Due to the positive response to my SEC home uniform rankings, I decided to investigate how fans feel about the Big Ten home uniforms. Like the SEC, most of the Big Ten teams use old school uniform designs rooted in tradition. Indeed, you’ll see in the results that adherence to traditional aesthetics had a major impact on where each uniform was ranked.

To conduct this research, I utilized a MaxDiff exercise to have respondents rank the Big Ten’s 14 home uniform kits. Instead of a traditional ranking exercise, each respondent evaluated 21 pairs of Big Ten home uniforms worn in the 2018-2019 season. In each pair, they chose the uniform they felt was the more appealing one. I then used fancy math (Hierarchical Bayes) to estimate the rankings for each respondent. This is a common technique in corporate market research studies, and I’ve written quite a bit in the past about how this method is better than traditional ranking exercises because most people aren’t able to rank a list of more than five or six items. This system breaks the ranking task down into discrete, manageable sets, which makes the ranking task easy and fun. Because the ranking task is less mentally taxing, respondents tend to give responses that more accurately reflect how they really feel.

The most difficult part of this research was choosing each team’s particular uniform kit to include in the exercise. As a rule, I decided to use the kit each team wore the most times at home last season per the awesome spreadsheet put together on Reddit/CFB that detailed every uniform combination worn by each team in every game.

The Sample

I was fortunate to receive participation from 3,496 fans nationwide across the college football landscape. Unsurprisingly, more Big Ten fans participated than fans of any other conference. However, I weighted the data so that the results reflect 50% participation from Big Ten fans, and 50% participation from fans of other conferences. In addition, I also applied weights so that each individual Big Ten fanbase is represented equally in the results.

All of this is to say that these results are not impacted by the relative size of each Big Ten fanbase participating in the research. If you personally disagree with the results below, that’s okay. The participants in this research didn’t all have the same opinions about each uniform, so I don’t expect everyone reading this article to either. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking these results are biased in favor of the teams whose fanbases participated in higher numbers. That’s not the case here. 

Now Let’s Get to the Results

Interpreting the Scores: The MaxDiff scores for each team are indexed so that the average is 100. For example, Purdue’s MaxDiff score of 130 means that team was ranked 30% higher than the average team in this exercise. It is important to note that these scores should not be interpreted as “votes.” See my explanation of MaxDiff if you would like more information.

FanJuicer’s Take on the Results

The top four uniforms each have a classic, “old school” aesthetic that is particularly suited to the Big Ten’s brand of football. Michigan State coming out on top is particularly noteworthy considering the fact that their recently announced new alternates were universally panned. While Michigan State’s sleek, dark green kit narrowly outpaced Penn State’s no-nonsense prototype of classic uniform design, it’s really a tie for first place. Michigan State’s MaxDiff score of 154 is not significantly greater than Penn State’s score of 152. In other words, if we were to rerun this research study, it’s a toss up as to whether Michigan State or Penn State’s uniform would come out on top. However, I’m relatively confident those two teams would be in the top spots. A good way to look the results is to classify the uniforms into tiers. In MaxDiff exercises like this one, tiers reflect consensus among the research participants, and there’s a fair amount of consensus here:

These results illustrate a running theme I’ve noticed across multiple studies:  sports fans take into account their sport’s particular culture and traditions when evaluating aesthetic elements like logos or uniforms. In other words, they aren’t evaluating the uniforms in a vacuum – they take into account how well each conforms to tradition, while also being distinct enough to stand out from the pack in some way. I’ve found this to be the case in my research ranking the SEC uniforms, NFL uniforms, NFL logos, NBA logos, and MLB logos. The takeaway is that culture matters.

My sports fan research studies are usually among enthusiastic fans of each sport. In this particular study, 87% are close followers of college football, which is about on par with other studies I’ve done. One piece of reasonable feedback I’ve received is that the results would be drastically different if I were to poll people who were completely unfamiliar with the sport. That’s probably true. However, I think each sport’s fans’ opinions matter more than an “objective” opinion from someone who is unfamiliar with a sport’s traditions and culture. Sports fans, particularly the most ardent ones, are who spend money. It’s more important to please them than it is to have an objectively attractive aesthetic. If you owned a shaving cream company and had ten logos and needed to pick one, you wouldn’t ask the opinion of people who don’t shave.

Throughout my market research career, I’ve done many studies ranking aesthetic elements like logos for corporate clients. When doing these studies, one of the first questions I ask my clients is ‘who are you trying to appeal to’. Defining the target consumer is critical whether you’re in sports marketing or the toilet paper business.

Research Participants Give Their Opinions in Their Own Words

Displayed below some of the images used to conduct this research with commentary from fans who chose to give their opinions on a randomly selected team’s uniform. They were asked to give their personal assessment and to speculate where other fans would rank the uniform. The opinions below are not my own, and I don’t necessarily agree or disagree with any of them. I simply chose the quotes from research participants that captured the most common sentiments.

#14 Rutgers

Image Credit: Rich Graessle / ScarletKnights.com

  • “This looks like a generic uniform used in a football video game that has lost all of its official licenses.”

#13 Indiana

Image Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

  • “There is no element that is glaringly bad, but the matching top and bottom without any stripes or other elements make it boring and forgettable.”

