Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Quite Possibly The Coolest Hockey Uniform Ever

By Bowen Hobbs

On Sunday, Canada had their version of the Winter Classic: the Heritage Classic. The Montréal Canadiens were in Calgary to play the Flames. Both teams wore throwback inspired uniforms, with the Habs wearing a design a throwback to their mid-70s-to-mid-90s look (the only difference being the outline on the numbers). Calgary, on the other hand, based their uniforms on the Calgary Tigers of the Western Canada Hockey League. The striping is from the Tigers, but is paired with a deeper red and the Flames' athletic gold. In fact, their were quite a few nifty design nuances on the Flames' 2011 Heritage Classic uniforms:

The Stripes
The striping pattern looked great on TV. It was unique, classic, and cool all at the same time. It's a wonder more teams haven't considered bold striping pattern during the Fauxback Era of NHL uniforms. Although some have said the stripes are Ronald McDonald-esque, I didn't find it distracting at all, not to mention Ronald's getup is mostly yellow with sections of red and white striping, not mostly deep red with red and yellow striping. The use of this bold pattern was continued on the socks, which really showed a completeness of the design when everything was worn together.

Lace-Up Collars
The uniforms, like many fauxbacks, use the lace-up style of collar. I'm all for lace-up collars, and this fauxback definitely fit in with the style of them.

A Darker Red
Yes, the red was darker than the Flames' standard red. And the slight hue change looked pretty good, especially considering that red was the darkest color in the entire scheme, instead of black, which the team uses on their standard uniforms. More importantly, the beige numbers were plenty legible against the red and yellow background on the chest-striped sweater.

Beige Breezers
I thought this was particularly interesting because there really aren't any teams that use light breezers. The closest examples I could find were the Rangers and Blue Jackets wearing red breezers with royal or navy jerseys. Not a single teams wears white, silver, metallic gold, athletic gold, or even orange breezers, and then Calgary opts for beige. Although not a modern convention, it worked very well within the context and feel of the uniform.

All in all, I think Calgary's Heritage Classic uniforms were a huge success. The design took some chances, but each decision was made well and the uniforms had a great aesthetic.

When It Lightnings, It Pours
Yup, the Lightning have already made changes to their new uniforms. The have added black trim around the numbers and lightning bolts on the pants. Good ideas, sure, but the execution isn't quite there. The jersey crest and striping has no outlines, while the lightning bolts on the pants have a single outline and the numbers are double outlined. This apparently had to do with fan response, which I'm glad the team executives were savvy enough to take into account. The double outline on the numbers seems the most unnecessary because a single outline would have accomplished what the fans wanted (an added color) while maintaining some semblance on consistency with the treatment of the bolts on the pants.

Designer's Corner
Yup. When it lightnings, it really does pour. This week's design is for the one and only Tampa Bay Lightning. When the Lightning unveiled their new duds, I was bothered by a few of the set's elements, from the two-color scheme that immediately evoked thoughts of the Leafs to the lack a certain signature elements such as the lightning bolts on the breezers and "Victory Stripes". While the lightning bolts are back and the numbers have been altered to showcase a double-outline, the set still leaves a lot to be desired.

My concept uses some of the aspects from the current (upcoming) scheme, yet incorporates some newer elements. I wanted to keep the idea of simplicity, but I also knew that I had to create a look that was uniquely Tampa Bay. This means I couldn't use just royal and white, since it is too similar to Toronto. It also meant I shouldn't add yellow due to the similarities such a combination would have with St. Louis. Ultimately, I decided on royal and silver. On the home uniforms, I used the Michigan Wolverines/Oakland Raiders treatment: no white. This allows for the team's signature look, the home uniform, to be just that: signature. The primary logo is based on the sleeve patch the team plans to wear next season. The numbers are the current (soon to be previous) version, except without the outlines. The secondary logos and wordmarks are new.

The home uniforms use just royal and silver and retain some of the design decisions from the upcoming uniforms. I broad single stripe is placed across the sleeves, hem and socks. However, the breezers have the team's trademark bolts, while the jerseys retain the classic "Victory Stripes" although I moved them down from the armpit to the side. The concept is still the same: the stripes show when a player is raising his arms to celebrate a goal or a win. This just removes the slight ridiculousness of placing a design element in the armpits. The away uniforms use the two-color logo with silver and blue being present. However, aside from that and the bolts on the breezers, the uniforms are exclusively blue and white. And for those who like the Lightning in black and blue, the third combines those two colors (with white) in a traditional way and features a new BOLTS wordmark that is consistent with the identity, unlike the current third.

Feel free to leave a comment regarding the 2011 Heritage Classic, the Lightning concept above, a=or anything sports branding related.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Looks Like We Have Our First New NFL Uniform of the Season (If We Have One).

