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Brand Identity For A Sports Team

When sports teams unveil a new look, new uniforms, insignias, etc., they are almost always met with universal derision. This is because sports teams deliver an enormous amount of emotional benefit to their customers. Fans love them fervently. When people love a thing, they tend to want it to stay the same, always. But as soon as the competition begins, the fans remember what’s really important. They get involved in the play and quickly forget how much they hate the new uniforms. Until the next time they change. Some teams change their look every season so fans get used to an annual disappointment, however brief it may be. They would be more forgiving, I believe, if they knew how hard it is to design a team logo. It is especially difficult when the team’s design intentions go against the wishes of its league, which is almost always the case.

Sports, played at almost any level, are now multi-billion dollar industries. The people who run sports leagues know the importance of branding. They want their league to have a recognizable brand identity. They want fans to see a team’s logo and recognize it as an NFL logo, or an NBA logo or and NHL logo. To that end the logos need to fit into the family of league logos. There has to be a certain sameness to them so that they can be seen as a family of teams.

Conversely, individual teams want to express … their individualism. The Padres want to look like Padres. The Pirate want to look like Pirates. Padres and Pirates don’t have much in common. If you were designing logos for those two baseball teams, and could put aside league considerations and baseball traditions, you would end up with two logos that were as stylistically different as could be.

I’m not saying teams and leagues always go to war over design issues. But their interests in the designs are almost never in alignment. So the designer has to serve both masters. It’s hard to achieve design excellence in such conditions.

Ask Boardwalk to design a brand identity
that will make your market cheer.

Another difficulty in forming a strong brand identity happens when teams ditch one city for another. The Los Angeles Lakers has a name that makes no sense. That is until you realize they came from Minnesota, a state known as the “Land of 1000 Lakes”. So the name Lakers made sense when they were in Minnesota but is ridiculous in LA. Same story with the Los Angeles Dodgers. They used to be the Brooklyn Trolley-Dodgers. Trolley-Dodgers made sense when they were located in a city where pedestrians lived in constant terror of its public transit system. Now, Dodgers and Lakers both are pure abstractions. They make about as much sense as Apple Computers. But after decades of success in LA, those two teams, and their nonsensical names, are beloved by millions. Again, just like Apple.

Team identities make the most sense in international play. In the Olympics and the World Cup, for example, teams represent countries and can draw upon their national colors and symbols to create distinctive uniforms. These uniforms make sense in that they identify the team or athlete as well as express national pride.

In 1905, the New Zealand national rugby team did a tour of Europe. That year they decided to wear black uniforms. When they played in England, local sports writers referred to them as the “All Blacks”. That name and uniform color has been with them ever since.

And, while we’re on the subject of team identities, can we finally do away with racist imagery? It’s really past time for teams like the Redskins and the Indians to get new names and iconography. I don’t buy the arguments against making the change. I know there is tradition behind these teams. I know people have collected a lot of memorabilia. But hundreds of high schools and college teams had similar traditions that were just as strong. They all dispensed with their racist identities and, sure, there was some public outcry. But, once the teams got out on the field, the outrage was replaced by team spirit and everybody got back to rooting for the team. After all the arguments and hand-wringing over changing the brand identity, it turned out to be not a very big deal at all.


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