Michael Rubin: Fanatics Following Nike’s Instructions For New MLB Jerseys

Nike, Fanatics and MLB have been embroiled in criticism for multiple months due to sweeping changes brought about with new jerseys.

Nike announced their Vapor Premier jerseys were tested for multiple years and engineered to improve mobility. The design was first unveiled during the 2023 MLB All-Star Game, which didn’t generate many complaints or attention over the new look.

However, that hasn’t been the case during Spring Training, with players and fans alike expressing their disdain. Much of the criticism has been levied toward Fanatics, who is manufacturing the new MLB jerseys.

During an appearance at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, Fanatics founder and CEO Michael Rubin discussed the challenging process he’s had to navigate despite following instruction that’s been provided to them by Nike:

“Fanatics has been responsible for making the baseball uniforms since 2017. And as a matter of fact, we bought the company that’s made the uniforms since 2005. So the factory that we own has been making the baseball uniforms since 2005. And we’ve been doing it with Nike since 2020.

“Nike, for all the right reasons (said), ‘We design the uniforms.’ Because what they heard from athletes is, ‘We want the uniform to be breathable versus a thicker cotton. We want more performance orientation, we want it to be able to absorb sweat, be more stretchable.’

“In this particular case, Nike designs everything, hands us a spec and says, ‘Make this.’ We have made everything exactly to the spec. Nike and baseball would say, ‘Yes, you’ve done everything we’ve asked you to do.’ Part of changing a uniform is people get uncomfortable, and it takes time (to be accepted).

“What I would tell you is the biggest thing I’ve probably learned is if we’re involved in something, we need to make sure everybody is on board. Time will tell, but I think Nike will be proven right. The same thing happened in football, happened in basketball. …

“This is a little bit of a difficult position because for us, we’re purely doing exactly as we’ve been told. And we’ve been told we’ve done everything exactly right — and we’re getting the [expletive] kicked out of ourselves every day right now. So that’s not fun. Normally when I get beat up it’s because I actually did something wrong. Here, I’m actually being beat up and I didn’t do something wrong. I did exactly what we were instructed to do.

“That said, Nike is an incredible partner. (Major League) Baseball is an incredible partner. This goes to the point I made about relationships during challenging times. Stick together, get through a problem, get people on board and take the learning lesson to make sure you’re better going forward.”

According to Nike, the high-performance fabric of their new template was made from at least 90% recycled polyester yarns and provides 25% more stretch and allows the jersey to dry 28% faster with moisture-wicking Dri-Fit ADV technology.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred expressed his belief that criticism would eventually subside and all players would come around to the new chassis. Manfred also said the jerseys are products of Nike, not Fanatics.

The MLB Players Association reportedly has started exploring if changes — or corrections — can be made to player jerseys in time for Opening Day or shortly after the 2024 season begins.

What role does Fanatics have with MLB jerseys?

Majestic produced MLB uniforms from 2005-2019, and as Rubin noted, Fanatics purchased them and their factory in 2017. When Majestic’s deal with MLB experienced, Nike and Fanatics announced a 10-year global partnership.

The agreement called for Nike to design MLB jerseys that then would continue to be manufactured by Fanatics.

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