By Bowen Hobbs

The Bills announced to season-ticket holders on the 9th that they would be wearing new uniforms for the coming season, whenever that will be. The uniforms will incorporate the current logo with elements from the team's past. Supposedly, they are going to be based on these uniforms, but with some navy blue trim added in. It seems intriguing, but certain questions remain unanswered. For example, how will the navy blue be added in? Will it be just around the edges like the Lions did with their black trim, or around each stripe? Will the team use the 90s era number typeface? Or a standard block typeface? What color will the facemask be? Grey? Navy? Royal? Will they use the striped socks? Of course there is more to come as details emerge…

I, for one, think a look based on those uniforms would suit Buffalo quite well. Much like Green Bay or Cleveland, football in Buffalo in winter has a certain charm with old school uniforms involved. While I prefer create some very modern concepts, I can understand when a concept incorporates classic elements as part of the design moving forward. But there are certain things the team will have to be sure of before they unveil the new duds.

• Do the sleeve stripes fit on the sleeves, across all players? This is important, because the team will undoubtedly have players of various sizes from defensive backs and kickers to lineman. The stripes can't be too wide because they will get cut off on certain players. Or too low for that matter.

• Is the striping consistent? Well, there is some leeway here. While I appreciate the consistency of the newest Detroit Lions uniform striping, I also don't mind the consistency of a well applied striping system such as that of the Green Bay Packers, in which two sets of stripes fill very distinct roles. Those Packers uniforms would be even better with striped socks though… but I digress. It gets tricky when each element is striped, but none of the patterns match.

• Grey facemask or blue? Well this one is more up for debate, but the team's choices in number font and how the navy is applied will determine whether they should go with a grey or navy mask. While I generally do not prefer the use of a grey mask with a color scheme that doesn't include grey, it can be useful in promoting a classic look. If the uniform numbers have multiple outlines, I'd say navy or royaal facemask, but if they opt for stark typography, then all bets are off.

Not Your Traditional Marketing Strategy
The Lightning have already started phasing their marketing materials over to the new brand, which was bound to happen since they unveiled the new uniforms in the middle of the season. The website has changed over. And there are some new environmental graphics around the arena. And to get the fans ready, they gave authentic home blue jerseys to their season ticket holders and t-shirts to some of the other fans. I understand getting everyone in the team's blue to create a more better fan experience.

But painting the new logo on center ice just looks weird. It crosses the television line: the boundry of experience between watching a game in person and on TV. It's one thing to watch a game and see the whole crowd wearing the new t-shirts and jerseys, since the mob of the crowd would just blend together and create a (mostly) blue field. In addition, the signage and website changes can advertise the new brand while not interfering the presentation of pro sports' most lucrative product: televised events. While ticket and merchandise sales do account for a hefty sum themselves, the television contracts get money from numerous sponsors and allow fans to view many more games than most of them are able to attend. Painting the new logo on center ice while the team is wearing the old uniforms interferes with the seamless ideal fans have in their heads when they are watching a game. On a more general note, the whole timing of the event was really awkward. Unveiling the new brand during the last homestand would have made much more sense, especially as a thank you to the fans before the offseason or playoffs.

Designer's Corner
This week's design is for the University of Cincinnati. The Bearcats have had a fairly modern identity since their affiliation with Jordan Brand in the 90s. Currently, their football team is getting more attention, but the team's uniforms lack finesse. The slashes on the pants do not flow and look gaudy. For this concept, I wanted to incorporate the slash theme in a way that it would make sense throughout the logos and uniforms. The slashes were incorporated into the logo set horizontally to flow across the typography, while also not disrupting the team's trademark C-Claw logo. The uniforms incorporate the slashes down the sides of the jerseys and pants. The more graphic presentation of the slashes creates more impact as it helps the eye flow throughout the uniform. . I also decided to incorporate charcoal grey. Cincinnati is a fairly new football school, especially when it comes to playing in a "power" conference. So while their are other teams with black and red, charcoal grey is a unique shade that has yet to be paired with red on the college football landscape. (Nike has used "carbon" or charocal with yellow for Oregon and West Virginia.) The sleeve are black on all jerseys, creating a consistent presentation of black across the uniforms. There are also options for white helmets and pants, in addition to the grey.

Feel free to comment on the Bills upcoming new uniforms, the Lightning's brand strategy, the concept above, or anything to do with sports branding.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

For Everyone Who Wanted to Buy A Leafs Jersey, But Hated the Leafs

By Bowen Hobbs

After multiple delays in the unveiling of their new brand, as well as the fact that teams don't generally unveil new branding initiatives during the season. The new 2011-12 Tampa Bay Lightning brand is here. And quite frankly, one word pretty much covers it: meh.

The team's current (soon to be former) primary logo wasn't perfect. In fact, some would say it was over-stylized. The wordmark is unnecessary, and it contained four colors, which may be a lot for traditionalists although many modern designs use that many colors. The alternate logo really wasn't any better. The saying I like to use to describe it is that "it looks like 10 lbs. of design crammed into a 5-lb. bag". The new logo set, however is a stark contrast. The new primary logo features a lightning bolt against a stylized oval. The team's brass wanted iconic. And if this design existed in a vacuum, it would be. But, unfortunately, they couldn't agree on a single icon. The alternate logo adds a wordmark, and the shoulder patch uses a different lightning bolt/holding shape combination. Once again, the primary logo is strong on its own, but some consistency throughout the set would be ideal.

