Friday, April 21, 2006


October 4, 2003.
New York NY + Chicago IL-

Thomas F. O'Grady has founded a new sports and entertainment design and branding firm, Gameplan Creative, LLC.

Initial projects include brand identity for the launch of C-SET, Carolinas' Sports + Entertainment Television, and branding for the NBA Charlotte Bobcats (both for Robert Johnson, founder of BET Network), as well as the identity for the Arena Football League's Philadelphia Soul (whose owner is Jon Bon Jovi). Other early assignments have come from Big Apple Circus and Major League Baseball. O'Grady spent 13 years shaping the NBA brand, supervising the identity of 29 NBA teams, 16 WNBA teams and eight teams in the newly formed NBDL, the NBA's minor league.

Charlotte Seeing Orange

Charlotte Bobcats Unveil Uniforms

The Charlotte Bobcats today completed the franchise's identity with the unveiling of the team's uniforms. The unique on-court look includes orange as the primary road jersey with the Bobcats becoming the only team in the NBA to wear orange jerseys for all away contests. “Charlotte asked us to create a unique identity, and this is the final branding piece of our identity puzzle that makes up the Charlotte Bobcats,” said Ed Tapscott, president and chief operating officer of the Charlotte Bobcats, which began their identity launch on June 11, 2003, with the unveiling of the team name, logo and colors.

The Bobcats Orange road jerseys will bear the “Charlotte” wordmark, and the team will wear white jerseys that read “Bobcats” for home games. Both home and away jerseys incorporate Bobcats Orange with the team’s other colors of Bobcats Blue, black and silver on a side panel design. The uniform colors combine with the wordmark lettering style and its shadowbox effect for a look that is broadcast friendly and visually appealing.

“The new Charlotte Bobcats uniform is an exciting combination of classic NBA style and progressive detailing, and we’re looking forward to seeing it on court this fall as the Bobcats launch their inaugural campaign,” said Tom O’Grady of Gameplan Creative, LLC. Christopher Arena, senior director of apparel licensing for the National Basketball Association, which worked together with the Charlotte Bobcats, and Reebok as the architects of the Bobcats identity.

To assure players gain optimal performance benefits from the new uniforms, the design team incorporated features that offer flexibility, comfort and breathability: a wider opening at the jersey’s back v-neck allows more freedom of movement than other NBA jerseys do; hidden seams alleviate the chaffing caused by exposed threads; and diamond mesh fabric inserts on the side of the uniform allow greater air flow, keeping the player cooler.

Designers also sought to give players wearing the uniforms the benefit of moisture control and a sense of weightlessness. The predominant uniform fabric, called Shimmer, uses Reebok’s Play Dry advanced moisture management system that wicks moisture away from the skin to the outside of the fabric where it quickly evaporates, preventing the heaviness of perspiration build up. Additionally, kiss-cut tackle twill lettering in the team wordmarks and player numbers is lighter in weight than the layered lettering used by many other NBA teams.

Durability was a key consideration in fabrication. Both home and away jerseys have an insert at the front V-neck, strengthening a seam that typically is at risk to stretch.

“An NBA jersey has to last through at least 50 games a season, and the Charlotte Bobcats uniforms were designed both to endure the rigorous demands of the sport and to assure a player’s comfort,” said Ken Thornby, senior director NBA for Reebok, the exclusive uniform provider of the NBA.

The Charlotte Bobcats on-court warmup program completes the team’s uniform, including black pants for both home and away games, a Bobcats Blue top for away appearances and black top for home contests, as well as three shooting shirts – one long-sleeve, one short-sleeve and one sleeveless. The warmup shorts and shirts were designed by Reebok with color direction from the Bobcats.

Fans were able to purchase replica jerseys immediately following the unveiling, with replica jerseys available exclusively at Belk Department Stores on Saturday and Sunday, August 21 and 22, 2004. The newly-introduced replica jerseys will be available at various Charlotte-area retailers beginning Monday, August 23, 2004. Fans can also purchase replica jerseys online through the Bobcats' official team store

As part of the uniform introduction the team also unveiled its secondary logo, which is featured on the team’s uniforms on the bottom mesh side panel of the shorts. The mark features a Bobcats Orange side-profile bobcat head located within a silver basketball, outlined with the team’s Bobcats Blue and black colors.

“The secondary logo adds another impression to the teams’ progressive identity,“ said Tom O’Grady of Gameplan Creative, LLC. who was the lead designer in the development of the new Bobcats brand identity. “The secondary logo retains the unique profile of the Bobcats primary mark, but since it does not have the city or team name, it allows additional flexibility through all branding touch points.”

Showcasing the new uniforms at the unveiling event at SouthPark Mall were Charlotte Bobcats players Jason Kapono and Gerald Wallace, who also signed autographs for fans. Team mascot Rufus Lynx and the Bobcats Dance Team performed for the fans in attendance.

The Charlotte Bobcats will cap off their uniform unveil activities at 7:15 p.m. Saturday night in Fort Mill, S.C., when the Charlotte Knights Triple-A baseball team wears authentic Bobcats Orange road jerseys in a home contest against the Norfolk Tide. This is believed to be the first time in minor league baseball history that a team will wear an NBA jersey in place of its standard uniform top. Each player will wear his normal baseball number on his jersey, which bears the “Charlotte” wordmark. A silent auction will be held at Knights Stadium throughout the game where fans can bid on the jerseys, which will be signed after the game by the players that wore them. Proceeds of the auction will benefit the Bobcats Charitable Foundation.

