5 December 2021
The NFL has been referred to as America’s gladiator sport, and the array of equipment the players wear certainly adds credence to that perception. Whether it’s the shiny helmets, the thick pads, expensive cleats, or the jerseys and pants that generate gobs of revenue to the league’s bottom line, there’s little doubt the equipment represents an impressive investment.
But who pays for it all? Do players pony up the money to don their weekly armor? Or is that the responsibility of the teams that pay them, to provide free gear for their weekly heroics? The simple answer is no, NFL players don’t pay for their gear, but there are some fascinating dynamics in play when it comes to who pays for those fancy uniforms, so let’s do some exploring.
How Much Do the Uniforms Cost
Generally speaking, the NFL keeps its numbers close to the vest when it comes to the cost of uniforms, but most estimates put the overall cost of an NFL uniform at about $2.000.
Why so much? In part, it’s because these uniforms represent the best of the best when it comes to equipment performance. They’re designed to handle the tremendous stress the players put on them during the course of a game, especially if the weather is involved.
Let’s take the helmets. Due to ongoing issues with player concussions, millions of dollars have gone into the research to make helmets safe, and the contracts negotiated by equipment makers to provide this particular piece of gear are worth millions of dollars.
Rest assured that this isn’t strictly a cost for the NFL. Replica jerseys represent a huge source of revenue for teams, and a visit to any team shop in the league will reveal product lines that are designed to recover some of those uniform costs.
The prices are staggering. Jerseys and helmets are the main items in these stores, and both items set fans back to the tune of hundreds of dollars.
But there is one area where NFL teams don’t get to cash in quite as egregiously. Let’s talk about the shoes that are a part of those uniforms, and the shoe deals that allow players to get in on the money-making part of the uniform game.
The NFL has strict regulations about shoes, and most of them pertain to the size, length, and shape of the cleats, not to mention what players can write on their shoes. But a few of these regulations go well beyond the basics, and the best way to tell how this works is, as always, to follow the money.
The NFL maintains huge, lucrative shoe contracts with major manufacturers like Nike, and players get their shoes free as a result of these deals.
Part of the money from these contracts goes directly to the players, too, with the percentages carefully negotiated as part of the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the player’s union.
Some players wield more clout than others, however. The history of elite players who have their own lucrative shoe deals dates back to the days of Bret Favre, Barry Sanders, and Dan Marino, and current players such as Richard Sherman and Cam Newton have also had exclusive deals back when their respective stars shone a little brighter.
But no discussion about uniform costs would be complete without at least mentioning a recent change that produced the costliest uniform change of all-the charges to NFL players who chose to change their uniform numbers.
By the Numbers? Well, Not Exactly
A uniform number is just a number, right? Well, maybe. For most of the relatively anonymous players in the league, their number was special only to them, along with friends and family, plus a random assortment of fans.
A couple of years ago, though, the NFL began to charge players who wanted to change their numbers. To make the change, they had to buy out the existing inventory of jerseys the league was selling with their numbers on it, and for some of the more popular players, the price tag to do a swap ran to six and sometimes seven figures.
It was easily the costliest charge for a piece of NFL equipment in league history, but thankfully for the players, it goes away in 2022, when the charges no longer apply.