Saturday, November 24, 2007

"Minor League" Looks. Minor League Design/ Part 2

Reading Phillies.
Sponsored by Toys 'R' Us.

I have never really been sure of the purpose of bad design as the norm in Minor League Baseball, but thought that after following the design of many amateuristic looking minor league designs the past ten years, it was time to blog on the subject, Again.

Does a product marketed to families and kids have to look "juvenile"?

I suppose that somewhere, the head marketing guru or licensing exec for Minor League Baseball has sales results that confirm that when a minor league team changes it's logo and merchandise, there are increased sales. But that's simply common sense. When a product (like cars for instance) rolls our their new lines annually, the public senses new, different and improved. Or at least I assume that's why the big automakers ascribe to the need for change.

Somewhere, Minor League baseball saw the need to dumb down and design to an audience of 8-year olds. I completely can understand the logic. The Happy Meal of Major League Baseball would certainly be a proper analogy.

I don't agree. So I decided to take action and see what gives?

I've reached out to a smart and nice gentleman named Brian Engle at MiLB a few years ago.

I introduced Gameplan Creative and the work we've done over the years for the NBA, AFL, MLB and other large sports properties. Brian was both cordial and impressed. Brian explained that Minor League Baseball has established a "preferred" design vendor network of four firms.
Whoops! That was the first indication of a serious process flaw. Because unless there was a real difference in the firms participating, this Disney-like, busy, overdrawn style would reign supreme. But I persisted and asked if we might be considered for a fifth slot. Seemed like we'd have little chance because there's only over 120 teams total in the minors and how often do they change their identity after all. A numbers game?

He asked us to send a capabilities presentation to him and he would be in touch.

A few weeks passed and when I reached out to Brian he confirmed that yes, Minor League Baseball would use their network of vendors. One of the designer actually, Todd Radom, is one of the most talented and relevant logo designers in all of sports. And he has been used once for the Brooklyn Cyclones identity. Evidence that in fact a minor league identity can look professional. The other firms have really talented "illustrators' but none with a deep understanding of "team branding" nor a grasp of performance attributes in the uniform design process athletes need.

A look at the new Reading Phillies identity provides ample evidence of a Toys 'R' Us style lettering font hooked into a overly beveled star icon. I simply think it's bad design compounded by a late '80s font (see the Orlando Magic design from 1988).

My summation: "Minor League" does NOT have to be taken literally. MiLB, try something different and create a "Major League" look to a minor league brand. You might be surprised how effective, fresh and PROFESSIONAL it looks!


The Tampa "Identity DuJour " Devil Rays.

Rays Pleased with New Look.
Players and coaches alike praise updated color scheme.

This blog has a lot of personal interest for Gameplan Creative. Heck, their new TB hat design was originally by our firm back in March of 2003! Look for a case study soon on our updated web site. If you ever want to see the work-ups we developed, I'd be glad to send you a link to the work. Some pretty cool stuff.

But onto a bigger question?

Do the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Tampa Bay Rays, Florida Rays or whatever their latest name have any brand value as a professional sports franchise?

Well, not yet. But that's not a bad thing if your the DuJour Rays.

Fundamentally changing your identity ever three or four years would seem to be an expensive,
inconsistent and consumer confusing process in any business. I mean changing the Coke logo or the Apple mark over and over and over would destroy a corporate organization's brand recognition and trust.

However, in the case of the Devil Rays, a team only entering its' 11th year of existence, you have little to no down side to change because you do not have any established identity, players nor traditions (except for change) to speak of and thus continually changing your outfit brings new opportunities to someday "get it right".

Teams like the San Diego Padres, Houston Astros, Toronto Blue Jays and now the D-Rays have made numerous changes to their original identities. Collectively, you have One World Series Championship to speak of in 120 some years of on-field competition. So there's really no turning the teams back on great teams or winning traditions.

So have fun Tampa, and change like the wind. What's the downside afterall? A losing season?