Sunday, December 03, 2006

Why Do Teams Change Their Identity?

I received a terrific e-mail from Pete B. in Toronto who posed the question basically asking why teams change their identity? Okay, great question Pete...

Hi Pete-

PB- I just wanted to say thanks for your columns on sports branding as I find them fascinating and inspirational.

SBS- Thanks for reaching out to us. I greatly appreciate your kind words and interest in our work. We really love this business (usually) and Gameplan Creative provides us a chance to develop identities for clients that help build their brand awareness and business.

PB- As a designer for a sports marketing company up here in Toronto, I’m always trying to seek out new avenues that provoke thought in designing for the big brands (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, NASCAR).

SBS- Yes, Pete, it’s interesting that a high profile industry like sports marketing and branding has pretty limited resources as it relates to books, materials and case studies on how marketing challenges are turned into strategic solutions. Tells you that a book on the subject might be a very valuable resource right?

PB- What is it that you look for when trying to create and/or design a sense of history of a team brand (ie. The legends of the Chicago Bears, the New York Yankees alumni, Boston Celtics legends)?

SBS- You’ve helped to answer your own question a bit on this one. Yes, digging into archives, fans/league/team web sites and sports branding blogs such as (run by Donovan Moore, the team identity and pantone savant in the industry is an ideal place to begin) or on boards like the Sports Branding Society is a great jump in point.

PB- Does your colour palette change at all from the teams colours or do you add certain colours to reflect history?

SBS- This can be such a long answer and watch how nebulous I can be depends...great answer huh? Really, it does depend.

No, you would not be wise nor being fair to the brand to change the colors of say the Bears (navy blue and orange) , the Yankees (navy blue and grey) or the Celtics (green and now a touch of black). Let me give you some scenarios on how teams go about changing their identities:

-1. New Ownership: (most common/See Anaheim Ducks and Anaheim Angels).
New ownership wants to signal a change at the top. Teams will develop new logos and uniforms and often colors. Does is break a brand identity and tribal chain link. Absolutely and by design.

-2. New Building: (See Phoenix Suns // America West Arena, 1992-93).
There’s an article on the archives on the Sports Branding Society about the Suns. Great way and reason to freshen things up. This is a great case study of moving a team from the 70’s to the new millennium in a change. One of the best identities in my opinion, ever.

-3. Break away from losing tradition: (New Jersey Nets 1995-96) Great change and very successful. New look Nets earned major kudos and the team began winning. Was it the new identity. Of course not. Did it hurt. Absolutely not. Cleveland Cavaliers is a case where the owner who wanted to sell the team, Gordon Gund, wanted a better looking identity before he sold. Like fixing up a house before putting it on sale and thus the wine and gold was re-established...and then along came James.

4. -Make more merchandise money: (Urban legend).
Teams share licensing revenues so if the Yankees changed everything, there would sure to be a spike in the sales of their new products, but since all 30 MLB teams licensing revenues, the Yankees wouldn’t see a dime more.

5. -Tweak the identity: (Celtics ideal case study).

Add colors to the primary, add a secondary logo and add alternate jersey:

Back to the Celtics. In the mid-ninties the team change hands but the tradition of green and the leprechaun was too strong to alter. So, the team tweaked the primary logo, added a Celtics shamrock (in a circle) secondary, and added a touch of black into an alternate uni:

Celtics original logo:

Was changed to this:

And our NBA Creative Services group added this as a secondary logo:

In 2005, the Celtics introduced an alternate jersey (hmmm? Well, we all have our own opinions)

I hope I’m being clear enough and yet not too imposing.

Again, thanks for your interest and I really appreciate your questions. Feel free to stay in touch.

Thanks Pete-


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