Changes in UK blue don't change decades of passion

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LEXINGTON, Ky. – The love of the Wildcats runs generations deep in Kentucky. It hit a fever pitch during the school’s run to its eighth national championship last March.

And all that fan passion sent merchandise sales soaring of anything and everything UK.

"To be honest, it was almost like a second Christmas for us,” said Brandon Daniels of the Wildcat Warehouse, which stocks UK gear. “And it lasted well on into the summer and Christmas holiday. The second Christmas, so it was great."

Leeanna Webb of Fan Outfitters/"It was several Christmas' combined,” said Leeanna Webb of Fan Outfitters. “It was probably the biggest turning point in our company."

Royalties that UK collects every time a UK item is purchased jumped 40% to almost seven million dollars last year. Only the Universities of Texas and Alabama haul in more.

Jason Schlafer oversees U-K's athletic branding. “When someone makes a garment for sale with Kentucky's marks on it, the manufacturer of that garment pays a royalty to the university's licensing agent. That royalty is typically around ten percent of the wholesale value of that product," he told us.

Key to UK’s branding is the color Wildcat fans most identify with: that iconic blue. Not just any blue, though. Blue #286, to be exact.

In the early 1960s, the Pantone color matching system was developed so graphic designers and printers had a universal color chart to go by. UK’s blue is very specific: that #286.

But it wasn’t always this neat and tidy.

In 1892, UK students picked the shade of blue for school colors by choosing the color from a necktie worn by letterman Richard Stoll. In the decades that followed, the shade of blue changed. Former Coach Joe B. Hall remembers a blue so navy it was almost black, during the early Rupp years. Later the blue lightened up. Now, with the very specific color #286, it still doesn't make it an exact science.

“You could have dye on cotton that makes 286, but on polyester or nylon doesn't," said Jason Schlafer.

Through the decades the blue in UK has varied. We compared old UK blues from letter jackets in the 1950s and 1970s, to the blues in the Jersey for Demarcus Cousins. They had different fabric and a lighter looking color.

Different shades of blue, all worn by players who helped win a lot of games. In the end, that's a blue any fan can love.