It took a minute to come up with the notion.
But over two years to craft the concept, design and evolution of the Philadelphia Union brand.
Mike Walker, product manager for adidas, whose contracts specifically focus on Major League Soccer, was charged with the task of coming up with the Union’s latest kit. Walker wanted it to be something unique to represent one distinct element: the hardworking rough and tumble spirit of Philadelphia and its people.
Through an immense amount of research, planning and attention to detail, Walker and his design team came up with creating a kit behind the success of the Bethlehem Steel, a city like Philadelphia exemplified that hard working spirit – and as a result celebrated an immense amount of success in its 20-year heyday.
Success the Union hopes will translate when they open with the kit on March 2 against Eastern Conference foe Sporting Kansas City.
“With this one, we just happened to be looking around and I was doing some research on some other things and I just came across all of this information on the history of soccer on the East Coast and soccer in the Philadelphia area itself,” Walker said during a recent interview with philadelphiaunion.com. “And you know, I just thought that would be an interesting concept to at least bring to the table. Thankfully, it was an idea that was accepted by [Union CEO and operating partner Nick Sakiewicz] and [Union chief revenue officer Dave Rowan] who wanted to see some concepts, so we kind of went back and looked at a couple of different ideas.”
So what spawned the idea in the first place?
“We knew it was time for a third jersey for Philadelphia when we started this and where we come in from a design side whenever we are looking at thirds, is we like to step outside the box a little bit,” Walker said. “[The Bethlehem Steel] were five-time winners of the U.S. Open Cup (1915, 1916, 1918, 1919, 1926) and there is some great, great history there not to mention probably the most popular team in Open Cup history. We didn’t just want to do a straight Bethlehem Steel jersey though because after all, it’s going to be the Philadelphia Union playing in it, so then it kind of evolved into the idea that there are all these teams in Philadelphia area, ones that laid the groundwork to get the Union to where they are today – they are the foundation.”
And the vision that Sakiewicz had in mind?
“Professional soccer has a dormant but rich history in the Greater Philadelphia region dating back over 100 years,” said Sakiewicz. “Our vision with this concept is to revive the history and recognize the past. As the Philadelphia Union now leads professional soccer into the 21st century it is our duty and responsibility to remember, honor and pay tribute to those teams that came before us and laid the groundwork for the growth of the game in the region.”
Just about every piece of the kit offers homage to the Bethlehem Steel. There is a jock tag on the lower left corner of the kit in which a felt “B” is emblazoned along with the years of the Steel’s existence: 1911-1930, also found on the back of the jersey by the collar.
There is also a white “B” sewn into the black and red socks as well.
“Conceptually, when we found the team we were going to focus on which is the Bethlehem Steel, we looked at their old jersey and it had a big “B” right where the crest [is on the Union jersey],” said Walker. “It was one of those things with this being the Union we knew we couldn’t put that on display, but it’s such a big piece of that old jersey that we wanted to make sure it was on there. Also, the Bethlehem Steel crest underneath the Union patch again just shows that there was a foundation laid for the Union and where the concept of bringing soccer back to the Philadelphia area had really grown from.”
While it is a throwback it is still crafted with all the latest in adidas innovation and technology. The jersey is 100 percent polyester, weighs only 120 grams and still offers the same material in today’s modern kits. A jersey that wicks moisture, provides breathability and offers virtually no resistance in player movement, according to Walker.
Union forward Jack McInerney agreed with Walker’s claim. McInerney who recently got a chance to preview the kit for an upcoming Union feature was impressed with the look, cut and feel and was surprised that with all the unique elements, it still maintained the quality expected from an authentic uniform.
“I think the new kit is a good mix of old school and modern jerseys,” McInerney said. “They are slick, comfortable and built for today’s game while at the same time do a great job of displaying the history of the game in this country.”
Walker said that idea behind new uniform designs, specifically thirds arrives every two years. So by that logic ideas for a new kit for the Union have already begun to swirl. And there’s no guarantee that the next kit will be a throwback design.
For Walker and adidas it’s about the next best thing – though right now the Bethlehem Steel kit is pretty tough to top.
“Each jersey is usually on a two-year cycle,” said Walker. “So right now, this one will go through the 2013-2014 seasons and then once we get into 2015 we’ll get together with [Union brass] and see what direction they’re looking to go.”
Contact Union writer Kerith Gabriel at email@example.com