Powder Blue Is The New Teal

John Lombardo, Staff Writer  
Sports Business Journal. Jan 24-30, 2005. 

The color of money in 2004 was powder blue, with the Denver Nuggets' Carmelo Anthony taking the top spot in individual jersey sales, according to totals compiled by SportScanInfo.

"Powder blue is the next teal," said Tom O'Grady, chief branding officer of Gameplan Creative, LLC. referring to the top-selling teal color of the former Charlotte Hornets franchise in the late 1980s. "The powder blue is a nice color palette, especially when you put it on an engaging player on a team that is on the upswing."

Anthony's Swingman style jersey generated more than $14 million in sales last year, according to the SportScan data, topping an Atlanta Falcons/Michael Vick jersey that brought more than $12 million in sales. Jerseys of Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James fill six of the top 20 spots across all sports. Sales of those six James styles account for $43 million, tops for any one athlete. SportScan tracks industry jersey sales in 13,000 U.S. retail stores. While it does not include in-venue or online sales, and sales at Champs Sports and Foot Locker stores aren't represented, the totals provides a snapshot of how fashion helps drive jersey sales.

The NBA and NFL hold all 20 spots of the top-20 ranking across all sports. Major League Baseball doesn't crack the list until a New York Yankees replica home jersey appears at No. 61. The NHL's top-selling jersey is a Minnesota Wild replica red jersey; it didn't register among the top 100 overall.

The black replica jersey of Philadelphia Eagles star Terrell Owens came in at No. 4 overall, but there are signs that black is losing its reputation as a fashion statement in sports uniforms.

"Certain teams like the Oakland Raiders and the Chicago Bulls will always have black in their uniforms, but we found that it was getting monotonous and homogenized," said Sal LaRocca, senior director of global merchandising for the NBA. "And the heavy graphic (logo) look is out, with teams looking for a timeless, classic look that in five years will still have appeal."

The experts expect that Anthony's powder blue jersey will continue to sell throughout 2005, but they added that star power still pulls sales along with any prevailing fashion trends.

"The light blue will sell for a few years, but fashion is fickle," said O'Grady, whose company's recent designs include the Charlotte Bobcats uniforms and those of the Arena Football League's Philadelphia Soul. O'Grady is the former creative director of the NBA. "You will see a big move toward Shaq and Dwayne Wade in Miami," he said, "and the Lakers' never go out of fashion."

Neither does the No.23 of Michael Jordan, which ranked as the 19th best-selling jersey despite that fact that Jordan retired after the 2002-03 season.

"He's the exception to every rule," O'Grady said. "Michael will never go out of style."

I Love This Jersey

Gameplan Creative to Design Bobcats uniforms

Triangle Business Journal - June 20, 2003
by Erik Spanberg

The Charlotte Bobcats have tapped Gameplan Creative to design the expansion franchise's uniforms. Tom O'Grady will work with the team, NBA Entertainment, consultant Cary Mitchell and apparel maker Reebok on the uniforms. Final designs are to be unveiled early next year.

O'Grady says team executives asked him this spring for help with the uniforms. When Bobcats owner Robert Johnson and Chief Operating Officer Ed Tapscott were working on nickname and logo designs, O'Grady recommended orange as a primary color. The Bobcats liked the idea and introduced their orange-dominated logo last week. It didn't hurt that Bob Johnson attended both Illinois and Princeton, both of whem feature orange in their colleagiate color schemes.

'Let's just say that we did our homework on Mr. Johnson's fabled background and this stood out as a motivating factor." said Gameplan Creative Founder and Chief Executive Officer Tom O'Grady.

As with the nickname and logo -- which cost $100,000 to conceive and develop -- uniforms require extensive research and investment. Tapscott declines to disclose specific costs.

"There are so many factors," he says. "Does it look good on TV? Do the colors and the fabrics go together? Can it be mass-produced for jersey sales? It's not just slapping a logo on a shirt."

O'Grady and the team have agreed on white uniforms at home and orange ones for road games. The hard work remains: choosing a traditional or futuristic style, deciding what name goes on the front (Charlotte or Bobcats) and selecting the lettering, weight of fabric, V-neck or crew neck, and more.

For now, most of the work centers on O'Grady's sketches being converted to mock uniforms by Reebok Team Outfitting, the official apparel and merchandise partner of the NBA.

O'Grady, worked at the NBA for 13 years, designing uniforms for the New York Knicks, Phoenix Suns, Milwaukee Bucks, Atlanta Hawks, Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors, Vancouver Grizzlies and all the WNBA team uniforms including the WNBA Charlotte Sting. When suppliers such as Nike and Reebok began making jerseys and shorts, the companies focused on more absorbent fabrics and lightweight materials.

"You have to have that, but you also want a little something different," O'Grady says. "That's where Gameplan Creative steps in."

Old School NBA-New Look Sixers

With sports merchandising accounting for huge revenues, the Philadelphia 76ers shoot for an updated patriotism in their team identity.

By Poppy Evans

Sports team logos used to do little more than identify a team and promote fan support. But with the current popularity of licensed athletic wear, team logos now play a vital role in the sales of Starter jackets, replica jerseys, and other licensed merchandise.

