Established in 1996 when the NBA Board of Governors approved the concept of a women’s National Basketball Association, the WNBA began play in the summer of 1997 with eight teams and a few well-known stars at the time, like Sheryl Swoopes and Lisa Leslie. Four expansion teams have been added since and although attendance peaked in 1999 — with an average of 10,000 attendees per game — and dropping since, the WNBA is still considered the “most successful women’s professional team sports league in the world.” Last Thursday, the WNBA introduced a new logo and identity designed by New York, NY-based OCD | The Original Champions of Design. For a brief video of Laurel J. Richie, WNBA President (and 2010 Brand New Awards judge!), explaining the logo click here.
The refreshed identity reflects how far the level of play has come in 16 years as stronger, more agile players have made the game more competitive. The cornerstone of the new WNBA visual identity is a more modern “Logowoman” — the player silhouette within the logo — that better embodies the athleticism and diversity of today’s WNBA players while leveraging the distinctive orange-and-oatmeal color scheme of the league’s iconic game ball.
— Press Release
In addition, the league will launch a viral media effort under the “I Am Logowoman” theme. Powered by players, the campaign is designed to engage fans in celebrating WNBA athletes — past and present — who have propelled the game forward. Players and fans will be encouraged to post shots and photos of themselves going to the basket using the “#iamlogowoman” hashtag.
— Press Release
This is a tough one to judge overall, as the new logo and identity are trying to operate within the design rules, or at least the expectations, of American sports organization brands (i.e., MLB, NFL, NHL, and, obviously, NBA) but at the same time it’s trying to set its own rules. Which, come to think of it, is quite appropriate since there is no WMLB, WNFL, or WNHL. Let’s start with the icon. The “before” and “after” both take their cue from the NBA’s logo by freeze-framing a player in action. The “before” opted for the same action pose as the NBA’s Jerry West figure: dribbling. The “after” goes for something with more action: A layup. The change is a significant gesture, presenting WNBA players as more aggressive — not in the Lebron-James-Staring-After-He-Dunks-On-You stupid macho aggressiveness but in a more subtle way, that the players are constantly attacking the basket. I very much like the change in figure — although the pre-fabricated “who is the woman in the logo?” campaign is a little annoying — and even more so the change in holding shape, from the previous italicized shield to one that is exactly like its brother company, the NBA’s. Switching from the typical blue-white-and-red color palette, the WNBA has opted for a rusted orange that is taken from their official game ball, which turns out to be one of the league’s most recognizable elements. The new color is a great way to give the WNBA its own, distinguishable look.
Then there is the typography… Hoefler & Frere-Jones’ Cyclone… This is where I have a really hard time liking this even though there are aspects of it that are quite appealing. Let’s start with the bad. In the logo, the typography spells out “wnBa” or “WnBa” (depending on how you judge the initial letter) but either way, the upper and lowercase combination is really annoying and far too playful (although I wouldn’t even describe it as playful but kindergarden-ish) for a professional sports organization. Probably a little harder to kern but if they had gone with the default “WNBA” characters from Cyclone, it would have been a (wait for it) slam dunk. Cyclone’s inline aesthetic is a fun, conceptual nod to the ridges of the WNBA basketball and I actually love the idea of the unexpected use of an inline font but as the official wordmark of the WNBA, to me, it just seems like a (wait for it) missed free throw.
However, there is a lot of good about Cyclone in application. It provides a very identifiable aesthetic that lends itself really well to pairing with basketball action imagery and words. I’m not sure how many years Cyclone has in it to be maintained as the house font, as it starts to feel more campaign-like than brand-like but it certainly helps draw a line in the sand between pre-2013 WNBA and post-2013 WNBA, and that’s no easy feat.