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The Use of COLOR in Sports


tBBP

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Here's a topic I feel is way past due to de discussed at length and in depth.

I'm not sure how many of us actually think about this much, but I know I have--even more so recently than I ever have before. Maybe it's my artsy sense spilling over into my sports fandom--or maybe I been drinking too much of PANTONE's deep claret-colored virtual Kool-Aid--but has anyone else ever really just sat up and thought about the correlation between color and sport before?

If not...then let's take some time to jog them wrankles in our brains a lil' bit, eh???

I think what really touched this whole thing off for me was my first time ever watching any type of sporting event on a hi-def TV; it just happened to be this year's NFC Championship game. I've read and heard so much about how things show up much clearer and brighter on hi-def than on regular TV's (my broke ass can't afford one just yet ^_^ ), and after having seen that game, I now see what all the fuss is. And let me tell you...that yellow(gold) on the Packers' uniforms REALLY showed up in hi-def--as well as an annoyingly apparent disparity between the yellow(gold) of the Packers' helmets and the yellow(gold) on the Packers' pants. By contrast, the blue on the Giants' helmets REALLY showed up bright as hell, as did the red.

I say all that to say this: does a team's use of color really make them look that much better on the field than the uniform design itself?

This is where I pull that quandary from: so many threads have been created about what teams have the "best uniforms", "best logos" and what not, and I've always wondered if, in some part, people's opinons of what looks good are tied to the colors they are seeing. Here's one example: the New York Jets and the Indianapolis Colts have damn-near similar uniforms. One color and white. Straight-basic; no extra bells or whistles. (Or stripes.) And yet, to many people, one team will look better than the other. Question: how much of that is tied to one's preference of green over blue, or vice versa?

Let's take that a bit further. Those of us who follow uniform lineages know that many of the teams in the NFL have had very similar unifom designs at some point in history; many still do. (This is true of other leagues as well--I'm just using the NFL as an example here since that's the sport I have the most passion for.) Take the Cleveland Browns and those aforementioned Packers, for example. For the longest time, their uniforms were virtually similar. Same triple-stripe helmet; same five-stripe sleeve arrangement (somewhat--at least up til the early '90s); same pant-stripe treatment; same sock-striping treatment. Now, in this instance, even their numbers are similar--plain white sans outline/trim on the dark jersey; primary colored number sans trim/outline on the white jerseys. Sam basic look; two different uses of color. And yet, there are those who will say that the Cleveland Browns look is much better than the Packers. Again, I ask...how much of that is due to Cleveland's use of orange and brown rather than Green Bay's use of dark green and yellow(gold)? What about the reverse of that???

It's this type of thing that has had my brain wrangled for a while now. And I know that this type of examination holds some merit--the aesthetic appeal, or lack thereof--of a uniform's look, because for the longest, and even still today, some people absolutely HATED the previous uniforms of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, simply because of that creamsicle orange.

And that's just one point of discussion we have when examining the use of color in sports. Let's look at another angle.

In the days before the advent of color television, most uses of color were really nothing much to shake a stick at. But, during the 70s, as technology improved, and more people got more and more used to watching color TV, we watched what pretty much amounted to a color explosion with many teams--especially in the MLB (mustard-colored Pirates, bloodclot Indians--hell, how about the brown, orange, and yellow Padres--any of that ring a bell?). Some of that spilled over into the NFL, as well. (Again, those very same Buccaneers might well be an example--although that orange may have also had a little bit to do with "Florida Fever", or a tendency amongst inhabitants of the state to favor vibrant color, like me ^_^ .) That color explosion kinda leveled in the '80s, and then in the early '90s, we saw yet another mini-color renaissance in the form of teal and purple and Ericcson cellphone blue--colors that, up to that point, hadn't been typically seen in pro sports. And then, in the late '90s into the early part of this decade, it seemed the trend was more towards "dark, tough, angry-looking" color--in short, the black-and-navy craze that swept like a plague through pro sports--particularly the NFL (as most of us well know).