National Basketball Association Vice President and Creative Director Tom O'Grady recognized the revenue potential in a well-designed, contemporary logo for the Philadelphia 76ers when redesigning the team's identity. Their existing logo, designed long before team athletic wear became a trend, needed to be revitalized with the energy and punch typical of contemporary team logos.

A patriotic theme

"We began with an all possibilities approach," said O'Grady. "The Sixers wanted us to explore a wide range of possibilities." The process included about 40 pencil sketches of design concepts in stride with the patriotic theme of the 76ers. The ideas covered a broad spectrum of stylistic approaches, from historic to contemporary, and incorporated a variety of visual references, including the Philadelphia skyline, a number of patriotic motifs, and basketball imagery.

After considering all concepts, the final selection was narrowed down to a typographic approach that incorporated the 13 stars of the existing logo. The 76ers ultimately were looking for something simple and classic.

But before it was finalized, the selected design went through many changes. "As in the case of many other identities, we worked for weeks on refinements of the original concept," said O'Grady.

New owners, more tweaking

More fine-tuning came when the 76ers' ownership changed. Black was added to the logo's color scheme to meet new President Pat Croce's vision of a bolder, more contemporary look for the team. The logo was also streamlined by eliminating its 13 stars. But in the final stages of development, O'Grady and his teams reintroduced a single star into the design. "I felt it needed something that linked it to the past and the patriotic meaning of the name," he said.

The Sixers new logo has accomplished more than providing a slick new motif that rides well on NBA-licensed merchandise. "There are so many other benefits — fan interest, even player interest," he points out. "Projecting a positive, cool image on the field or court also helps recruit talented players. It makes your team a much more appealing commodity to a very broad audience."

The History Of The New York Knickerbockers

Nice article to learn about the History of the NY Knickbockers.

The Making of a Name (and Logo)

The Making of a Name (and Logo)

By Darren Rovell

Chris Weiller's office was plastered with paper in every nook and cranny, save for the windows. Piece after piece of 8-by-111⁄2 sheets with names written on them, others sheets with renderings -- yellow Post-it notes drawing attention to particular features -- serving as wallpaper.

No, Weiller isn't an FBI agent trying to track down one of the most wanted criminals. He's actually an NBA executive who led the search to come up with an identity for the league's most recent expansion franchise.

The names were possible team names. The drawings were the logos of every NBA and WNBA team in existence.

Seeing the Charlotte Bobcats' shield for the first time signified a beginning for the 7,000 people that witnessed the graphical unveiling of Charlotte's new NBA franchise last June. But to Weiller, and others who made up the franchise's identity team, the public rollout signaled the end of a long and tiresome process that collectively spanned thousands of hours of work and hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The act of creating a professional sports team name and logo from scratch is an extremely intricate process that is made up of half whim and half science. It involves taking a bank of names and a stack of colors, devising a system to eliminate possibilities and rationalizing favorites by opinion polls or focus groups.

The search for a team name began soon after Robert Johnson was awarded the rights to the NBA's 30th franchise for $300 million in December 2002. More than 1,000 names were suggested to the Charlotte Regional Sports Commission.

A two-inch-thick, three-ring binder of names was soon presented to the identity team comprising a mix of team executives as well as a representative from Johnson's holding company and designer, Cary Mitchell.

There were clearly some names that needed to be immediately disqualified.

Among the best of the worst:

* The Charlotte Shinn Kickers, named after George Shinn, the Charlotte Hornets owner who was despised in the community even before he and co-owner Ray Wooldridge moved the team to New Orleans.
* The Charlotte Bank Shots, meant to be a play on the large banking community that makes its home in the Queen City.
* The Charlotte Carolinas, undoubtedly the work of an evil fan trying to dream up one of the most confusing nicknames in the history of sports.

A first cut reduced the names to 85 and 60 more were eliminated in the next round. The identity team then worked with the commission to come up with the final 10, which were presented to the representative group of Charlotteans in April.

"Focus groups are often sanity checks to make sure that there are no unforeseen disasters," said Tom O'Grady, whose Gameplan Branding Group was hired by the team to steer it in the right direction. O'Grady had overseen the creation of many NBA logos as director of the league's creative services division from 1990 to 2003.

What the locals thought of these names was arguably more important than team names in other pro sports communities. The name would have to be accepted on the heels of the departed Hornets, whose name and logo -- along with their mascot, Hugo -- became one of the most popular sports brands from the year the team came into the NBA in 1988 through the mid-90s.

Before ownership and city had a falling out, not only did Charlotte lead the league in attendance year after year but the Hornets' fashionable teal and purple logo also helped drive business to a point where the team had the NBA's best-selling merchandise for at least two seasons.

"Most expansion franchises just need to get their name and logo out there," Weiller said. "We needed to create our identity, but at the same time, purge the old one."

Although the team was going to make the ultimate decision, the results from the focus groups were telling.

The Carolina Cougars were in the final 10 and members of the identity team felt the name had a good chance, given that retro was in and naming the team the Cougars would provide plenty of opportunities to flash back to Charlotte's ABA days when the team with that name roamed the courts from 1969 to 1974. The chance of a resurrection quickly died after team executives looked at the data. Not enough fans even remembered the Cougars.

