In less than four weeks we will watch as Roger Goodell shakes hands with, and inevitably hugs, the NFL’s newest group of employees. All of the players will be carefully dressed to the nines for the occasion, the 2019 NFL draft, with that look finally complete when each drafted player puts on a cap bearing his new team.
New Era has long overseen the designs of the official draft-day cap for the NFL, and this year the hat group has integrated local flags of each city into individual team hats, which go on sale at 10 a.m. ET on Tuesday, April 2.
Last year New Era decided to feature team slogans on the front, and the group kept the local theme this year. One thing that really stands out: these hats, more often than not, give off the vibe of “you have to be from here to get it.”
“This idea as we go through to celebrate the past of the NFL and innovation of where it’s moving, we really wanted to start with where the game began within each local community,” Ryan DiNunzio, New Era’s director of football, says. “It’s a unique way to say this is where we started, this is who we are, this is what we’re about, this is the community we represent. At the same time it tells a separate story of welcoming a new member into that community. Really trying to tell this message of this is where we’re going, this is who we represent and welcome into the community.”
As for my favorites, in alphabetical order I’ll go Arizona, Cleveland, Denver, Jacksonville, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Seattle. You can view the 31 hat designs (the Jets will release theirs with their new uniform reveal on Thursday) after the below Q&A with DiNunzio.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
SI: How did this idea for integrating the local flags with the team logos come about?
RD: For us, it really started around the brainstorming for the 100th season of the NFL and telling a cohesive story from the beginning of the season, which for us starts at the draft, all the way through Super Bowl LIV.
Every team’s hat will feature an NFL 100 logo on the back. These are hats for the Cardinals, Rams and Chargers, L-R.
SI: The state flag colors don’t necessarily match the colors of the team, and maybe the state flag design may not be super appealing in some cases. Generally speaking, how ambitious was this idea?
RD: This was one of about four ideas in the 2019 season that we knew was going to be a challenge. You mentioned a couple examples as to why it’d be a challenge—not just the quality of the design of the flag or what it represents, but also identifying the flag that best represents each individual club because there wasn’t a master formula that we could use. We couldn’t use all city flags because the NFL has a team in Carolina that represents the two states. It became about working with each individual team to identify for them what they really wanted that flag to be or what ties them to their community.
At the same time, I may not know that’s what the flag of the city of Detroit is, but someone from Detroit knows immediately when they see it. We had a few instances where we had to get a bit creative in working with the club and finding solutions, one being in New England where you’re representing a region. The club wanted to stick with Foxborough, which is their home base. In Seattle it was a great educational experience to understand the flag that people would say is the Seattle flag was actually designed for the 1990 Goodwill Games and had nothing to do with the city. And at city hall they fly the 12 flag. So the 12 flag genuinely represents the flag as a city, even at an official level, so that made a lot of sense to use that. And one of the last challenges was the Raiders and trying to understand their identity currently in this transition from Oakland to Las Vegas and where they’d be. We went with the neutral.
SI: It also helps that the Raiders are very much a national brand. It’s not like you’re putting the U.S. flag on the Bengals’ hat.
RD: It’s one of those fun ones where right now they are representing multiple communities. It fit in with where they are currently as a franchise.
SI: What in your opinion was the easiest one or maybe the one that made the most sense when you were putting it all together?
RD: The Cowboys might have been the easiest one. Seeing it in person in the prototype is different than seeing it on paper. It just seemed so appropriate. It was really an easy way to incorporate their mark into the flag. And that really is one of the most recognizable flag… When you look at Houston, how do you differentiate using the exact same flag and not executing it in the same way, especially with the Texans mark itself, which is the Texas state flag. So that was fun to be able to pull off some other elements to tell the same story with the same flag but with two different teams.
SI: Help me understand the process. Do you all come up with four or five ideas and show them to the individual clubs or do you go to them and say hey what would you like? What’s the back-and-forth like?
RD: It’s roughly a 16-to-18 month process. Candidly we are already finalizing the concepts to send to clubs for draft 2020. We started roughly in November 2017, and sat down with our design staff and had an ideation session. From there they come with anywhere between eight and 16 concepts on paper and we’ll narrow it down to three or four and start prototyping those. And once really we get the physical samples of one or two teams, we start to dial in and say ‘this is what we thought in our minds and we want to bring this story to life.’ For us, last season for draft we made it really fan centric and customized each individual club by using the team slogan, and saw a tremendous amount of success with that. Additionally over the last 12 months we’ve begun to see when we take a really localized approach to that fan base and community, there’s a greater resonation than when we take a paintbrush and say this is a cool design and it works across all 32 teams so let’s bring it to life. Having a little bit of unique flair that someone can take pride in when they’re wearing it was important to us.
SI:Last year probably reinforced this for you all, but do you recognize that across the board that not every fan is going to love what you did with a certain team’s hat? Is there an understanding that a fan in Arizona may not love what you did with, say, Buffalo, but that Buffalo should love what you did with Buffalo?
RD: That is the key for us. As we’re taking this very localized and customized collection, it was more about connecting with that team and that team’s fanbase. … As we go through it, we know not all 32 teams are going to resonate with everyone. There are going to be some that are genuinely liked by all and some that will just be liked by the fanbases, and we know that that’s OK because we would rather be connecting individually with 32 fan bases.
SI: What was the most challenging flag that ultimately you came out of this feeling good about how you accepted the challenge and integrated to your liking?
RD: There’s probably a couple out there. Cleveland’s flag is a busy. I think the Tampa Bay flag was a tough one to get all the details to make sure people understood where it was coming from. Candidly we started with really over-the-top and dialing it back to have a more subtle approach to it. I think we ended up in a really great spot with it, and it’s been really well-received. And the same thing with the Browns’s cap. The effort that went into the Ohio flag and bringing that to life, it’s a challenging logo to work with in the beginning, and trying to work that into a flag was tough. But we got to a great spot that we all felt really happy about.
SI: Among my eight favorite hats, Cleveland was way up there for me. Knowing the kind of pride Ohioans have and Clevelanders have, that it worked out so well was neat. And my other personal favorite, because I’m a sucker for the California flag, is the 49ers hat because it was super subtle to me.
RD: That collection between San Francisco and the L.A. clubs was a fun one to work on because it was, we’re going to go California flag for all three teams. How are we going to make this work? And speaking with the Chargers and Rams they said no we really want to dial in on L.A. San Francisco, their logo worked extremely well for that design and really fit in nicely. It was one of the easier ones to get done.
SI: The draft is in Nashville and they’re happy to have it. If I were you, I would think there’s no way you can screw up the draft city and the home team. Not that it’s way more important than the other 31 teams, but how much importance did you put on Tennessee?
RD: It’s crucial. As we are looking at that community aspect and that local tie-in, we know that the majority of the fans at the event are going to be Titans fans just because of where we are. As that cap starts to take prominence in Nashville, you need to make sure it resonates with that community. We went through probably six different iterations on that one where we did take a little bit of extra time with the club. We took in the same type of care in Dallas with the slogans. We wanted to make sure we hit this one out of the park because all eyes are on Dallas. And as we look forward to 2020, there’s going to be a hint of Vegas in our design and design elements from where we are in the prototype stage. So we do take into account the host city and what it represents.
Arizona has one of the most visually appealing state flags in America. Replacing the yellow rays with black, the Cardinals hat is one of the best of the bunch.
This Georgia state flag came to be in 2003 as the state tried to rid itself of its old Confederate-inspired flag. That would have been tough to work around in 2019.