What I'm interested in hearing (or reading, in this case), is feedback from you all about this topic here--the use of color in sports, in particular the uniforms, since that IS the most visible aspect of a team. Has anyone else ever sat around and really just thought about this at all--or am I really that crazy? (How' bout it, Don...am I crazy here, or did whatever spirit that snuck up into you and spurned your obsession with colors find its way into me here, recently???) Does a certain color mix really make Team A look better than Team B and C, all other things being equal? Do people give more kudos to a team with a unique color scheme? Would the Oakland Raiders still look as good to some people as they would if their colors were navy and vegas gold? How about the Boston Celtics? Would the Buccaneers still look as good in their current uniform style if they still used the orange, red, and white of the previous era? What's the next "it" color to sweep through pro sports? (Somehow I think we've seen the peak of the use of baby/columbia/carolina/luv-ya/inset-whatever-shade-you-wanna-call-it blue in pro sports--but I could be wrong.) How about the next "it" color scheme??? Do nicknames and color schemes necessarily have to match? (Because we know many do not throughout pro sports.)

So how 'bout it, folks...what are your thoughts and/or comments on the use of color in sports??? Any and all feedback is welcome and GREATLY appreciated!!!

(I'll let you all discuss while I take something to ease the pain on my brain for a lil' bit... :wacko: )

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I would have to say that I would rather my team have a good colour combo and a bad uniform design than a good uniform design with bad colours. A good colour combo can make a bad jersey look good. But if your colours suck, than you're gonna look bad no matter how your uniform's designed. I also think that people's opinion's of colours are highly influenced by how the team performs while wearing them. Had the Buccaneers won a few Super Bowls in the orange and red then maybe the colours wouldn't look so bad. About the colours in nicknames topic, I think that if the nickname is official (the Minnesota Golden Gophers) then they don't have to nessesarily wear that colour of uniforms. But if it's a unofficial fan-made nickname (the New York Giants "Big Blue") than they should wear that colour. I mean, If the Giants wore the red jerseys as primarys then the fans would look like idiots calling them Big Blue. And as for the next trendy colour, I could see some teams trying two-tone colours other than blue (two-tone red, green, etc.)

And that's all I have to say about that.

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I don't like the color trends that terrorize sports. First, it was teal, then purple, then black, then navy, and now it's baby blue. It's the product of marketing firms grasping for whatever will sell the most merchandise, not emphasising the individuality of the team(or brand, from their viewpoint).

Also, in a perfect sugue into my next opinion, I also dislike when a team's colors don't match their mascot. For instance, the New Orleans Hornets. When I think of Hornets, I think of black and yellow, like most sane folks. Not teal and purple(which was just a blatant following of the color trends at the time the franchise originated). This particular topic doesn't irk me as much as the prior one, but it's still annoying. Take LSU, for example. At least they've got it half-right. Before being associated with the color orange, tigers were often depicted as yellow(to quote Jack Bruce from Cream:'Yellow tigers, crouched in jungles'). The purple, while my absolute least favorite color, works as a viable substitute to black in this instance.

Unfortunately, I've got company, so this rant will have to be continued at a later time....

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excellent read, bucco.

its something i never thought about but i think it goes back to personal color preference, colors we have grown up with and colors we associate with the team - past and present and team haterism/homerism skewing our judgement of ones teams colors against another.

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I don't like the color trends that terrorize sports. First, it was teal, then purple, then black, then navy, and now it's baby blue. It's the product of marketing firms grasping for whatever will sell the most merchandise, not emphasising the individuality of the team(or brand, from their viewpoint).

Also, in a perfect sugue into my next opinion, I also dislike when a team's colors don't match their mascot. For instance, the New Orleans Hornets. When I think of Hornets, I think of black and yellow, like most sane folks. Not teal and purple(which was just a blatant following of the color trends at the time the franchise originated). This particular topic doesn't irk me as much as the prior one, but it's still annoying. Take LSU, for example. At least they've got it half-right. Before being associated with the color orange, tigers were often depicted as yellow(to quote Jack Bruce from Cream:'Yellow tigers, crouched in jungles'). The purple, while my absolute least favorite color, works as a viable substitute to black in this instance.