Charlotte Flight

Another favorite on the list was the Charlotte Flight. When asked about the sources of local pride, interview participants often mentioned the Charlotte Douglas International Airport. "Flight" also had relevance because, as North Carolina license plates already boast, the state was "The First in Flight," thanks to Orville and Wilbur Wright's achievement in Kitty Hawk, N.C., 100 years ago. North Carolina is also home to some of the nation's largest military bases, which -- according to a recent report -- will contribute more than $18 billion annually to the state's economy. The nickname's relevance to the state made it one of the three finalists.

The Flight was joined by the Charlotte Bobcats, named after the animal that is commonly found in North Carolina and is known for being sleek and athletic, and the Charlotte Dragons, a fantasy-type nickname that received kudos among respondents.

Armed with the three possibilities, O'Grady's group started making logos for each. The identity team started thinking about colors.

Mitchell, who has designed clothes for LeBron James, Tiger Woods and many other athletes, suggested to the group that orange was going to be a hot, new color in the fashion world.

Since basketball is dominated by orange -- it's the color of the rim and ball -- many of those involved found it interesting that it was relatively absent in team colors, aside from the New York Knicks, Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns. Over the past four decades only a select group of teams, most notably the Knicks, the Spirits of St. Louis, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Suns, wore jerseys whose dominant color was orange.

It wasn't expected that Johnson would have any objection over orange. The BET founder studied at both the University of Illinois and Princeton whose teams sport different variations of that color.

Charlotte Bobcats - Proposed

Other colors for the logo were plucked from the recently redesigned logo of the Seattle Seahawks. The group borrowed the Seahawks' pacific blue and silver.

Although several team sources told that each team receives less than $5 million per year in merchandise sales, even on gross retail sales of $3 billion, the advertising value of a catchy expansion team name and logo often surpasses the value of a redesigned logo of a classic team.

"It's important that people want to wear the logo of an expansion franchise because it serves as an important marketing vehicle," said Christopher Arena, the NBA's senior director of apparel. Arena and other league officials typically counsel teams on designs, offer creative and legal help and do the little but important things, including making sure the colors would show up well on a television broadcast.

The Charlotte Flight didn't last long and it had nothing to do with the fact that there was already an NBDL team -- the Huntsville Flight -- with that name. The downfall had more to do with the fact that the war against Iraq had just begun and missiles were raining down on Baghdad in mid-March. Members of the identity team also thought the name was too abstract.

Had Michael "Air" Jordan accepted Johnson's proposal to join the team as an executive, the name really had potential. But the wooing was months away and Jordan ended up passing on the offer.

The Bobcats soon emerged as the leading candidate over the Dragons. Although more than 10 colleges, including Ohio University, Montana State and Quinnipiac University dubbed themselves Bobcats -- no professional major league sports team had ever taken on that moniker. The fact that the owner was called "Bob" by his colleagues helped, too. It would be the first time a league owner had his name in the team's nickname since automobile piston magnate Fred Zollner named his NBA team the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons in 1941. That team became the Detroit Pistons in 1957.

Charlotte Bobcats

With "Bobcats" prevailing, it was time to get to work on a logo. Weiller spent hours concentrating on the shape of the ears, which had taken on many different looks over the process. The whiskers that appeared on the bobcat on early versions were soon trimmed, due to the fact that the team didn't want any confusion between their logo and that of the NFL's Carolina Panthers, whose logo includes whiskers as a major part of their design.

The group decided that the bobcat in the primary logo would have a tenacious look, while the gameday mascot named Rufus would have more of a playful look.

The final touch? Adding some speed to the logo by putting the bobcat in profile. Almost all the NBA teams with mascots in their logo -- including the Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls, Memphis Grizzlies and Milwaukee Bucks -- feature their mascots facing forward.

The fashion world might embrace the Bobcats when their jerseys roll out in August. But those that worked so long and hard and sacrificed their office walls for the project realize the best determining factor of the logo's popularity over time.

Said O'Grady: "Ultimately, the amount of people that want to wear the Bobcats logo in the next couple of years will be directly correlated to the team's success on the court."

Bucks Logo and Nickname

ON JANUARY 22, 1968, THE NATIONAL BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION awarded a franchise to a Milwaukee group headed by Wesley D. Pavalon and Marvin L. Fishman. The group, called Milwaukee Professional Sports and Services, Inc., named Pavalon its President and Fishman Executive Vice President. The date of incorporation was February 5, 1968.

An application from Milwaukee Pro was registered with the Wisconsin Department of Securities for the sale of 300,000 shares of common stock to Wisconsin residents at $5 per share. Because the issue caught the public's fancy, an additional 125,000 shares were offered when the stock opened on the over-the counter market on April 24, 1968.

On the basketball side of the operation the team went though both the college and expansion draft under the watchful eye of the team's first head coach, Larry Costello.

All of these developments came about for a team that had yet to gain a moniker. That changed on May 22, 1968, when Milwaukee's second professional basketball team finally got a name -- the Milwaukee Bucks. More than 14,000 fans participated in a team-naming contest. According to the 1969-70 Milwaukee Bucks yearbook (which is now referred to as a media guide), R.D. Trebilcox of Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, was one of 45 persons who suggested the name "Bucks." His reasoning: "Bucks are spirited, good jumpers, fast and agile." Mr. Trebilcox won a new car for his efforts in helping to position Milwaukee's entry into the professional sports world with an enduring nickname.