But before we get into the rest of the logo set, let's talk about the elephant in the room: the color scheme. I realize there are teams with the same colors in multiple leagues. Look no further than MLB, for example. How many teams wear navy and red? Too many. And in the NBA, the Nuggets, Mavericks, Grizzlies, and Thunder all wear two shades of blue. The NFL isn't immune either, as the Cardinals and Falcons have their similarities, and Carolina's alternate uniforms look a lot like the Lions' homes. But this goes too far. The Leafs have been a beacon of royal and white in hockey since the NHL since 1927. They have also featured a simple hem striping scheme for a number of years. Then Tampa Bay comes in having only been a team for less than 20 years, and plays a game of copycat? Really?!? I thought the point of branding was to create your own identity, not piggyback off of someone else's.

And the Lightning had a unique color scheme. No one else had black and blue. Once again, I'm not saying it was the best, but it was unique. Even if the new brass (which includes Stevie Y, hence the minimalist influence) didn't want to use black and blue, how about royal and silver? Replace all the white on the home jersey and some of the white on the away jerseys, and you have a unique set of uniforms in the context of the NHL.

Back to the primary logo: while it isn't terrible, I think the circle and bolt from the tertiary would create a stronger mark with a better tie-in to the Lightning's past. In fact, putting the text and circle around that symbol was the worst thing they probably could have done for it, as it looks like they were taking design tips from the Omaha Storm Chasers. Furthermore, the generic typeface goes past understated (which can be achieved with the correct typeface) into the world of boring, generic, and default. Not to mention the generic typeface doesn't match the typeface of…

The secondary is a joke. I think everyone who watches hockey is going to know who the Maple Leaf wannabes are. And those who don't follow hockey will probably just assume it's Toronto they're seeing. They could have created a TB logo, but they decided not to.

As for the uniforms, they use the same single broad stripe pattern as the Red Wings' home uniforms, although the pattern is pretty common overall. And you'd think they would look for a more original design considering the Leafs use a double stripe that is positioned in the same classic hockey pattern. Here are the graphic layouts of home and road for the new Bolts set. As you can see on the layouts, in addition to using two different typefaces on the logo set, the numbers are a third typeface, and it's standard block (the Arial of jersey numbers). In addition, they traded in the one of two original things from their previous uniforms for the generic version on their breezers. They also ditched the victory stripes (look at the armpit of the guy on the right of the previous linked photo).

As I've hinted at, one of the biggest concerns with this set is context. The aesthetic of the new brand is so strikingly Leafs, it can't go without saying. And of course it follows the recent onslaught of blue jerseys with lace-up collars, despite an oval-shaped crest being used instead of a roundel. The new set clearly states, "We're individuals, just like everybody else."

The other huge issue is based on direction. Obviously the team tried very hard to incorporate classic elements into the scheme. Things like a one-color (plus white) scheme, lace-up collar, and round alternate logo all evoke ideas of classic hockey. Then why is the primary logo so starkly modern? And why is the typeface on the "secondary" italicized and stylized? But those two questions are unimportant compareed to the next one: What is so classic about playing a winter sport that needs ice in the middle of Florida? It's not like an expansion team ended up in Milwaukee, where a traditional style could evoke a Winter Classic-like atmosphere. It's Tampa, where sunshine is in abundance. But even that issue could be worked around if the presentation of the brand were more consistently traditional. Instead, they only went halfway and that just isn't enough to make me forget that it's a hockey team in Florida.

In Other News… The Oklahoma Sooners will have new baseball uniforms in 2011… New logo for the Ryder Cup… If you design a logo for it, they will come… It's Hardwood Classics month in the NBA, complete with throwback uniforms for the Bucks, Kings, Knicks, Celtics and Warriors. The Warriors jersey even has a memorial patch for Franklin Mieuli… Thanks Tiki Barber, for teaching me what the Green Bay Packers G stands for… The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim will have "Flashback Fridays" this season for their 50th Anniversary… The Lakers wore throwbacks Sunday against the Celtics… The Oakland finally unveiled their poorly kept secret: athletic gold jerseys… The Mariners will have a memorial patch for broadcaster Dave Niehaus this season… The Padres finally released the look of their road uniforms for 2011. Needless to say, they removed all traces of originality…

Designer's Corner
This week's design is for the Virginia Tech Hokies. The Hokies' current logo features a stylized VT. I took that idea and added a distinction between the two letters. I also included a segmented gradiation to emphasize the speed that VT displays on the field. Using the proportions of the primary mark, I developed a wordmark for the school, as well as custom numbers. For the uniforms, I drew a lot of inspiration from the Hokies' 2010 Pro Combat uniforms. I really like the way the shoulders were cropped on those jerseys. However, I did not care for the use of black because VT has one of the most unique color combinations in all of sports. The jersey accents fade as they approach the collar, while the accents on the pants fade as they reach the waist. I have also included options for orange jerseys, white and maroon helmets, and all three colors of pants.

Feel free to leave a comment regarding the new Tampa Bay Lightning brand, the Virginia Tech design above, or anything sports branding related.