The 2013 MLS season begins next week and the league has been trying to create a little preseason buzz by unveiling several new team jerseys in the days leading up to kickoff.
But before all of the new jerseys have even been released, the Colorado Rapids stole the damn show.
What makes the Rapids jerseys different from any other team shirt we've seen? The names of every season ticket holder are printed on the jerseys.
This is the coolest thing a team could do for the fans, short of free tickets for everyone. No, it may be even cooler than that.
"It's a brilliant idea," Rapids season ticket holder Kevin Pugh told me via email. "It really demonstrates nicely how much the Rapids organization truly values its season-ticket holders, and fans in general. It's an honorable place to have 'The Pugh Family' listed in support (we're on the back, just below the number)."
That's the right word: honorable.
While many teams try to sell the notion that being a season ticket holder is an honor in and of itself, this is the perfect way to honor a club's greatest fans.
Being a fan of a professional sports team can be rather one-sided. We pay our money to purchase tickets to games, parking, food, team apparel and whatever else they try to sell to us. We do all of this for the distinct privilege of getting whatever modicum of excitement the team can provide that season, be it a trip to the playoffs, a championship or a win over the archrival from down the street.
Cheer, rinse, repeat. That's the life of a fan, so it is really neat when a team decides to thank the most dedicated fans in such a tangible way.
Per MLS, this is the first time the season ticket holders names have been printed on a team's jerseys in league history. (It has been done in other leagues.)
Sevilla fans could pay to have their faces put inside the numbers on players' jerseys, which is also super cool, if not a total money grab. For Rapids fans, this feels like a bit more of an honor as the money had already been grabbed.
Well, yes and no. While the Rapids do have a rabid group of supporters, the idea of getting their names on the jerseys certainly helped boost season ticket sales.
"I love the idea, not only because I think it looks pretty cool on the jersey but because it launched a huge boost in season ticket holder numbers since Tim Hinchey came aboard as the president," Chris 'UZ' White, managing editor of Burgundy Wave explained via email.
"There are only about 2,000 names on that shirt as it stands right now, but we would have to fill almost the entire shirt with the near doubling in season ticket holder numbers since it was launched. As someone who loves to see DSGP get more full every season, it's awesome all around."
White brings up an interesting point in that the Rapids have created an instant tradition more and more fans will want to be part of each year. Now that they've done it once, they can't ever stop, even as the fanbase continues to grow.
I asked MLS if it knew of any plans to reprint the jerseys during the season to account for any influx of new season ticket holders, and it seems late sign-ups will be out of luck for this season, but one can assume the jerseys will be updated each year with new and returning supporters.
Pugh told me the team was upfront about its plan, as it was clear some time ago there was a deadline to get your names on the jerseys. He also explained that with the current design, there is, indeed, much room for growth.
"If you look at the design, you'll see that there's still plenty of room to add names without altering the design. Many of the shadowed hoops are created not with names, but with other words such as 'Colorado Rapids' or 'We Bleed Burgundy' repeated throughout the stripe/hoop. It's clearly intended to hold the design and allow for additional names."
There is an absolute certainty that teams around the world will be stealing this idea. The top clubs in the world may have a hard time fitting every single name of every single season ticket holder on their kits, but there are certainly creative ways to accommodate the fans for those bigger clubs.
For a club like the Rapids, this is gold. Well, burgundy-tinted gold, at least.
Truth be told, the Rapids third jerseys are pretty cool too, incorporating the design and color scheme of the Colorado state flag to bring with the club on the field. But while state pride is nice, the pitch of making fans feel like they are literally out on the field with the team is a public relations win for the ages.
Kudos to the Rapids and Adidas for the jersey idea of the year. This takes personalizing team jerseys to a whole new level.
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