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.

http://espn.go.com/sportsbusiness/s/2003/0206/1504983.html

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?

http://www.commercialappeal.com/mca/grizzlies/article/0,1426,MCA_475_4486553,00.html

http://citizen.commercialappeal.com/theedge/2006/02/throwback_unis_thumbs_up_or_do.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 NBA.com 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:

http://images.google.com/images?hl=en&lr=&q=washington%20redskins%2070th%20anniversary%20jersey&btnG=Search&sa=N&tab=wi

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?

Tom
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
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.

Tom

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

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 track of how many times the Bulls wore those.

rtrich

trich said...

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 track of how many times the Bulls wore those.