Thursday, February 10, 2011

Rebranding in the NHL

I recommend the article in Tuesday's New York Times about the efforts of the Tampa Lightning to rebrand their product by simplifying the uniforms:

Redesigning the Lightning’s uniforms took six painstaking months.

“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.
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.

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.


Anonymous said...

You forget about Hamilton, Ontario - which is right in the heart of Leaf country and would easily sell out every game - people there are hockey crazy.

The only reason why they don't have a team yet? Rights issues with Buffalo and the fact the NHL wants to charge a hefty expansion fee.

History should be on Hamilton's side. They had an NHL team back in 20's and won a championship in their final year. A players strike resulted in a dissolution of the franchise, with the players being sold to a new team in New York City.

jimmy_d said...

Nice post. I agree, for one, the Thrashers could use a uniform change. I like their color scheme, especially the blue home unis, but their logos need to go back to the drawing board.

Secondly, we need a new owner, not a group of owners (Atlanta Spirit). You know its bad when the owners had to sue their own law firm for a contract that made it tough for them to attempt to sell the team.

mjv said...

Nice post. I hope the trend towards more simple unis is on the way. The best unis in the NFL are the Raiders home blacks and the Lions throwbacks (and the bears orange numbers on blue aren't bad either). And in CFB, Michigan, Penn State, Alabama, and USC are among the best.

One thing that you failed to mention in the post is that Steve Yzerman is the GM of the Lightning. I have to imagine that he has a lot to do with this decision.

Glory Glory to Old Georgianham said...

Re. playing up fan passion: Don't get me started on the "club seating" on one side of the arena. It's a bad idea at Bobby Dodd Stadium and it's a bad idea at Phillips.