With a name for the franchise in hand, Bucks executives went to work on developing a logo and colors. The majority of the task fell to John Erickson, who commissioned Milwaukee commercial artist Matt Kastelic to develop the team's first logo. The original logo featured a caricature of a buck wearing a sweater emblazoned with the letter "B" and spinning a basketball on one hoof while sitting on top the words "Milwaukee Bucks."

The original official team colors of forest green, red and white were in use since their inception in 1968 through the 1987-88 season, although red was removed from the color scheme of the uniforms for the 1985-86 season and beyond. In 1988-89 the club adopted various hues of green; forest, kelly and lime; with a white accent. The changes in color did not affect the logo.

Then on May 23, 1993 the club, coming off its 25th anniversary season, announced that Milwaukee's NBA franchise would be represented by a new logo as well as new uniforms for the 1993-94 NBA season and beyond. During the 1992-93 season a transitional logo was utilized which featured the original logo superimposed over a triangle with a ribbon-like banner carrying word of the 25th Anniversary of the club -- 1968-1993.

The new logo depicts an aggressive frontal view of the head and shoulders of an eight-point white-tail buck (a male deer) on a triangular background atop stylized Milwaukee Bucks lettering. The color scheme features hunter green, purple and silver. The three colors are currently utilized on all uniforms, warmups and other official apparel and gear, as well as on the logo itself.

Perhaps no single person was more instrumental in the push for new uniforms, colors and logo than Bucks Vice President of Basketball Operations and then-Head Coach Mike Dunleavy. One of Dunleavy's first thoughts upon signing an eight-year contract on May 12, 1992 was to upgrade the image of the club's uniforms ... to instill pride among the players and make them feel good about carrying Milwaukee's colors in front of a national audience.
Green was retained as a link to past accomplishments. Purple was introduced as a contrasting color and one that, while currently in vogue, will stand the test of time. Silver provides a perfect accent and serves to highlight the deep, rich hues found in the forest green and purple. A number of color combinations were tested before the final combination became reality. Dunleavy even scoured Milwaukee-area department stores with his three sons, to get a feel as to how the youth market reacts.

In making the announcement of a new logo, bucks Vice President of Business Operations John Steinmiller commented that "the new Milwaukee Bucks logo is intended to carry the organization through the 1990's and into the next century as an impactful and memorable identifier. It reflects the new look of the Bucks team and is in keeping with the goals of the NBA and NBA Properties for teams to maintain a current and powerful presence in their local markets as well as nationally."

The new logo was designed by the Marketing Department of NBA Properties, Inc., in an effort headed by Creative Director Tom O'Grady. "The new Milwaukee Bucks logo is an image of strength and focused determination," according to O'Grady. "The solid logo design, incorporating the powerful Buck, portrays a confident, cohesive team. It is one unit, an attribute of any good team. The Buck itself gazes steadily ahead, as if to accept any challenge that may lay in its path. The theme of solidarity is repeated upon through the physique of the muscular buck and the heavy block lettering. The unique combination of colors -- hunter green, purple and silver -- display a regal spirit of character. The combination of these elements serves to create an impressive figurehead for the Milwaukee franchise. The design of the logo is contemporary but not trendy, and should be a logo the Bucks use for many years to come."

Milwaukee's first professional major league basketball team was the Milwaukee Hawks, who played in the Milwaukee Arena from the 1951-52 season through the 1954-55 season before moving to St. Louis, where a fellow by the name of Bob Pettit led them to great prominence and an NBA championship in 1958. While in Milwaukee, one of the Hawks' backcourt aces was 5-10 guard William "Red" Holzman, who went on to coach the New York Knickerbockers to NBA championships in 1970 and 1973.

SUNS Best Dressed

The Suns' logo and uniforms are still among the best in the NBA
Best Dressed
By Brian Bujdos

SOMETIMES, TOM O'GRADY SITS IN HIS NEW YORK OFFICE and flips one by one through all of the NBA logos. That's part of his job, really, as the creative director of the NBA.

"When I look at the logos that might change now, and I've been here eight years," O'Grady says, "I look at Phoenix and pass right over it. It still feels very fresh today."

Very much a part of the marketing monster the NBA has become, O'Grady has redesigned logos and uniforms for 14 teams, including recent projects with the Nets, 76ers and Wizards.

Five seasons ago, O'Grady worked with Suns Vice President Tom Ambrose and others within the Phoenix organization to help the team design a new look.

"We felt by changing our logo and uniforms and opening the new arena, it was the closing of the first chapter in Suns history after a quarter century," Ambrose says.

Suns President Jerry Colangelo initiated the change. Not that the owner wanted to totally rework his team's identity. He wanted only to modernize the look that Phoenix fans had embraced for 25 years.

Once the Suns contacted the NBA, O'Grady took the lead.

"Jerry told us directly that he wanted something pretty timeless," O'Grady says. "He wanted to make sure it wouldn't be trendy or have a 5-to-10-year shelf life. That was a criteria we paid attention to. The first logo lasted 25 years."

Several dozen sketches were prepared by O'Grady and his staff, who then presented their best ideas to Ambrose and then-Vice President of Finance Rich Dozer, who is now the president of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

"We were continually trying to reduce the number of ideas and concepts into what we wanted," Ambrose says. "It was an evolutionary process."

