Sports jerseys hit on fashion trends more and more, but the University of Central Florida added some functionality to its football team’s spring game garb: QR codes.
The UCF Golden Knights took the field Saturday in jerseys that swapped out the traditional player numbers on the back for QR codes unique to each player. When scanned, each QR code linked to player bios, their social media accounts and, most interestingly, player-branded merchandise.
The move is the second time in as many years that the UCF football team has leaned into alternative identity markers on spring game jerseys. Last year, the team put players’ Twitter handles on their jerseys in place of their last names.
Both choices were characterized by head coach Gus Malzahn as opportunities to lean into the school’s high social media engagement metrics. According to sports digital strategy firm SkullSparks, UCF ranked first among FBS level college athletics departments in social media interactions in Florida last year. The Orlando-area school ranked 12th nationwide.
“We wanted to be the school that embraced it,” Malzahn told Sports Illustrated. “We are a school that can fully embrace it — the young school, social media. It fits with us.”
Social media interactions themselves aren’t an inherently important metric beyond fan engagement, but the implementation of new NCAA rules that allow players to profit off their name, image and likeness (that NIL every college sports fan is talking about) gives those measurements added importance.
A University of Vermont survey found that 72% of commercial NIL activity is derived from social media. Platforms like Instagram, Twitter and TikTok present NCAA athletes with multiple avenues to make money from their likeness, ranging from content creation and influencer deals to brand promotion.
That same survey noted that 40% of all current NIL deals involve NCAA football players, making it advantageous to find new ways to direct eyeballs and wallets to an individual player’s social media presence. UCF noted that these QR code jerseys were only meant for its spring game, as the design likely would clash with the NCAA guidelines governing the displaying of jersey numbers, but the idea is an ingenious one that could herald future jersey design.
In the same way corporate sponsors feature on soccer, NBA and WNBA jerseys, smaller QR codes or some equivalent stitched onto jerseys could be the next step for college athletes looking to promote and build their own personal brands online. It isn’t like college sports programs have shown fear in developing eye-catching features that buck the trend.