Some thoughts on Sports Branding

I love sports branding & identity. When a team announces the release of a rebrand, I get anxious. I want to see it right then. Some people could care less. We've all heard the people that say, "I don't care what they wear or look like as long as they win." From a pure fan's perspective, I guess that works. But for the organization, does it?

Why does Sports Identity matter? 

I really wish I could give you a simple, one sentence answer to this. So many factors are involved. In my opinion, the top 3 factors involved in sports identity are purpose, representation, & marketability. I wanted to get my thoughts together on all of these components on virtual paper. So, indulge me, if you will.


What is the purpose of a rebrand? To create a better looking logo system? To create consistency for an entire athletic department? To give the team a "Fresh Start?" To update the dated look? To generate some new sales of merchandise? Truth is, all of these could be reasons to rebrand, along with others, but typically would not be feasible unless it solves a few of these issues. As a graphic designer, it's easy to say that we make stuff look good, but a lot of problem solving goes into that. It's not just aesthetics, it's determining a way to fit a bunch of information/emotion/etc into a clean, distinguishable piece of art. 

If a team decides to rebrand, they're making a commitment to themselves and the designer to completely buy in to a new or updated look. This is a big step, and unless the team is relocating, runs the risk of a fan backlash. That is where the importance of the representation & marketability of the new brand make their entrance into the equation. 


The representation factor of sports identity is to distinguish itself & establish a connection with alumni/fans/university/etc. Many times, the same mascots are used from team to team, school to school, etc., but let's just call it "team" for now. How does one "Panthers" team distinguish itself from another? There are 4 "Tigers" in the Southeast in the FBS that I can think of just off the top of my head, yet each of them have their very own, distinguishable look. On the flip side, there are teams that have a unique mascot from the start that it pretty much distinguishes itself (ex: Notre Dame Fighting Irish, South Carolina Gamecocks, etc).

Establishing a connection to the fans/alumni/university, etc. is another way of distinguishing itself from other schools, while also engaging the fan in a way unique to the school. Incorporating a visual feature from a past championship or historic team, using regional or cultural features, or any other way to legitimately tie something visually unique to the team. Using terminology that could be used for any team or is irrelevant to the brand is utterly (pardon my language) bullshit. Using a rectangular shape and claiming that it is relevant because it's the shape of a basketball court is one example of this b.s. (some of you will get that reference).


Before we get started in this section, lets be completely honest with ourselves. Everything said above in the "Representation" section can be tossed out the window if the look of the brand is bad. 

So, maybe you're asking now, then why the hell did I waste my time reading all of that if it's useless. Here's why - a visually pleasing brand is only enhanced by the representation aspect. I seriously geek out when I find an "easter egg" in a new/updated brand that represents a historical reference or something unique to the school. 

Another reason that marketability is very important is that the team expects to make serious cash off of the rebrand. That's just the nature of the business. If there is not a visually appealing new logo system/word marks, why would a fan spend their hard earned money on a new shirt or hat to represent their team? Bad looking brands could only sell if it's been in use for a long period of time and there is a nostalgic feeling brought on by it. Still, some are so ugly that they won't sell either way (The Detroit Tigers have a few of these). 

Basically, if your brand looks like crap, no other factors are going to help it out. 

Obviously, that's a very brief synopsis on my feelings. If you've made it this far into my rambling, I sincerely appreciate it. To close out, I wanted to share a few of my favorite brands out there today. Enjoy & thanks again for visiting!