The old Phoenix logo, designed by Tucson printing plant owner Stan Fabe, had beams that emanated from the right portion of the sun, appearing to point the sun in a downward direction. O'Grady was told to make a slight adjustment.

"We wanted to change it, symbolically," Ambrose says, "to have the sun going up, because we felt the franchise was headed up."

After a few more changes - putting the tail on the left side of the Sun, extending the tail, and adding a zig-zag pattern around the outside of the basketball - Colangelo and his counterparts were satisfied.

The entire process of deriving a new logo took about six months.

Next up were the uniforms.

"We wanted to take the key part of the logo," O'Grady says, "which was the streaking Sun, and put it on the front of the uniform. We manipulated it very quickly. We really mimicked what's in the logo without being identical. It came out very distinct."

In fact, it was downright cutting-edge.

"The Suns were one of the first one or two teams to use graphics colorfully on the uniform," O'Grady says. "They helped take that kind of process and technology to the next level."

What made the Phoenix uniforms modernistic was what O'Grady calls sublimation. That is the gradual changing of the sun's streak from yellow to red as it emanates outward.

"It took an extra effort on Champion's part to do the sublimation," Ambrose says of the club's uniform company. It's not difficult on a printed page, but it's tough to do it consistently on a uniform."

The Phoenix game jersey, which formerly had a Western-style look to it with the word "Phoenix" across the chest, now has the word "Suns" instead, with a streaking sun across the front.

More tidbits about the uniforms: the purple game jerseys the Suns wear are actually white when they get to Champion. Then, dyes are transferred into the material through a heating process. The word "Suns" reads the same either right side up or upside down. And, Ambrose's feelings that the franchise was headed upward were correct. The Suns reached the NBA Finals in their first season in their new threads in 1992-93.

The Sonics and Jazz also accomplished the same feat after changing their uniforms in 1996 and 1997, respectively.

These days, O'Grady says, Phoenix's logo and uniforms continue to be among his favorites.

"Looking at all the logos in the league now," he says, "the Suns are the one that will continue to stand the test of time. The design has been very successful. We feel very good about it."

The Geometrics of Sports Branding

"The Geometries of Sports Branding: An Interview with Thomas O'Grady"

Written by Gong Szeto

Filed in Gain: Journal of Business and Design.

Tom O'Grady

Thomas O'Grady was Vice President and Creative Director for NBA Entertainment. In his 13- year career with the National Basketball Association, his creative services group has influenced a generation of basketball fans as the NBA has expanded its global reach and mastered the diversity of media channels.

Why is sports branding important?

The NBA is a 56-year-old brand. NBA commissioner David Stern calls it a “living brand.” It’s a brand that, a lot like a cereal or a TV show, has seasons, with initiation points and finish points. We crescendo; there are highs and lows; there are periods of intense excitement, and periods that go slow and drag on. But sports are woven into the fabric of everyday life. That’s what I love about basketball and sports in general—that it’s a social currency.

If sports are so powerful in the global culture, why do we need design? If sports are valuable global currency alone, why do we need design today?

The game itself, when you break it down, is very tribal. My team is against your team and, after two hours, there is a winner, an end result. Design helps create that tribal experience. So your team is wearing red and my team is wearing blue; we each wear colors of our tribe or brand. It’s very primitive. You see people paint their faces with the colors of the LA Lakers and it becomes an emotionally entangled thing. As sports brand architects, we have to keep that in mind. When we’re developing a new identity for a team or creating a court for a team, we have to really become a part of that team.

Has the attitude always been that way? You mentioned that in the ‘70s the NBA didn’t have creative services and it was up to the teams to develop their own identity. At what point, and why, did the NBA step in to manage?

I think it was two-fold. First, we needed consistency standards. As the game grew on television it became more important than ever before to identify who those players were, so good design came into play to make sure number sizes and names were big enough, that there was enough color contrast during a broadcast. In the ‘70s, with the drug movement and pop culture movement, aesthetics kind of went wild. Some of the game broadcasts got a little tough to see with all of the wild colors; it was difficult to follow the ball with so many things happening. We know best what a jersey will look like, that some of these new materials don’t shine when they’re being lit in a certain angle, and what way the broadcast will look the finest. We have people in place here making sure of that.

“The game of basketball itself is very tribal. Design helps create that tribal experience.”

Were you responsible for some of the uniform innovations?

Yes. The long pants came from Michael Jordan, which is a great story. Jordan would get tired because he played so many minutes when he was with the Bulls in the mid-‘80s, so by the third quarter he would be exhausted. He would be doing a lot of this leaning over and catching his breath. Eventually he was starting to grab his pants, to hold onto them because he was exhausted. As time when on, you could see that by the end of the game his pants were long because he had just stretched them. He finally asked Champion, the uniform manufacturer, for more length in his shorts, so that he could hang onto his shorts. The next thing you know, the kids see the longer shorts and everybody’s wearing longer shorts. He created a fashion without even knowing it. It went out like wildfire, because number 23 was doing it. Kids today wear those wristbands because Michael Jordan wore wristbands. There’s a lot to be said for imitation as the sincerest form of flattery. So that’s how the long shorts started.

When did the design of basketball began to influence the street fashion scene? Was that the beginning or did it happen before?

