There are a plethora of outlets selling all kinds of Indiana Hoosiers apparel, but they can’t sell everything. The one outlet with that capability is Adidas, who signed a contract with IU through 2024 to supply IU Athletics with all necessary sports products.
Now, I don’t have much interest in business or marketing, and don’t claim to understand how that side of the sports industry works. But I do understand fan interest and consumption.
One of the most common and enjoyable forms of consumption is wearing merchandise. In fact, I challenge you to find one person claiming to be a sports fan without at least one piece of team merchandise in their closet.
Fans love to wear team apparel, especially jerseys. But most colleges don’t sell specific student athlete-related jerseys, leaving it up to the players to make their own apparel or leaving fans looking for other things to buy.
The cool thing is, the fans usually have a lot of ideas as to what they want to buy. Student athletes constantly sport new sweatshirts, warm up gear and special outfits for various tournaments and selection shows, courtesy of the school’s brand sponsor.
Usually, conversation surrounding apparel is positive — fans praise the designs, buy the shoes and snatch up the shirts and sweatshirts before they all sell out.
Sunday night, however, Twitter saw different discourse surrounding student-athletes and their apparel. Indiana women’s basketball appeared nationwide on ESPN for the NCAA Tournament Selection Show clad in fresh candy-striped jackets, thanks to Adidas.
Fans immediately jumped at the sight, asking what everyone watching was thinking: how do we get those jackets?
Much to their dismay, Indiana women’s basketball’s Twitter account said Monday morning Adidas issued the jackets specifically to members of the team and would not be available for purchase. Fans were, in a word, displeased.
The most prevalent criticism was asking why Adidas seemed against the idea of making more money. I can almost guarantee if those jackets popped up on the Adidas website Sunday night, they would have been sold out by Monday morning at the latest.
I’ve never been one to jump to Adidas when buying Indiana gear, opting for smaller businesses, so I ventured over to their official website to take a glance at what sort of basketball gear was available for fans.
What I found was disappointing.
The first product is a short sleeve black T-shirt, labeled “Hoosiers 2022 Tourney Tee'' in men’s and women’s sizing and style. The team name and logo can be changed from “Hoosiers” to a variety of other Adidas-styled schools in the NCAA Tournament, and the Indiana men’s basketball team wore them during warmups for its First Four game Wednesday night.
Further down the page are three pairs of shoes, and not the ones most commonly worn by student-athletes. One long-sleeve red shirt with “Hoosiers” emblazoned along the stomach area at the bottom of the shirt. That seems like a somewhat weird placement. Track pants, swim shorts, hoodies and short-sleeve athletic shirts, all with a red color option. Three sock options.
None have team logos.
So what apparel does have a team logo? One T-shirt, four $90 basketball jerseys — with 1 as the only number choice — and a $120 Bill Mallory football jersey. Mallory was Indiana’s football coach from 1984-86 and is the winningest coach in program history.
But to the main point — Adidas has sparingly little available and most isn’t even labeled “Indiana”, much less related to a specific team. In recent years, with almost constant posting about uniforms, shoes and other apparel worn by the student-athletes, Adidas has had multiple opportunities to change that and capitalize on the massive fanbase that is Indiana basketball. It hasn’t.
Fans want personalized jerseys. They want school-specific logos on shirts. They want a chance to wear the same things — or at least very similar things — as their favorite players and coaches.
This isn’t asking for a full-on production of every single product the team gets sent. Some things can be made specifically for the team, because they deserve to have special apparel. However, the team — and the school as a whole — also deserve to be properly represented by their fans.
When it comes down to choosing between a plain red shirt, a $90 uncustomizable jersey and going to find merchandise from another company, well, I know what I would choose, and I think a lot of Hoosiers feel the same.
I’m not a marketing person. But that doesn’t seem like marketing, it seems like common sense.