On Sunday, the Houston Astros revealed their first new uniform in six seasons. Learn how betting big on storytelling led to a retail explosion of cosmic proportions.
Baseball is back, and few fan bases are happier about it than those in Houston.
On Sunday, April 10, the Astros had one of their biggest wins in recent years — but it didn’t happen on the field.
Running up the score at retail, the franchise unveiled their 2022 City Connect Uniforms. Built from Nike jerseys, Stance socks, and New Era fitted caps, the new threads for the famed franchise made sales history, forecasting a bright future.
“It was a top-10 retail day in the history of the organization,” Houston Astros buyer Brandon Pemble told Boardroom of the instantly popular ‘Space City’ getups. “That’s including World Series games and Opening Days. It was unbelievable.”
Serving as the second City Connect launch to take place this season — the first being the Washington Nationals just weeks ago — expectations were lofty for Houston to hit high marks in sales. Famously, the Nats set a single-day City Connect sales record by beating the previous MLB-best mark by a whopping 58%.
For Pemble and his Astros retail team, surpassing that milestone was light work.
“We beat the Nationals by 300%,” Pemble said.
So, how did the Houston Astros rewrite the algorithm for selling new uniforms — days before their team is even set to take the field in them?
As it turns out, it didn’t happen overnight.
Failure to Launch
In 2019, Nike began a 10-year partnership with the MLB.
Following celebrated success in both the NBA and NFL, the Swoosh saw it fit to celebrate local flavor and expressive uniforms the same way in which they won when combining fashion and fandom in other arenas. Teams were briefed that the same City Connect campaign seen famously on the hardwood would soon come to that of the diamond.
Quickly, the Astros began brainstorming.
“We started working on this design in-house two years ago,” Pemble said. “In early 2020, we had our first brainstorming meeting. We asked, ‘What are things we want to incorporate into our uniforms and how do we make a uniform for the future?’ The idea of City Connect is to connect with our fan base, but also a younger fan base to get them engaged in the game of baseball.”
Citing success seen in the NBA City Edition program, namely the Miami Heat’s acclaimed “Vice” uniforms, Pemble and his team began digging deep into Houston’s history. The Astros themselves claim a famous fan base that ranges from Travis Scott to presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush.
From aesthetics to perspectives, the sprawling Texas city is as diverse as it comes. So, what was the common fabric that spoke to Houstonians of all generations and cultures?
“There’s an identity in this city of space travel and not being afraid of what’s unknown,” Pemble said. “Forging a new path. Anytime we’ve done something that connects to space and ties in where we’ve been? It’s been a home run.”
Since 1967, Houston has been known as “Space City,” a moniker that still stands 55 years later.
Birthed in mission by John F. Kennedy’s famous “We choose to go to the moon” speech at Rice University, the southern cosmopolis has long looked up at the actual cosmos as an inspiration for exploration. Decades before Jeff Bezos sought his own spacefaring shuttle, the city of Houston was home to stargazers of all backgrounds who aspired to take their dreams to new heights.
While NASA employees and civilians alike remained mesmerized by the opportunities of the infinite beyond, the Astros proved more than stellar for years and years on end. In the 1970s, the team took on the spirit of the decade by breaking out orange uniforms that still transcend time. By 2005, the city had put a team in the World Series and a man on the moon.
By the late 2010s, the Astros were regulars in the World Series and still every bit Space City. All the while, the team’s retail branch was setting MLB records, ready to take it all home with their first-ever City Connect collection.
Unfortunately, Planet Earth was facing bigger obstacles and the Astros were no exception to the stalls.
“We were supposed to launch in 2021 with the first set of teams,” Pemble says. “But with the pandemic, we weren’t sure what the season was going to look like. We made the decision to pull back and push it to 2022 with the intention of being one of the first teams to launch. This thing has been in the makings for two years.”
After months of conference calls, cultivating storytelling, and witnessing baseball end its 99-day lockout, the stage was finally set.
It was time to go big or go home.
Betting the House
For two years, Pemble and his Astros retail team had been planning for what took place on April 10, 2022.
The patience they endured only increased the faith they had in their product.
“We were really aggressive on how we bought because we believed in it,” says Pemble. “We’ve never bought a program this big. We’re buying more at cost than any other team has sold at retail in this program.”
Starting at 6 a.m., inspired only by a series of teaser Tweets and a deep trust in the Astros organization, fans began lining up at the Union Station Team Store — three hours before its doors opened.
Pemble bought on what was supposed to be a two-year supply of product. After yesterday’s record-setting sales day, he’s pretty sure it’ll only last one season.
“The results [Sunday] were ridiculous,” acknowledged Pemble. “There was a constant flow of traffic throughout the entire day. This just shows how big you can make some of these merchandise rollouts. It also shows how much your fans can connect to the club through rocking new threads.”
Fortunately for fans, the timing is good on all fronts. Starting the season 3-1, the Dusty Baker-led ballclub has every reason to remain optimistic on the diamond once again owing to their steady record of success over the past several seasons.
All told, the wait for Pemble and his team to put out the City Connect collection was over two years, but the feverishness on the part of the local fans to support their club in a way that was technically new but ultimately awash in familiar charm provided the perfect payoff.
“I don’t think there’s anything that’s gotten fans more excited about Astros baseball than a new uniform for the first time in six years,” tells Pemble. “It was all ages. Houston is known as a melting pot and that comes through in our fan base. You saw everyone from toddlers to people in their 60s and 70s in line buying City Connect swag. I think that speaks to the design of it. It’s fresh enough to appeal to a youthful audience but there’s so much nostalgia.”
According to Pemble, the current calendar from the MLB and Nike has Houston set to wear these new threads for up to three seasons while other cities stagger unveiling their new looks. As assumed, coordinating a color-coded story and a full line of merchandise that needed to align the likes of Nike, Stance, and New Era poses its challenges.
Thankfully, the success seen by the Astros on the field and at the register allows Pemble and his team more creative space than most franchises.
“We’ve built a lot of credibility over the last five years within our vendor community,” notes Pemble. “We’ve been great partners and we’ve executed big events. Having gone to the World Series three times in the last five years, a lot of these vendor partners have actually come to Houston and seen our operation. Building that trust and respect helped get a lot of these ideas we have accomplished.”
Over the course of April, Houston-area legends like Bun B, Paul Wall, and Simone Biles will be sent Astros Space City jerseys sporting their own names emblazoned upon them. Sunday, Houston Rockets swingman Jae’Sean Tate arrived at the final game of the season in his own custom kit.
While athletes and artists of all expertise embody the talent of Houston, it’s the diverse range of Astros fans that represent the depth of the city. For Pemble, seeing the community come together to celebrate their club and beam over new gear is as good as it gets.
“There’s nothing more satisfying as a buyer than seeing fans come in and absolutely lose their mind at what they’re looking at,” closes Pemble. “To be willing to spend their hard-earned money that your creativity came up with? It does not get better than that.”
It doesn’t get better than that for Pemble personally, and it doesn’t get better for the MLB historically, either.