After eight decades making baseball caps—starting with a Yankees cap to follow their original 1920s “Gatsby” style hat—the New Era Cap company is turning all that hat-making expertise in a new direction: the football field. As of the 2012 season, New Era, which produced last produced gridiron-themed caps about ten years ago, replaces Reebok as the official on-field headwear of the NFL. And after a splashy launch at this past April’s draft, with traditional baseball-influenced silhouettes and materials, the line will soon get some football-specific additions.
Of course, football takes place in the winter and players don’t wear hats on the field.
Not a problem, says New Era spokesperson Dana Marciniak. “As soon as these guys get on the sidelines, one of the first things they do is take off those helmets. It’s hard to hear, it’s a little bit uncomfortable and then you have messy hair,” she says. “They usually put a baseball cap right on, and it might as well be ours.”
And the New Era caps follow the football season closely. The draft-day caps came in a fitted style and emphasized the draftees’ new home-base cities rather than team names; stretch-fit and snap-back caps were worn by non-players involved in the draft. So far, through the summer and early-fall versions of the caps, NFL hats have been mostly baseball caps with football logos, but that will change as the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl editions of the caps are introduced. (A New-Orleans-inspired Super Bowl cap will be available for holiday shoppers, with an official locker-room edition released closer to the Feb. 2013 game day.) Pre-existing fuzzy-ear-flap caps and pom-pom-topped knit hats for fans—”you probably won’t see that one on the sidelines,” says Marciniak—will soon be joined by new NFL-specific light-reflecting and insulating caps.
Dealing with the weather, however, turns out to be only a small part of adapting to a new sport. The team of designers had to understand the ways in which football fans differ from baseball fans. “The designers get a lot of inspiration from fashion shows and boutique shopping, but they really sit down and plan to design for the fan,” says Marciniak. “The hard-core guy who’s out there with no shirt, what’s he looking for in a cap?” For example, while baseball-cap wearers may prefer a stiff and structured hat with the brim in pristine flat shape, football fans generally go for a more casual look. For another, the hard-core football fan wants a hat in team colors. Baseball fans have long been used to seeing their teams’ logos in unusual colors, but a purple and yellow Buffalo Bills cap won’t fly—yet. The company is, according to Marciniak, “working up to that.”
The incentive to do so is not just a matter of fashion. New Era manufactures about 30 million caps per year and introduces at least five new designs in that time span. Within only six months of the New Era-NFL partnership’s launch, football fans already have a half dozen options to choose from; that number will continue to grow, with more color and silhouette options. And although the company already makes caps for basketball and hockey—not “on-field” caps, as is the case with football and baseball, but with hundreds of options for fans—New Era aims to cover all of the major sports bases, with hopes to expand to Nascar and Major League Soccer in the near future. Marciniak says that the company’s costumers will purchase caps almost indefinitely, as long as they are supplied with fresh styles. “People keep buying. It’s pretty crazy,” she says. “People like the creativity, and I think that’s what we’re bringing to the NFL.”