Unfortunately, I've got company, so this rant will have to be continued at a later time....

I could be wrong, but it's hard to say the Hornets "blantantly followed color trends" with teal and purple. Purple, I'll give you, because there's a solid number of franchises who were using that color for a while before the Hornets started. The Hornets debuted in 88'... what team from the major 4 sports had teal before them? Nobody. The Marlins started in 1993. The Mariners added their version of teal in 1993. The Diamondbacks with their teal accents started in 98. The Sharks started in 91. The Jags started in 95, and the Pistons didn't start with the teal jerseys until 1996. Hell, even the Spurs LOGO with teal wasn't until a year after the Hornets were founded. I'm not saying that no one used teal in sports ever before the Hornets, but in my mind it's more accurate to say they started the color trend than followed it.

Anyways, I completely agree with spartacat - I'd much rather have a great color combo than a great uniform design. It doesn't matter how nice your template is if you fill it with pink and neon orange.

And I think, as coast said, that the colors we grow up with really skew our opinion one way or another. As a Mets and Isles fans, blue(including navy) and orange look great together in my book and I think it's an under-utilized combo in sports, but someone from a different region can disagree totally.

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I could be wrong, but it's hard to say the Hornets "blantantly followed color trends" with teal and purple. Purple, I'll give you, because there's a solid number of franchises who were using that color for a while before the Hornets started. The Hornets debuted in 88'... what team from the major 4 sports had teal before them? Nobody. The Marlins started in 1993. The Mariners added their version of teal in 1993. The Diamondbacks with their teal accents started in 98. The Sharks started in 91. The Jags started in 95, and the Pistons didn't start with the teal jerseys until 1996. Hell, even the Spurs LOGO with teal wasn't until a year after the Hornets were founded. I'm not saying that no one used teal in sports ever before the Hornets, but in my mind it's more accurate to say they started the color trend than followed it.

I'd have to double-check this to verify it, but the earliest example that I have of a team using Teal as a primary color were the California Golden Seals/Seals of 1974-1975 through 1975-1976.

However, you're certainly correct - the Hornets set the trend...they didn't follow it. Alexander Julian (the original designer of the Hornets' unis) brought the then-unused combo of Teal and Purple into the sports world.

Now, we can get into the arguement as to what the difference is between Teal, Aqua, and Turquoise...

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The worst thing to happen to uniforms in the last 25 years is the invasion of black into teams' color schemes which previously featured no black whatsoever. I figured the fad would last a year or three and quietly disappear. But most teams that have incorporated it seem to be hanging on--the exception being the Royals and to a degree, the Reds (who at least had some history with black). The Capitals, too, have come to their senses.

I look at teams like the Lions, the Mets, the 76ers, the Dallas Stars, the Knicks, the Blue Jays...well...I could go on and on....and it's as if they are ashamed of their history....not to mention good taste. Like a dark mourning cloak has been draped over their celebration of color.

I think it was my North Stars who started the madness in the late eighties when they inexplicably included black into their iconic green and yellow scheme. It looked like a blemish, a mistake, and I couldn't figure out what the point was. The uniform sparkled as is.

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IMO, brand identity is the right balance of all aspects. The Bills are an example of OK colors with bad application. On the other hand, the Bucco Bruce uniform design was better than their colors. The Bucs are also an example of an identity that needed changing more to shake their losing attitude than for bad identity.

I don't believe an identity needs to follow the color scheme as it appears in nature. I do believe that a sports league as a whole needs balance in the design, colors, etc used. One or two teams with light blue primary is fine, three or more starts becoming aesthetically boring.

Am I a fan of 1 color + white schemes? Yes, as they have a place within a 30+ team league. Am I a fan of them on their own? Not really, but it is about variety to me, as long as it doesn't involve numerous teams with alt sets.

