CHICAGO — The NFL regular season is over and only two teams remain: the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots.
Most people are debating which team is going to win the Super Bowl.
Folks in the laundry and linen services industry, on the other hand, might notice that even after a full season, and playoffs, of grass, dirt and blood stains, the teams’ uniforms still have bright colors and gleaming whites.
That’s because each team has an equipment manager who, in addition to maintaining all of the other gear, makes sure a team’s uniforms are spotless throughout the season.
“The game uniform is where you really take your time to have pride in it because that’s what’s seen on your biggest stage,” says Chris Valenti, equipment manager for the Denver Broncos, which won Super Bowl 50 last year.
And it’s not just grass and dirt and blood. Some stadium field maintenance personnel paint their fields green to look brighter on television, which is yet another stain to deal with.
One might assume that teams have a new uniform for every game, and they do use special uniforms, like historic throwback uniforms, for special games. The reality is, however, they wear the same uniforms, either a home or away version, most games.
“That’s our job,” says Steve Urbaniak, equipment manager for the San Francisco 49ers. “So that every game, it looks like the players are coming out there in a new uniform, even though they’ve worn the same one for maybe eight games.”
While it seems like the state of uniforms would be the last thing on the minds of the players and coaches, it does get noticed.
“When I knew the head coach was unhappy that things were yellow, I worried about it,” says Allen Wright, equipment manager for the Kansas City Chiefs, which was just one win away from the AFC championship game this postseason. “I lost sleep over it. He had only been my boss for a month, and the first thing he had said was, ‘Why are things so yellow?’ To be able to hit a home run right with the very first thing that I dealt with our head coach was extremely important to me.”
Teams like the Broncos, 49ers and Chiefs use commercial on-premises laundry (OPL) equipment. Often, though, it isn’t the washers and dryers that create an issue with the uniform—it’s the chemicals used.
“We were finding our reds were fading really fast, and the whites started to yellow,” Urbaniak says. “We had to really struggle getting it clean. What we were using, it just faded again faster and the whites got dingier and yellower really quick.”
“The stains we get on the white pants are probably the biggest concern,” Valenti says. “It’s always been the bane, if you will, for me, getting those grass stains out of the pants.”
All three teams turned to the Tide Professional Laundry system to help get out the stains and remove yellowing.
“We brought in a few different systems, one of them being the Tide system, and we knew after we did the first load that there was a difference,” Wright says.
So, how does a laundry supplier like Tide Professional Laundry become part of an NFL team?
“The process for working with NFL teams is very similar to how we work with all new customers,” says Renee Buchanan, communications manager for P&G Professional. “We identify the top laundry and cleaning needs of the customer, in this case a professional football team, and then we set a meeting with the equipment manager to discuss the issues they may be having and what we can do to help.”
She says that in many cases, the company is referred by another customer (or team in this case) who is already using the system.
“The NFL equipment manager group is a small network of people who like to help each other out and often pass along recommendations to each other,” she says. “In other cases, equipment managers may contact us because they are having problems with their current products and/or systems and we come in to help them.”
Valenti says Denver has a “tricky issue” because the water at the Broncos facility is extremely hard.
Buchanan says the company works closely with the equipment managers to identify not only the issues, but how to ensure the laundry system works best with the material being laundered, taking into account regional factors, such as water quality.
“We create a custom solution for each team to keep them happy and help ensure the players feel their best when taking the field,” she says. “We are honored to be a part of the NFL, even if it is behind the scenes.”