The NBA unveiled new player jerseys with sleeves in advance of their Christmas day slate of games, where the jerseys would be used for the first time. Even before the games were played, players were angry about the design of the new NBA jerseys and continue to voice their displeasure. What’s worse than the outrage over an unwelcome change forced upon the players is the NBA leadership’s reaction to the feedback.
It all starts with the sleeved jersey design being tested and introduced on the Golden State Warriors in early 2013 by adidas. Any new technological advances or changes in on-court apparel should be aimed at improving the performance of the players. Some of the jersey’s features may have been able to do that, but one of the big reasons the new design was introduced?:
While company and team officials tout the uniform’s technical attributes (even with sleeves, the jersey is 26 percent lighter than the Warriors’ regular jersey) the introduction of sleeves has a practical application aimed at juicing sales of NBA fan gear.
Of course. So last season the Golden State Warriors wore the jersey design on a trial basis, and the new standard design is being gradually “implemented” on more and more teams in-season without more player input or consent. (“Implemented” here is another way of saying “forced.”)
And the players are angry. They say the sleeves impact their shooting form, as it adds resistance to their arm movements and takes away from the comfort and freedom sleeveless jerseys provide. The players have trained most of their lives wearing tank-top jerseys on the court during games. The sleeves have implications on how they perform.
So how does the NBA respond? Here’s NBA’s VP of global merchandising (of course!) Sal LaRocca’s take:
LaRocca says the players’ union gets 50 percent of merchandise sales, and claims the material is exactly the same, so any perception that they retain more sweat is all in the players’ heads. He also notes that players can specify how form fitting their sleeves should be, so constricting their range of motion shouldn’t be an issue. (This doesn’t really fly. No matter how loose the sleeve, there’s still going to be a seam running across the shoulder where there wasn’t one before.)
LaRocca claims multiple players on every team that’s worn them were consulted beforehand, though none of the players polled by Bleacher Report say they had any input in the matter.
His argument against the player backlash is “Hey, you can modify the sleeves however you want” and “Hey, your union gets 50% of the sales!” He all but brushes aside the feedback and doesn’t even fully address their concerns with the response he provides.
(He further says that if the players don’t want sleeves they’ll go away from the sleeves – more on this in a moment.)
This is not how to implement change properly. The players, the league, and the merchandise supplier all have to be agreeable partners because they all have skin in the game. Any change must be suitable for all involved.
What is the problem that needs solved here? The players were happy with the jerseys they had, but apparently the league needed to boost merchandise sales and a supplier wanted to sell some gear. Apparently the problem needing solved was “we need to boost our merchandise sales – let’s create some new gear design to do so“. The players saw no problem but are being forced to deal with an unsuitable solution.
Also, the pilot was performed during the season – when the games actually count. Lack of standardization and deployment across teams could give some teams (with or without sleeved jerseys) a competitive advantage unfairly. Impacting games also impact standings and building for the future. Why wasn’t the pilot tested away from when the games count? And why didn’t they use PDSA to pilot the jerseys to see what works and what needs to change?
Lean thinking entails getting buy-in from all affected stakeholders but also having a genuine problem defined. The NBA did neither of these things and the players are rightfully upset. If the players voice their anger in the media, how will that motivate fans to buy the sleeved jerseys from merch shops?
Sounds like the NBA failed to solve even one problem with this change.