There was a trend in general in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s of the wider, looser jeans and Timberland boots. Our NBA sports brand got hot in the early ‘90s because of MTV. The rap community embraced a lot of the wider pants and shorts and a lot of these jerseys. Remember Kris Kross? They wore all that stuff, all backwards. So that got very hot and the urban market gravitated towards that. They were already wearing basketball stuff just because they liked to play basketball, but it wasn’t part of the fashion category yet. Once the rappers really accepted that, they pushed from the sports arena into the fashion, and we saw business really increase in the early ‘90s to this place that we never thought it would end up—as part of the street culture. Our retail business really shot up. The basketball fans were really coming on. We had 10 years of Celtics/Lakers rivalries, Michael coming into the league in ‘84; there are some cataclysmic things that happened in ’84 that made a major difference in our sport. David Stern took over the reins of the commissionership in 1984 for Larry O’Brien, so there’s the first mechanism that took place. Michael gets drafted, and then around ’85, Nike signs a deal with him. They began to do the Spike Lee Air Jordan, starting a series of things that would happen to push our sport into this pop-culture phenomenon. And the key reasons are Jordan, Nike and David Stern—those three alone had a lot of impact.

How long do you think it took to get your group to a point where you could really feel the impacts of your efforts?

The first time I knew we had done something special was in 1992 when we played the game in Orlando. The tickets were looking good and I knew the feel was right. It had this Disneyland look to it. The first time we realized the impact of what we were doing was when the game started and they had an angle from the scoreboard, which looks down on the logo, and all of the sudden there were ten of the greatest players in basketball standing on that logo. The fact that sports are viewed by so many millions of people makes our responsibility a huge one—it means that our work is going to be seen every day, in every way and in every medium by millions of people as well.

How do you see the next decade? Do see some new ruptures or opportunities coming up?

As the technology evolves, as garment attributes change, as the rules of the game evolve, designers will react to the changes—anywhere from what the main garment looks like to what the geometry of the court is. We’ve talked about changing our lane into a trapezoid shape to be able to force players even further away from the basket, to open up those lanes like we talked about, which is actually an International Court. But you have to understand that guys are getting taller, faster and quicker. Will that 95 by 50 foot court be able to contain these athletes in 10 years? Will the size of the players get so large and so athletic that the constraints of that size detract from the game? We can’t predict. Genetics and natural evolution will tell us what happens there and we’ll react accordingly. If the scores start going to 150 and these guys just drop the ball into the basket, then they’ll have to raise the basket or make the rim smaller; these guys are too good now.

“The fact that sports are viewed by so many millions of people makes our responsibility a huge one. It means that our work is going to be seen every day, in every way and in every mediums by millions of people.”

Do you separate the live experience in the stadium and the televised experience, or do you try to think about them holistically? How do you approach it?

Television broadcasts to millions, so you shoot for the live broadcast. That is your red button. That’s the register, those eyeballs—six million eyeballs—watching the game. So the first point you have to get right, even if nothing else is done right, is the broadcast. You have to nail that broadcast.

Do you know Shaq?

I have met him. He’s as gregarious and friendly as you’d ever want to meet. He’s a nice guy and as big as a doorway. He is huge. I tried to shake his hand and you can’t physically shake his hand. You have to shake, like, three fingers. You put your hand out there and it just gets engulfed. He is such an unusual athlete; he’s the size of a horse.

What was your involvement with the Women’s Basketball Association?

The WNBA is a dream for a lot of us that have worked at the NBA. To be able to influence women’s sports and prove to nonbelievers that a women’s professional sports league could survive, we’re feeling pretty good about ourselves right now. This is our sixth year and we’ve hit our expectations.

It’s a basketball league that just happens to feature women—that’s the way we approach it. The same kind of care, attention to detail and branding go into the WNBA, if not more sometimes, because it’s still a little bit in the development phase. We’re not preaching only basketball, but women’s basketball: that it’s legitimate, that it’s exciting, with sensational teamwork, potentially better than the NBA. If someone were to ask me my highlight for working for the NBA, it would be launching the WNBA. I still feel best about that.

What lessons do you think the business world could learn from what the NBA has done in the last 10 years?

Brand to people. People are human beings. They are motivated by emotion and by spontaneity. They like surprises and yet they love consistency.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Retro Overkill In Sports Branding.

Look Back to Look Forward.

Old-school is new again at Mitchell & Ness, a sports specialty retailer that peddles authentic replicas of uniform tops that were once cast aside as passé, and deep-pocketed customers are plunking down hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars to sport the latest retro stylings of Joe Namath and Gale Sayers, Nolan Ryan and Magic Johnson.

It's been this way for Peter Capolino, owner of jersey-maker Mitchell & Ness, for almost two years now. He began making retro jerseys in the mid-'80s, but since he placed them on the backs of hip-hop artists and big-name athletes, revenues have grown from $2.8 million in sales in 2000 to $23 million last year. The company is on pace to double that in 2003.

I admit it. I am a throwback junkie. I bought a few cool Mitchell and Ness jerseys at about the time the throwback craze was at its' apex. I love Mitchell & Ness. And I love their products. But when sports chases fashion, sports is sure to be a season late and ultimately that merchandise ends up in the Marshall's clearance racks.

In 2006, the throwback craze is for all intensive purposes D-E-A-D.

What I continue to be amazed at is the amount of games the NBA continues to roll out Hardwood Classics Nights. I have to question why the need to look back so often when you're looked to be the innovator in marketing the game to urban America? Seems oddly backwards and speaks to a lack of originality. But don't blame the NBA as the only sports brand lacking originality. There's an epidemic of bad design work in sports design the past few years. I will save that for a later blog.