#12 Maryland

Image Credit: UMTerps.com

  • “These uniforms stand out in a conference full of classic, yet simple uniforms. It gets points for creativity, uniqueness, and the flag helmet is pretty cool. However, I’m sure plenty of people find the helmet too busy. The red uniforms on red pants are too much – it could use a contrasting color thrown in.”

#11 Illinois

Image Credit: Austin Yattoni

  • “Bottom half, because it is just too similar to Syracuse.”
  • “Illinois’ uniform could be improved so much if their orange wasn’t so intense. I really appreciate the clean design, and the dark blue is very pleasing, but the orange is just too much of a contrast and ruins the whole thing.”

#10 Minnesota

Image Credit: AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn

  • “They have a unique color scheme and mix it in well here. Their uniform has just enough flash and mix going on to make it stand out without being obnoxious.”
  • “The yellow outline on the numbers isn’t working for me, and the stripe down the helmet would be much better as a solid stripe instead of 3 thin ones.”

#9 Northwestern

Image Credit: Brendan Sullivan/The World-Herald

  • “The Big 10 is loaded with “classic” uniforms that don’t really take chances or necessarily do anything wrong. Northwestern has a really cool color combo to work with, but I think they try to do too much with these. I really don’t like the horizontal black stripe that runs behind the number and I don’t really care for the purple stripes above the knees. I think they need more white. I’d go with some vertical white stripes along the sides of the pants and add a white stripe down the center of the helmet for some more contrast.”

#8 Nebraska

Image Credit: Nebraska Communications

  • “Classic, clean, but not striking in any way. Nebraska and Wisconsin are very hard to have opinions on because their uniforms are so similar. I bet this ends up in the dead middle.”

#7 Wisconsin

Image Credit: Dylan Buell/Getty Images

  • “Wisconsin is a very good but generic uniform. It’s way too similar to Nebraska’s uniform. While I love its iconic look, I think the uniform’s genericness will keep it middle/bottom half.”

#6 Ohio State

Image Credit:  Birm/Lettermen Row

  • “There’s nothing overtly risky on their uniform unless you count the Buckeye stickers. The color scheme is another safe scheme that won’t upset anyone, which leads to its mass appeal.”
  • “I like these simple, clean ones as compared to when the Buckeyes bring in all kinds of details on some of their alternates. This uniform is also better late in the season when they have more Buckeye stickers on the helmets. Not quite as iconic as others – like Michigan or Penn State – but I would say this one is solidly above average for the Big Ten.”

#5 Purdue

Image Credit:  Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

  • “I’m torn on this uniform. I love the colors, I like the helmets, but the stripes on the shoulders just ruin it for me. It’s like putting a flashy light up spoiler on a classic car.”
  • “I think this uniform will rank in the top half because it is sleek and more interesting than the half dozen Big Ten Uniforms that use red with white highlights. The shoulder pattern is a bit much, but gold and black is just too good and it works very well together along with the P logo. Overall a pretty decent uniform that stands out from the pack but not enough to get into the top three.”

#4 Iowa

Image Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

  • “While this particular uniform is not original because it is an adaptation of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ uniform, it is immediately associated with success and winning. Match that with how visually appealing the Black and Yellow pair with a traditional football uniform design and these unis are hard to beat.”

#3 Michigan

Image Credit:  Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press

  • “The winged helmet design is rather iconic, and the color combination stands out among a crowd of reds and whites. The lack of white (except for the towel) is also unique, but the Maize and Blue also don’t clash as much visually as the Orange and Blue of Illinois.”
  • “Doubtlessly a classic look, the iconic color scheme and winged helmets give a unique look to the Wolverines’ uniforms while also grounding it in their history. The pairing of the Maize and Blue meshes well and now that they have returned to the true maize color, it is mellow enough to be a pleasing look. The simplicity of the uniform gives it its own timeless elegance which is why this design has survived for so long.”

#2 Penn State

Image Credit: Chris Knight, AP

  • “Penn State’s uniforms are the epitome of tradition. There’s no flashy bells and whistles, just a simple design that is timeless.”
  • “The classic blue and white without any bells or whistles is extremely appealing to the eye. Any changes to this uniform would be a tragedy.”
  • “It’s one of the most iconic and classic designs in college football history. The white helmets absolutely POP in contrast to the blue jersey. I also love jersey numbers that don’t have any outline or shading. Leave that for the pro uniforms.”

#1 Michigan State

Image Credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

  • “The Spartan logo is great. Combined with the two-color scheme using the deep shade of green and you’ve got a beautiful, laconic uniform. Perfect for Sparty.”
  • “Maybe it’s because they’re not one of the handful of ‘red’ schools, but this uniform is pretty striking as a solid piece of clothing.”
  • “The green and white is already a very unique color scheme, and I think they do just enough with it to make their uniforms look fantastic. The most recent redesign added enough flair to the lettering without it being distracting.”
  • “The MSU uniforms are classic, but feel slightly modern too, but not in a bad way. They’re not flashy, they reinforce what you know about the program. Classic, tough, and plain. It’s the look of power football.”
  • “I do think this uniform will easily rank in the top half of the rankings. The Michigan State logo is truly unique and eye-catching. It’s a nice shade of green with a number font that is very appealing. The best part of this uniform has to be the helmet. The mat green helmet is beautiful, showing off the exceptional logo against an eye-popping green that looks almost perfect. It wouldn’t surprise me if Michigan State is the #1 or #2 uniform.”