The Illinois Fighting Illini Nike Redesign unveiling is on Wednesday, and you want early answers. I can only provide early hints.
I spoke with the University of Illinois' Assistant Director of Athletics, Marty Kaufmann, on Monday morning about the upcoming Nike redesign, and I sensed genuine excitement in his voice, as though he's finally able to tell his really great story after two years of sworn secrecy. It resonated with me. I heard the key words and jumped all over them. Orange. Fighting Illini. Creativity. Yes, please, all of them. Now I'm sitting here at peak excitement levels, twiddling my thumbs until Wednesday.
I don't know what we'll see, nor do I have a better picture in my mind. I do, however, have a much better idea about many of the redesigns finer points, including color, nickname, plurality of logos and general wondrousness. It shall be beautiful.
Here are three of the points I took from the chat:
1. The coaches gave serious input throughout this process, and their suggestions were taken seriously.
2. Logos. Plural. And they're new.
3. (See tweet below)
That would be sick if the jerseys said fighting illini on them again #bringingitback— Michael Finke (@Finke_Michael) April 14, 2014
Read the last line of the interview, Michael.
The entire Q&A can be read below
The Champaign Room: We're real interested in this Nike rebrand. I know it's only two days away, but I'm still hoping to get a little more insight before the day. First, have you seen the finished product?
Marty Kaufmann: Yes, I've seen some stuff, but I haven't seen everything.
TCR: Would you say the fans are in for a big surprise? Will they be shocked with the radical change, or is it a more subtle approach?
MK: I don't know if people will be shocked or not. I've probably been too involved with the project over the last two years, and it's been awhile since I had the a-ha moment. I would say that we're really pleased where it's at. There are definitely new things. There are definitely new looks. There are definitely some new logos. And then some other things are just more cleaned up and refined. So, everybody's probably going to have a little different reaction. There are definitely some new wrinkles in it.
TCR: When did this whole process really begin to take off?
MK: Over two years ago, or about two years ago, through Mike Thomas and others here when we really decided that we wanted to go through this process. We asked Nike if they would help us, and Nike said they would if we would wait to unveil it in time for the 2014 season. That was a pretty easy decision for us.
We thought at one point that maybe we could launch something in time for the 2013 football season, but Nike said that in order to accommodate their schedule, they would help us if we would wait. We were thrilled. From the actual work process, really it started about February 1, 2013. That's when Nike made their first trip. It's been going 18 months roughly.
TCR: We saw some different looks with the football team last year? Did that have anything to do with Nike?
MK: No, not really. Not really at all. Knowing that we were going to go through this process, we didn't have a lot of branding standards. We had some, but not a lot, and we didn't enforce a lot of them knowing that the new stuff would be coming this year. Pretty much everything that happened last year--there wasn't a cohesive plan around it. That was pretty much all through football and we let them have more creativity through some things.
TCR: The reveal on Wednesday will be for football and basketball, correct?
TCR: What sports will come next after that?
MK: On Wednesday there will be six sports with student athletes to display uniforms. Football, men's and women's basketball, volleyball, baseball and soccer. Next year for sure, we know that football and basketball will be supporting new uniforms.
After that, we're not quite how many teams will be displaying their new uniforms on the field. We're still working through that. It's as they go through their budget cycle, so every sport will gradually be incorporated into it over the next few years. It won't be immediate, but both football and basketball for sure will have new stuff this year.
TCR: We've heard that the coaches had a lot of input. Is that true, and if so, how much?
MK: They definitely did. Nike came in February and had separate meetings with a group of head coaches, they had a group of about 15 student athletes, they had a group of campus administration, certainly athletic department administration, and then our external team, which is our sports information, our development staff, our equipment staff, our graphic designers.
They took feedback from a lot. They sat down specifically with several of our head coaches and got feedback about what they wanted to see, what challenges they had. When they came back in the design process, several head coaches were brought in on the concepts early on to get their feedback, provide suggestions. Then, when it was all completed, every head coach was shown the logos. They weren't shown every piece, but they were shown a majority of the logos and the direction we were headed.
TCR: Were they pleased with the result?
MK: I wasn't in all the meetings, but the ones I was in, they were very pleased. They were looking for something new on the recruiting side, they were looking for some consistency, they were looking for something that really fit Illinois. Hopefully what we've achieved will address all that.
TCR: That's one of the things we've heard quite a bit--consistency. Does that ring true through the logos and the lettering, or through the colors, or is it just a whole image?
MK: It'll be everything. It's going to take a couple years. Even just for me and my staff, everyone here wears polo shirts. We don't have the budget, nor is Nike replacing everything at once. Starting this fall, we'll have new stuff with new logos and new looks, but it's going to take a couple years before all the teams' warm-up jackets and everything switched out--things like that.
We'll get there. But from a consistency stand point, when Nike came in, they told us that they were the worst offenders of anybody. Their business model is set up where they have Nike Football, Nike Basketball, Soccer, things like that. We looked at our uniforms, that didn't even necessarily have the same orange or the same fonts or the same look or use of the logos. Once you go through this process with Nike, they implement that and give the same standards to all of their sports.
Moving forward, Nike Golf knows the same as Nike Football, and what logos should be used, how it's used, what colors and everything. Our hope is that we too can get there with everything on the field. Doesn't mean there can't be some creativity. Every coach still has a chance to have a say on their uniform, but as far as what logos and colors are used, that will be consistent.
TCR: Will we see any difference between football and basketball? For example, will one be more creative and the other more conservative?
MK: Without giving anything away, both uniform sets are definitely new. There are definitely some new elements. They have different styles. They have different things in mind. But as far as the fonts and colors, we're now consistent, and the logos are consistent in how they incorporate them. Both are different. Football isn't exactly basketball, but you can see the consistencies between them.
TCR: There are rumors floating around that the orange will be accentuated, along with the nickname "Fighting Illini" over "Illini." If you can speak to this, is this true?
MK: Certainly orange is still a major color for us and its going to continue to be. The only thing we're doing with the orange, and the fans probably won't notice, is that if you go to a store and buy a t-shirt that's not Nike, if it's produced by another licensee, that orange is probably not the same as the Nike orange. Our Orange now is going to be consistent with what we've been wearing on the field forever. The orange doesn't really change for football and basketball, we're now just matching everything else we do to it. We certainly aren't de-emphasizing orange at all. Orange is still major.
As far as Fighting Illini, you're just going to have to wait and see. But our nickname is the Fighting Illini, and everyone is going to be aware of that.