Recently, at a sports bar here in Chicago, the Memphis Grizzlies were playing the Toronto Raptors on DirecTV, and the Grizzlies were wearing the Memphis Pros throwback jerseys. I did a triple take to figure out who the Raptors were playing (since I am obsessed with this whole jersey thing) and could not figure it out until I saw the TV graphic MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES.

It then struck me. The NBA prides themselves on their branding expertise had actually lost one of their own. And wondered if I cannot figure out who the Memphis Grizzlies (Pros) are, how will someone who casually follows the game?

I figured the sale of NBA merchandise must be driving this since I had first hand information that the retro craze had driven NBA sales skyward in 2002 and 2003. So keep pushing it right?

Maybe I was too close to this thing, so as a good branding person does, I did some research and see if it plays in Memphis?,1426,MCA_475_4486553,00.html

I couldn't really tell what Grizzlies fans were thinking? Maybe they're still getting used to having an NBA team in their market so they were confused as well.

So I logged onto to find the Memphis Pros replica jersey because it must be the merchandise play and low and behold, there was no Memphis Pros jerseys of any kind to speak of? Hmmm? Then why bother.

My conclusion, the Leagues have taken a very good concept, such as the 2003 Washington Redskins 70th Anniversary Celebration jersey (which by the way is beautiful and still looks like the Redskins) see it here:

And run the whole throwback concept right into the ground. Too often for no reason just like the NBA example.

My fear is that more and more teams will look into their past when designing new team identities and instead of just using that as inspiration (except in the case of the San Diego Chargers who should have never dropped the powder blue in the first place), will copy it, and end up with some brutal hybrid version that will not be successful.

Would love your thoughts to the death of Old School. Is change good?

From Trich-

What do you then think of the Seattle Sonics logo redo of a couple years ago? It definitely has a retro feel to it, which says to me that it won't be in use for too long.And I agree with the overuse of the "classic" unis in the NBA. Seeing an Unseld era Bullets jersey now and again is great fun, but Chicago Stags? No one cares. I lost count of how many times the Bulls wore those.

From Tom-

Your Chicago Stags example is excellent. Name a Chicago Stag? Name where they played? I can't and I have been a long-time follower of the Chicago Bulls since the Jerry Sloan, Norm Van Lier, Chet Walker and Bob Love Bulls era of the early '70's. that's NBA Team Outfitting (Global Merchandising Group) overthinking another way to sell Swingman jerseys. No, it's doesn't work nor make any sense.

Re: Sonics retro redesign. I understand the intent...however the execution is poor. Not surprising. HADW out of Seattle did the logo and the uniforms for Seattle. They had NO sports branding experience which is another example of a high profile design firm who just don't understand what makes a great sports identity. As a footnote, Hornall Anderson Design Works (HADW) did the logo for Starbucks and Howard Schultz, yes that Howard Schultz... owner of Starbucks. There's the connection.

Thanks for your e-mail.


Charlie Finley and the Swingin' A's

Sports Branding Society

#2. "What Good Sports Branding Is". Case Study #1.

The Swingin' A's.
contributed by Tom O'Grady.

White Spikes. Handbar mustaches. Charlie Finley. Alternate yellow vested jerseys. The Mule. REGGIE. Campy. Vida. Mudcat. Catfish. Rollie. Bando and on and on and on.

The 1972, '73 and '74 World Champion Oakland A's were the essence of colorful cool.

No shoe deals. No dri-fit anything. No excuses. No overpaid marketing guys making up empty "BillyBall" taglines. The A's just won and they won hard. Brawling in the lockerroom was a way to express their love and affection for winning. They had each other's back. Dissentation as a way to keep players on their toes. The beauty of it all.

The essence of the success of the Oakland A's baseball dynasty was rooted in mission at hand, be better than the other guys in every way.

Here's to the colorful early '70's Oakland A's and what they stood for. Props to you Dick Williams. Check out this great site on the visual history of the Philadelphia/KC/Oakland

I think the Oregon Ducks are this millennium's Charlie Finley's Oakland A's...

I have heard some negative press written about the Oregon Ducks uniforms? Sure, they're a bit unusual but let's face it, they get fans of the Ducks and non fans talking and I for one LOVE their designs. Good for Phil Knight and for the gang at Nike not to play it safe like so many other college and pro teams, Snooze.

Looking for other's thoughts on teams who looked cool while being successful?

Thank you-

Tom O'Grady
Founder + President
Sports Branding Society of America

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Sports Branding Society.

The Sports Branding Society of America has been established to bring a sense of value and purpose to sports and design.

My name is Tom O'Grady. The Sports Branding Society has three goals and objectives.

#1) .Define Sports Branding In Our Society.
#2). Explore Sports Branding in Our Culture.
#3). Critique Present and Past Sports Branding.

This blog will be a place where we will look to discuss issues in sports design and branding. I will provide different topics for readers and contributors to provide their thoughts and feedback about the industry. We will look for highly respected individuals to better the understanding of what Sports Branding is today in our culture.

Please feel free to e-mail me with topics and discussion points for this blog.

Thank you for your interest.


Thomas F. O'Grady
Founder + President,
The Sports Branding Society of America