Fanatics and Nike Blamed by Fans for MLB Uniform Issues

Even though Nike was responsible for the uniform redesign and M.L.B. approved it, baseball fans have overwhelmingly blamed Fanatics. That is despite the fact that the league’s uniforms have been manufactured in the same factory since the early 2000s with no reported issues before this year.

“We’re purely doing exactly as we’ve been told, and we’ve been told we’re doing everything exactly right,” Michael Rubin, the founder of Fanatics, said during a sports analytics conference at M.I.T. this month. Despite that, he said the company was receiving a majority of the criticism. “So that’s not fun,” he added.

Fanatics has become a target for many because it manufactures and sells the on-field attire and officially licensed gear for most of the major professional sports leagues in the United States. The company has been sued several times, with many contending that it has a monopoly over sports memorabilia. The M.L.B. gear, which Nike designs and Fanatics manufactures and sells, is also not cheap — a 2024 jersey goes for about $175, but certain editions cost almost $400. The prices are similarly high for Nike/Fanatics replica jerseys from the N.F.L. and the N.B.A.

Matt Powell, a senior adviser at BCE Consulting who has been researching the sports retail business for more than two decades, said that the biggest problem with M.L.B.’s uniforms this season was in how they were marketed. “They did a poor job of selling it,” Mr. Powell said. “When players came into spring training, they suddenly got a different jersey than they were used to, and nobody explained its benefits, why the changes were made or what work they did to develop the product. If Nike had done a better job of communicating the changes, this would not have become a flashpoint.”

The uniform debacle is also indicative of how sportswear is changing to become more performance-oriented, sometimes at the expense of aesthetics and quality. Nike isn’t even the only athletic apparel company to have a see-through-pants scandal. In 2013, investors filed a class-action lawsuit against Lululemon, whose stock price plummeted after a recall on its sheer black yoga pants.

“You’ve had this evolution of fabrics,” said Todd Radom, who wrote the book “Winning Ugly: A Visual History of the Most Bizarre Baseball Uniforms Ever Worn” and personally designed the logos and uniforms for multiple M.L.B. teams. “They went to synthetic fabrics in the early 1970s. There’s been this arms race of getting lighter and cooler.”

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