itself with than making an unnecessary, although fun, third jersey. I want my team’s front office concerned with filling the hole on the left flank, finding a third quality striker, and getting over the notion that Logan Pause is a right back. Once these soccer matters are off their plate, then perhaps we’ll have our jersey discussion with the club.

After all the recent posts, comments, and tweets, I bring up the third jersey again because I want Section 8 to step up and fill the need. The supporter forums are filled with mock-ups of a potential city flag jersey, but this is perhaps the best of the lot:

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She’s a beaut.

I want Section 8 to pull together and make this jersey happen. I will gladly pay the $130.45 (the current cost of the Chicago Fire’s 2012 authentic jersey with player name & number) for this jersey, and be glad that the money is going to my supporters group. A whole section of Toyota Park in this jersey would make for a great living tifo. But if Section 8 made the kit it wouldn’t just fill a supporter’s desire or raise the club profile and attract new supporters; it’d be a way to ingrain the team’s identity with the city.

Consider this as well: if Section 8 produced this jersey it would create a supporter uniform to add to the team uniform. I was watching Downton Abbey recently (yeah, I watch Masterpiece Theatre because I’m not a brainless goon and I love British melodrama. Deal with it), and there was a story line where the House played the Town in an annual cricket match. It meant nothing and was the epitome of a friendly, but it got me thinking, “why can’t we have that?”

In addition to pulling together to create and sell a Chicago flag jersey, I also think Section 8 should put a team together and challenge the Fire front office to an annual friendly, whose proceeds would go to a Chicago city charity. It would be a great way for those that run the club we love to play with those who love the club; an event that brings players, coaches, staff, and fans together under a shared banner of the city they all love.

Just a thought.

But until that happens, I’m going to buy this jersey from the Chicago Red Stars, because it seems the ladies know how to cut through the b.s. and make things happen. Just saying.

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Better than a new pair of shoes.

Contributor Daniel Casey writes about soccer hoping someday someone will pay him to do so. He writes regularly for Total MLSSoccer Newsday, and now On The Fire. Follow him on Twitter @winslowbobbins

15 thoughts on “Chicago City: The 3rd Kit Debate

  1. Daniel, great stuff here. I hadn’t seen the S8 mock up but it looks great. I agree that a fan initiative could really be great, and get us what we want even if the FO refuses it. And if enough of them get out there, maybe it would spur the FO to finally wake up and smell the roses (or red stars in this case).

    One thing I didn’t think of when writing my follow up was the idea of making it an away jersey. I too think of this as only a 3rd jersey option, but as you said our away jersey is normally very bland. Up until last year that is. The 2012 away shirt is more in line with the Chicago flag theme, with the 4 red stars interspersed throughout the jersey. So, why not two birds with one stone? Make it the away jersey. It would be different enough from any team in the league (save SKC when playing there as both teams are a light blue). If the FO is concerned with cost, that would take the cost of a 3rd shirt out of the equation.

    I loved the point about jerseys and shoes Daniel. You hit the nail on the head. And that is another point to consider. I have lots of jerseys too, and usually buy one each year of one of the teams I support. However, I haven’t bought a Fire home jersey for 3 years since it hasn’t changed greatly other than the sponsor and the stripe color. It would seem many fans are this way, and this may be something the FO is looking at too. Many people only buy a new shirt every handful of years or when a re-design happens. Thus, I think a properly done flag shirt would spur sales from people that traditionally don’t buy a jersey every year. It would be a cool jersey that is different enough to get their hard earned money, which would really uptick sales IMO.

    Lastly, the game between the supporters and FO you mentioned for charity is something that would be nice to see. Unfortunately, knowing the reclusive nature thus far of the ownership group I don’t see it happening, but it would be very nice to see. Certainly a way to try to start trying to repair a very shaky relationship with the supporters.

  2. There’s a lot written here describing “what Section 8 should do” but answer me this: Have you ever been to an ISA board meeting? Serious question.

    I sat on the ISA board for 3 years. The above pictured Puma flag kit design was one that we had priced through some local outlets. The money never, ever made sense via any of the channels we pursued — I realize this statement sounds shockingly similar to that of our esteemed club chairman in regard to this issue, but it is the truth.

    The fact has been (and remains as far as I am aware) that shirts (t-shirts, especially) do not provide the kind of return on investment for supporter activities that other forms of merchandise do. Shirts cost more up front to make and don’t sell as well as other items. Having adequate sizes available is also a big problem. Additionally, the profit-distribution models that the jersey producers we inquired with were grossly weighted toward the producers (they would have kept the lion’s share of the money) meant that it was something we couldn’t justify pursuing with community funds, even with the high demand.

    If it’s going to fall to supporters to produce their own flag kit I have no doubt that the people of Section 8 Chicago can eventually find a way to make it happen, but it takes _real work_ to make things like this a reality, something that is easily posited about online but always becomes more difficult in the real world. I’d respectfully urge anyone who is interested in a supporter-produced flag kit to attend upcoming ISA board meetings and step up to help with merch operations.

      • Section 8 Chicago is the Independent Supporters’ Association (ISA) for the Chicago Fire Soccer Club. The ISA is a registered 501(c)7 non-profit organization run by volunteers through an elected board of directors. The ISA represents all Fire supporters, organizing in-stadium support, road trips, tailgates, watch parties and social events.

        Chicago Fire supporters’ groups mostly occupy an area in TOYOTA PARK known as “Section 8″ stemming from its original location at pre-renovated Soldier Field. The name has stuck, despite changing stadiums and section numbers.

        At TOYOTA PARK, Section 8’s physical section numbers are 116/117/118/119 in the north Harlem End of the stadium. Fire supporters are well known domestically for their non-stop chanting, colorful tifo displays and undying support of the club – showing a spirit and devotion typically associated with fans of large clubs worldwide

        Section 8 Chicago works on behalf of all fans – affiliated supporters’ groups and independent fans alike – to foster a true soccer community. The vision of the ISA is “. . . to unite all Chicago Fire fans, to create a dominant in-stadium force unseen in any American team sport and to establish a home field advantage whenever the Chicago Fire play.”

        The ISA exists to supplement the efforts of independent fans, coordinate between the supporters groups and act as liaison between all fans and the Chicago Fire Soccer Club. As a non-profit organization, a board of directors is elected yearly at the Annual General Meeting by the assembled supporters.

  3. I was gonna mention the Red Stars jersey, and maybe that’s why the Fire won’t do this? They either don’t want to be associated with the lady’s team or just feel like they’d be stealing their kit? I’d gladly buy the Red Stars jersey, too, but they only have XL! That Addidas mock-up is gorgeous, tho. Would love to have that as our 3rd kit. But the Fire continue to act and get treated like a small market team. Meanwhile, the Sounders get new third kits every year, it seems.

  4. I agree with what DPM has to say above. The fact that this is a MLS team means that are required to have their product produced by a licensed vendor with MLS. The Fire do not have the ability to go out and price shop multiple producers of jerseys/shirts. From my knowledge of how the licensed apparel industry works, DPM has hit this completely on the head when he is talking about inventory/sizing issues and the investment required to produce one of these…and that isn’t even taking into account the fact that you have one person(Adidas I believe) to ask to make it for you.

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