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I certainly agree with the sentiments about black in most cases. Black is the reason why people hate the Lions alternate uniforms. So as far as color playing into our perception of a team more than the uniforms, I would agree. If you sat me down with 30 NBA jersey templates, 30 MLB jersey templates, 32 NFL jersey templates, and 30 NHL templates, I could do the colors for every one of them off the top of my head, but with less than half in each league except maybe NBA would I be able to get the major stripe patterns and wordmark placement, etc.

Your post was a very good read, bucco_b, except for the two times when you bashed the Packers. I say that because in my opinion, the color of a team can really show a lot. Whether on the nose like the Bengals or a little more thought-out like the Packers, colors should make some sense. I would like to especially note those teams for whom the colors are original... I believe each league should have a maximum of two red and blue teams, for example.

Is it the result of trends? Possibly... a quick look at the NBA would suggest that it is. In the past two years, the Bucks and the Raptors have made an effort to banish purple, the look of the 1990s, but another team (Hawks) went to red and blue. I remember someone posted a wallpaper where every team in the NBA Eastern Conference was red and blue and Western Conference was navy and yellow. Does anyone know why these colors are trendy?

So anyway, color stands out more than jersey pattern from memory, and certainly when you watch the game. Imagine dressing up for the big game or painting your chest. When you don't have team logo gear or any means of implementing the logo on your chest, you go by color. In my opinion, color is much more important than jerseys, and almost as important as logo (or look in any recolor thread on the board to see which you think is more important).

Overall, interesting post. You had some good points, and I think I addressed some and maybe brought up some more.

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Bucco_B, alway like your posts, and this was a great one and a great thread starter. Very good and astute observations.

I'm at work now, so I can't give all my thoughts and responses right away, but here is a main observation point:

I think one of the most prevalent reasons for the trend from brighter colors to darker colors (and adding navy and black) is because of adult apparel marketing. Back when I was growing up in the seventies, it was mostly kids who wore team jerseys and those alternating color sleeve NFL jackets from Sears. We didn't care what colors we wore with our Toughskin jeans. And adults didn't wear that licensed stuff like they do now. Heck, look back at films back then and in the sixties, where men wore HATS and TIES to games and coaches wore suits on the sidelines. Over time, us kids grew up but still wanted to wear our team's gear, AND dress codes have relaxed, and selling game gear to adults-- men AND women-- is a multi-million dollar aspect of sports. And--- safe to say-- it's a lot easier to wear navy blue on a jacket or polo shirt than one that's royal blue, a lot easier to wear black than Honolulu Blue, and hey-- a lot easier to wear black, pewter or even red than creamsicle orange. Pro sports are of course the key victims in this, because they CAN change-- colleges still maintain their schemes: Tennessee Vol fans still wear their orange, and as an LSU fan I still wear a purple windbreaker hoodie.

Time to get some work done. More later....

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Am I a fan of 1 color + white schemes? Yes, as they have a place within a 30+ team league. Am I a fan of them on their own? Not really, but it is about variety to me, as long as it doesn't involve numerous teams with alt sets.

That's really well said. It's exactly how I feel. To the question: Design, as a pure discipline, involves the balance of color and form into a cohesive whole. You can't create anything that is completely devoid of color and the symbolism associated with that. If you create a beautiful set of chairs and you paint them all white, it's different than if you color them glossy black or orange or whatever. Honestly, I don't think you can completely separate these two primary facets of design, though I tend to favor the form over the color.

Color is more important to the average fan, but as a designer, I think that the form of the uniform (redundant?) is its backbone. Great color choice does NOT save a bad form. Conversely, I think you can take examples of great forms and transplant great color schemes to create more great designs. This is not contextually universal, in my opinion, but uniform and fashion design in general happens to be one of the contexts in which color is 'interchangeable' so to speak. There's not a 'correct' color scheme for a uniform, but there are color schemes that work, and those that don't.

EDIT: I was going to post something in regard to modern fashion design having influence over the color trends, as well. Would you rather wear a navy blue sweater with old gold pinstripes or a royal blue one with bright yellow pinstripes. I think it's had a huge impact. I go out of my way to find brown and orange clothes that are subdued enough to wear to work or to fancier social events.

