Today, Yahoo! Sports launched ThePostGame.com, a daily magazine that will publish lengthy articles and reports on athlete style, sports technology, and a new blog called FutureSport. Today, Erica’s article debuted on the site. Take a look her piece on “Color Schemes:”
What gives a team an extra edge in a big game? Is it the athleticism? The coaching? The chemistry? Or could it be color?
We all know how Boise State University painted its football field blue as a way to draw attention to the school. It worked. And the team has won on that field – a lot. Since the dawn of the blue turf, the team has not lost a home WAC game, it is 77-2 at home since 1999, and Boise is now a national power despite its small size and budget. Coincidence? Maybe not.
The use of color – and how it resonates in the brain – is still a fairly new science, and we don’t yet fully understand its power. But color has long been a part of sports culture. We associate our favorite sports teams by hue: the Red Wings, White Sox, Cleveland Browns, the Delaware Blue Hens and Syracuse Orange (my personal favorite for obvious reasons) are among a few teams to incorporate color into their name. And the meaning behind color affects nearly every area of life: clothing, graphic design, packaging, food choices, etc. But color can also be a powerful psychological tool. It can be used to send a positive or negative message, encourage sales, calm or incite a crowd, or even make an athlete pump more iron.
In academic circles, this is known as semiotics – or, in other words, the study of signs and symbols. That includes color. Uniforms, equipment, team logos, and even stadiums all employ the “psychology of color” as a way to convey messages — whether they know it or not. This is similar to the way that the color of your car reveals a lot about you: your personality, your traits, and even how satisfied you are with your life.
So when we look at the connection between sports and color, what does all of this mean? Research has shown that women from the U.S., Germany and China find men more attractive and desirable when they are pictured in red. (I argue the same can be said of men, as women have long-known the power a red dress and some red lipstick.) Another piece of research found that referees are biased in favor of athletes who wear red. It has also been found that wearing red is linked to a higher probability of winning across a range of sports. Some years ago, a study of 56 seasons of English soccer found that, on average, teams in red won more home games than teams in other colors. Another report showed boxers dressed in red often performed better. Perhaps this is because our perception of red has an evolutionary basis, with our forebears knowing it as the color of blood, power and danger. Athletes may have a subconscious reaction when they see opponents wearing red, putting them at an inherent disadvantage.
Does this mean sports teams should wear more red? Maybe so. When opponents are equally matched, the effect of color can be enough to tip the balance in the favor of the team wearing red. As semiotics advances, maybe we will see NBA and MLB teams take after the NHL and NFL, in which the darker color is usually worn at home. But a disclaimer: when there is a clear talent advantage, color has no effect on outcome. Sorry, but there will be no color doping scandal.
As for blue? Some studies are now showing weight-lifters can lift more in a blue gym. In fact, almost all types of sports performance are enhanced in blue surroundings. People tend to be more productive in a blue setting because they are calm and focused on the task at hand. (This is probably good news for travelers on JetBlue.)
Does that mean Boise State is more calm and focused than opponents? Could be. Blue also fosters creativity, and we’ve seen what head coach Chris Petersen can do with play-calling under pressure. Of course the sample size is too small to make conclusions, so athletic directors might want to wait for more information before heading out to the Behr or Glidden outlet. And there’s really no viable response for teams like the Tulane Green Wave. But perhaps eventually Michigan should sub out its Maize Rage fan section for a Blue Crew. And maybe the Detroit Lions should paint Ford Field blue; they have nothing more to lose.
Either way, expect more and more teams to get an edge by wearing red and painting the town blue. Though be careful. Eastern Washington recently colored its football field red. With too much wear and tear, the Eagles may be playing on pink.
There will be more to come on the future of sports, so stay tuned.