More than 20 years after the NFL banned tinted visors from the game, they’re making a comeback.
On Tuesday, the NFL will announce a four-year partnership with Oakley to make helmet visors; players will now have the option to wear Oakley Prizm Clear shields, a lightly tinted visor meant to enhance visual acuity and spatial awareness in players. The visor, which the league has been quietly rolling out since the Pro Bowl, has a pinkish hue that sharp eyes would have already noticed this preseason, and the partnership adds a new logo to every NFL field.
“We really just got excited about a brand that’s so endemic to sports, but also one that’s a leader in their category from an optical standpoint,” Nana-Yaw Asamoah, the NFL’s VP of business development, tells the MMQB. “We’ve had rules around visors and what players are allowed to wear on the field, but we haven’t had any relationships there. Through conversations what became uncovered was that from both a performance and safety standpoint, there was a lot more that could be done in this space and working with a brand like Oakley could really take us to the next level on that.”
The Prizm lens was created with the intention of making the colors on the field pop. The football against the green field and the white hashmarks and sidelines should all stand out more to the player. The lens doesn’t take the place of corrective lenses (these are not medicated shields) but it does increase visual acuity.
Wayne Chumbley, head of Oakley’s Vision Performance Lab, provides a more scientific explanation.
“Prizm is a light-management technology. We can filter light in a way to leverage your natural visual acuity,” Chumbley says. “So we see colors—red, green and blue—naturally. If you can heighten your sensitivity in areas, it can create a lot of color contrast which creates a better depth perception scenario for you. So with Prizm clear, what we’re doing is we’re eliminating areas of color confusion.
“Between green and red there’s an area of cone overlap and cone sensitivity, and if we knock down that area of overlap, you actually see all the colors better.”
The league has allowed players to wear clear shields in the past, but the dark-tinted visors had to be approved by the league for players with medical exceptions. Asamoah says 14 players were approved for that exception in the 2018 season, and it’s unclear how many will get it this season.
The league banned tinted visors in 1998, with the exception of those few medical situations, for safety reasons. If, for example, a player was knocked out on the field, athletic trainers or doctors would have a hard time seeing the player’s eyes through the tinted shield, and there would be too great a risk to remove the helmet on a player with a possible head or neck injury. (Shields today can be easily and safely removed without removing the helmet.)
“Just going from a regular visor that we had before to this visor, I know definitely preseason playing night games it’s much better,” second-year Panthers receiver Curtis Samuel says, who’s been wearing the Prizm all preseason. “It dims the lights a little bit. It allows you to have a better opportunity to track the ball down. It just feels better overall. It’s clearer to look out of.”
But there was a secondary reason for the ban: marketing and branding.
“We’re kind of at a disadvantage from some of the other stick-and-ball sports in terms of being able to identify our players when they’re playing and really building their profile,” Asamoah says. “When they came to us with Prizm and what we could do together from a performance standpoint with our players, while at the same time still having an element of being able to see players eyes and finding a comfortable medium for everybody, it was a compelling proposition.”
Chumbley says this is the least amount of dye they could use to get the performance effects, and at first the league wanted the tint even lighter. The NFL relented when they got feedback from the players on how much their vision was enhanced.
While the players tested the visors on the field during the Pro Bowl, the league was testing fans off it. Asamoah says the league hired a third-party company to survey more than 400 people in three different models. The NFL got feedback from fans on what visors were too tinted and if the visors looked “cool.”
“We went through quite a bit to really tell the story of why this made sense,” Asamoah says. “It was from a player standpoint, a broadcaster standpoint, a fan standpoint and really telling a holistic story of one, why Oakley was the right partner for this, and why the product made sense and wasn’t going to do anything to take away from the game.”
The partnership also comes with a logo. An NFL field is a sacred marketing space, but the uniform is even more hallowed. Consider that there’s still no movement for an advertising patch on the jersey while several leagues are reaping tens of millions each year from it.
The most valuable advertising space in the NFL is from the chest and up, and now there will be three logos: Nike’s swoosh on the sleeve, the NFL shield (or this year the NFL 100 mark) on the chest and now the Oakley O on the helmet.
“With all the partners, the one consistent thing is they are endemic and true to what they’re being branded on,” Asamoah says. “That’s the real threshold that we’ve historically looked at with partners on the field is that they are bringing true value to the game and they are branded on what their product is. When we entered into this agreement with Oakley, with the value they were bringing to the table, what they were doing for our game from an optics and safety standpoint, the proof is in the pudding and at that point branding made sense for us.”