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Am I a fan of 1 color + white schemes? Yes, as they have a place within a 30+ team league. Am I a fan of them on their own? Not really, but it is about variety to me, as long as it doesn't involve numerous teams with alt sets.

That's really well said. It's exactly how I feel. To the question: Design, as a pure discipline, involves the balance of color and form into a cohesive whole. You can't create anything that is completely devoid of color and the symbolism associated with that. If you create a beautiful set of chairs and you paint them all white, it's different than if you color them glossy black or orange or whatever.

Not to be pedantic, but white is not "devoid of color." If anything, that's black.

Can't disagree that orange, black and white all evoke different sensory experiences, but personally I don't have any issue with using white as a team's primary color. I like two-color schemes; if one of those colors is white makes no difference.

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I gladly stand corrected.

Just don't get me started on the primary colors.... :P

I think the rest of it stands, though - black and white are legitimate team colors in their own right.

The Miami Sharks and that Cincinnati Jungle Kats (or whatever it was called--IIRC) squad sure thought so...

...And so far, 'preciate all the feedback. I really don't know how or why my mind got so bent up over this topic here--the use of color in sports--of late, but i reckon I ain't the only one. Guess it's like many instructors will tell their students when one of them says they have a stupid question, that being that only stupid question is the one that isn't asked, and that more than likely, at least one other person may have the same question.

I think one of the most prevalent reasons for the trend from brighter colors to darker colors (and adding navy and black) is because of adult apparel marketing. Back when I was growing up in the seventies, it was mostly kids who wore team jerseys and those alternating color sleeve NFL jackets from Sears. We didn't care what colors we wore with our Toughskin jeans. And adults didn't wear that licensed stuff like they do now. Heck, look back at films back then and in the sixties, where men wore HATS and TIES to games and coaches wore suits on the sidelines. Over time, us kids grew up but still wanted to wear our team's gear, AND dress codes have relaxed, and selling game gear to adults-- men AND women-- is a multi-million dollar aspect of sports. And--- safe to say-- it's a lot easier to wear navy blue on a jacket or polo shirt than one that's royal blue, a lot easier to wear black than Honolulu Blue, and hey-- a lot easier to wear black, pewter or even red than creamsicle orange. Pro sports are of course the key victims in this, because they CAN change-- colleges still maintain their schemes: Tennessee Vol fans still wear their orange, and as an LSU fan I still wear a purple windbreaker hoodie.

You know something...that whole point NEVER entered into my mind...the whole marketing to adults thing. (As an aside, in days past, people wore suit-and-tie, or more "business/dress" apparel, to most anything involving a ticket--look at the airine industry. In years past, it was seen as something of a "prestigious honor" to fly somewhere, and as such, people would dress the part...and I'm sure skyAA1 can vouch for that. So it's interesting that point was even brought up here.) Now that I re-read this snippet and really think about it, it really makes a lot of sense.

...to the question: Design, as a pure discipline, involves the balance of color and form into a cohesive whole. You can't create anything that is completely devoid of color and the symbolism associated with that. If you create a beautiful set of chairs and you paint them all white, it's different than if you color them glossy black or orange or whatever. Honestly, I don't think you can completely separate these two primary facets of design, though I tend to favor the form over the color.

Again...very good point. Which is why I brought up the like-uniform comparsions. In a way, that does kinda play into the last phrase of this snippet--form over color. Prime example: the Boston Celtics. Okay, sure, "green" is typically known as an Irish color, but what it, say, the C's colors were red and white, or, say, the Chicago Bulls' main color was blue instead of red? (I use these two because they're widely regarded as the classiest of the NBA uniforms today. I think, in part, the whole form-over-colro thing wins more merit when one considers the myriad uniform/logo recolorings we've seen around here, which only further proves a point Mr. Harrington made--some colors just don't work together.

