San Diego UT: Padres find they can’t turn all blue eyes brown, but …

By Kevin Acee
July 14, 2018; 2:45pm
The San Diego Union-Tribune

Padres senior management on Thursday received a report breaking down the information culled from recent focus groups the team commissioned to help decide the color scheme of a planned uniform redesign.

Executive Chairman Ron Fowler, Chief Marketing Officer Wayne Partello and others will over the next several days digest and attempt to decipher the results before convening with the consultants and researchers they have retained to assist in the process.

The team’s hope was the direction would be certain by now, that the only thing left to do at this point would be figuring out the finer details of the brown uniforms the Padres would be playing in come 2020.

It is close.

Here is an account of why it is more complicated than that:

Three groups had passed through a room at Petco Park. About 20 or so people at a time.

A doctor, a couple carpenters, an officer of the law. An insurance broker, a librarian, a barista. A few teachers, a few students. There were some teenagers, some septuagenarians, many in between. There were those who had been identified as hardcore Padres fans and others considered just a little less than that. They were from Cardiff and Chula Vista and downtown and La Mesa and Escondido and Bonsall and almost every other corner of the county.

In all, about 75 people from what would end up being almost 250 (from a database of 50,000) chosen by the outside experts the team hired.

Sitting in three rows on risers, each person had been given a dial with which to register their opinion of what they would see. Right for like, left for dislike.

The results so far had not been overwhelming in any direction. But there had been an unmistakable favorite.

Then came the fourth group.

The people entered the room and were told by John Nienstendt, president of the research firm Competitive Edge, about how the aim was to find out what fans wanted their team to wear, that negative feedback was as valuable as positive feedback and so on. He asked participants to focus on the color combinations, not the uniforms.

“You weren’t chosen because you’re fashion critics,” he said. “You were chosen because you’re fans. We want you to think about what colors you would want the Padres, your team, to wear.”

Male models wearing four different uniform combinations entered the room, one at a time.

A model in the Padres’ current white home jersey with blue lettering and trim followed by a model in the current gray road kit.

Then a prototype of a home jersey with brown pinstripes with brown and orange lettering and trim. And a road jersey, tan with brown and orange.

A white home jersey with blue and orange. A gray road jersey with blue and orange.

A white jersey with brown pinstripes and brown lettering with yellow trim. A tan road jersey with the same color pinstriping and lettering.

Sitting in a conference room inside the Padres’ executive offices, Fowler was among a group of Padres executives and consultants watching a feed of both a camera and real-time information about how the people were judging what they saw,

Numbers and a graph started flashing across the screen set up at the far end of the room.

At first, the people around the conference room table cast glances at each other. Those became incredulous looks and head shakes. A “Wow.” Some chuckles.

“I’m just glad a certain individual was here to see this,” Fowler said, turning to the reporter the Padres had allowed to view this stage of their information gathering.

“You wouldn’t have believed this if we told you it happened,” Partello would say a short while later.

The focus group, which had been asked to judge uniforms individually, was then asked to judge the uniforms in pairs, home and road together. They were then asked to identify their least favorite.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Fowler muttered.

Another “wow,” more chuckles, more head shakes and smiles of wonderment.

The previous three groups had leaned solidly brown and yellow.

This one was choosing blue. And rejecting brown and yellow.

Still. The next step seemed clear.

In the conference room, after the viewing by the fourth group had ended, Fowler spoke up.

“I’d like to see solid white with brown and rich yellow or gold or whatever you call it,” he said.

Around the table on this June night were Partello, Padres Director of Brand Marketing Katie Jackson and Len Sanderson and Denise Michaels of Sanderson Strategies Group.

There was a brief discussion of what the next phase of research would entail, how they would move forward with an eye on having the team’s new uniforms submitted to Major League Baseball early next year and ready for the 2020 season.

Combinations of white and brown, where the yellow would fit in, possible pinstripes, shades of tan for the road. Determinations like that. It didn’t seem like they were getting ahead of themselves, just brainstorming about the inevitable.

And then the final group of the night entered the room down the hall and two floors above.

The observation had been made during the previous session, “This is the weirdest one.”

It got weirder.

The final group also favored blue, only slightly more pronounced.

The next night went about the same. Some groups favored brown and yellow. Some blue and white.

“There is no clear majority winner in regard to the colors,” Fowler said later when asked his biggest takeaway from the process.

The only symmetry there appeared to be between people and from group to group was a desire for distinction.

During the portion of each group where fans responded to questions about why they liked and disliked certain combinations, the only trend that emerged (besides a lack of agreement) was people repeatedly expressing they wanted the Padres to wear a uniform that was distinctly San Diego.

But here’s the thing about that, from fans in different groups:

“It’s classic. Says San Diego.”

“Traditional Padres.”

“Classic. Says San Diego.”

The first comment above was about brown and yellow, the second about brown and orange and the third about blue and white.

That’s how it went all night.

Brown “stands out” and blue “pops.” Blue was “modern” and brown was “modern.” Brown was “old” and “sharp.” Blue was “dull,” “boring,” “simple” and “sharp.”

Numerous people said the brown and orange road jerseys looked like the Giants. The blue and orange, several said, were like the Tigers or Mets. The blue and white drew some Dodgers comparisons.

After observing 10 groups over two nights, the only thing definitively determined was orange is out.

Brown and yellow was the favorite with blue and white close behind. Neither had a majority. Brown and yellow also was the least disliked. And the people that favored brown and yellow did so to a greater degree than those who preferred any other combination.

“People who do like brown are far more passionate than the people who like blue,” Fowler said Friday.

That is significant to the team, as is the fact brown and yellow were less displeasing to those who did not like it.

The Padres did not need consultants or focus groups to know they wouldn’t please everyone with their choice, but the reality was nonetheless startling.

To that end, they will now continue their diligence.

The next samples are being designed and will need to be produced. Competitive Edge will go back into the database to find more fans for more focus groups. More models will be hired. Fowler and his people will get back in the conference room.

It is possible that when the next focus groups convene, likely in September or October, they will be shown exclusively different versions of brown and yellow, home and away, pinstripes and solid. There may also be a blue and white choice — but only one, as a sort of control or constant.

There is time.

Major League Baseball needs the final design this coming spring in order for the Padres to be wearing new uniforms in 2020.

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