Redesigning the Lightning’s uniforms took six painstaking months.Lord, please let this be a trend. With football uniforms headed towards the garish end of the continuum, it's refreshing to see a pro sports franchise realize that branding itself in a more traditional way makes sense. The fact that Tampa is in a non-traditional market makes the rebranding even more important. They've clearly come to the realization that they need to downplay the fact that they aren't one of the Original Six and the way to do that is to play in duds that look like they could have come from the 1930s. Of course, they have also been able to rebrand in the one way that would save hockey in Atlanta: new ownership.
“This is a big, long process involving researchers and writers and designers and strategists,” said Ed O’Hara, the chief creative officer of SME Branding, the New York firm hired to make the Lightning crest and uniforms evocative of hockey’s roots.
The path to rebranding the Lightning was littered with discarded sketches for jersey and crest designs, cashiered concepts for remaking the team’s image and weekly speakerphone conferences between New York and Florida to hash it all out.
It ultimately led to a simple blue-and-white uniform: a clean design redolent of the N.H.L.’s Original Six. Tampa Bay’s uniform is only the third in the league to use just two colors, after the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings.
Speaking of which, Tim Vickery made a great point on the World Football Phone-in a few weeks ago regarding coverage of futbol in Brazil and the point applies to the NHL. He was talking about the discussions in England regarding whether the new tenant of the London Olympic Stadium, either Spurs or West Ham, will tear out the track when one of the clubs moves in after the Olympics. In the process of making the point that having a running track kills the atmosphere for a match, he said that Brazilian TV companies can't get enough of the English Premier League in large part because the atmosphere is so good. The fans are screaming and singing the whole time and significantly, they are close to the action, so the cameras can pick up the facial reactions of the fans when goals go in.
Vickery's point has applicability to the NHL, specifically as an illustration of yet another way in which Gary Bettman has got things all wrong. He expanded hockey throughout the Sunbelt because of the size of the markets here. In the process of doing so, he reduced the value of the NHL as a TV property. Hockey already struggles on TV because it's hard to follow the puck. The sport needs to make up for this shortcoming in other ways. One such way is passion from the fans. Hockey fans tend to be screamers, especially in places where the game has deep roots. Leaving aside the fact that I live in Atlanta and want our city to have an NHL team, what is going to be more appealing to an average viewer: a playoff game in a beautiful, but somewhat sterile arena in Atlanta or Nashville or the same game played in front of crazy fans who live and breathe the game in Quebec City or Winnipeg? The NHL already has something of a spectacle problem by virtue of iconic franchises leaving their great old arenas for new, less interesting venues. (Chicago, Montreal, Toronto, and Boston all come to mind; Hockey Night in Canada just isn't the same without Maple Leaf Gardens. Now, if you'll excuse me, there are some kids on my lawn who require shooing.) The league adds to the problem by moving its product outside of its sweet spot.