Here's one thing I often wonder about, though: How many team officials are scared of trying unique color pairings as a way to either reinvent or revitalize their image? I mean...look what it did for the Buccaneers. Red and pewter. Never in a million years would ANY OF US have EVER predicted some marketing head would have ever thought to use GRAY as a team color in pro sports. But look how well that's worked out for them. And now we have the Phoenix Suns, who also use a similar hue. And I say that for this reason: in my opinon, the Utah Jass missed a GOLDEN opportunity to distinguish themselves from the NBA--AND pro sports--masses when they decided to rebrand. Instead of going for "unique" character, they went the "trendy" route and followed three other NBA squads with the two-tone blue thing--and two squads with the baby/columbia/insert-whatever-shade-you-wanna-call-it blue and navy. Can someone tell me why they couldn't use the "trendy" color--that being sky blue, in this instance--and pair it with PURPLE? How many times has that been tried before? (Maybe PANTONE knows something I don't, but I'd venture to guess absolutely ZERO.) You wanna talk about eye-catching? I think THAT would have boosted merch sales right there...and probably put the Jazz somewhere near or at the top of the list in terms of merch revenue. (Speaking of which...does anyone in here, by chance, happen to have data regarding merch sales for any teams? I'm interested in knowing how much of a difference moving to new color schemes has made in the amount of merch revenue for the teams that have done so.)

Now I understand in a sport as uber-traditional as baseball, we may never see color schemes any more "expressive", to say the least, than the Florida Marlins--but would any of the marketing heads for any of those teams at least be willing to try it out? Test the waters, maybe? (I'm looking at YOU, Tampa Bay Rays!!! :P )

Well anyway...let's keep this ball rolling. Anyone else got anything to add? Any and all are welcome to join in here. There are NO right or wrong thoughts, comments, or expressions here, especially since this whole thing is largely predicated on opinions, which cannot be proven true or false. :D

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Here's one thing I often wonder about, though: How many team officials are scared of trying unique color pairings as a way to either reinvent or revitalize their image? I mean...look what it did for the Buccaneers. Red and pewter. Never in a million years would ANY OF US have EVER predicted some marketing head would have ever thought to use GRAY as a team color in pro sports. But look how well that's worked out for them. And now we have the Phoenix Suns, who also use a similar hue.

The Milwaukee Admirals have done very well with their gray uniforms, from what I've been told.

(Speaking of which...does anyone in here, by chance, happen to have data regarding merch sales for any teams? I'm interested in knowing how much of a difference moving to new color schemes has made in the amount of merch revenue for the teams that have done so.)

I think most leagues guard the actual numbers pretty highly.

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Am I a fan of 1 color + white schemes? Yes, as they have a place within a 30+ team league. Am I a fan of them on their own? Not really, but it is about variety to me, as long as it doesn't involve numerous teams with alt sets.

That's really well said. It's exactly how I feel. To the question: Design, as a pure discipline, involves the balance of color and form into a cohesive whole. You can't create anything that is completely devoid of color and the symbolism associated with that. If you create a beautiful set of chairs and you paint them all white, it's different than if you color them glossy black or orange or whatever.

Not to be pedantic, but white is not "devoid of color." If anything, that's black.

Can't disagree that orange, black and white all evoke different sensory experiences, but personally I don't have any issue with using white as a team's primary color. I like two-color schemes; if one of those colors is white makes no difference.

I didn't mean to suppose that white (or black) are devoid of color or that either can not be used as a primary color. White and black are generally not my faves when it comes to primary team colors, but I have no problem as long as it's done right. What I'm referring to, rather, is the idea that however you choose to treat a certain form with color, it is going to mean something to the viewer, even if you don't intend it to (rarely the case, but still); you can't create anything that registers to the human brain as 'colorless'. Even a transparent balloon or plexiglass box has a 'color' about it, though it doesn't actually register a specific hue. They were really two separate statements that ended up next to each other and thus were placed in the same context.

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Something else I've noticed that seems to go along with the general "blanding" of sports uniforms is the less common trend of teams making their colors darker and more drab, then add a third, obnoxiously bright color in the form of piping. The Seahawks and Anaheim Ducks are the best examples that I can think of. Prior to the spread of high-definition technology, such schemes would never be considered.

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