Opinions on corporate and brand identity work.

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The Landscape of Sports Branding

Reviewed Jun. 15, 2007 by Armin

Industry / Sports Tags /

Northwest Arkansas Naturals Logo, New

As was discussed in our recent UCF post, the state, style and aesthetic of sports logo design has changed dramatically. No longer are simple icons like the Chicago Cubs and Bulls or New York Yankees and Mets the desired goal for a new sports identity. Too simple and boring, perhaps. In return we have illustrations that act well enough as logos — as long as you don’t reduce them to less than a couple of inches. But this is not new, sports branding has been steadily changing in the last ten years to the overdeveloped design we know today and has become a niche within identity work. Firms like SME Power Branding and, at the core of this post, Phoenix Design Works have turned beveling and dimensionality into an art form, spread across leagues and sports. This is the way it is. But has it gone too far? And can we ever go back? Late last month the official logo of a new Minor League baseball team, the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, was unveiled. And if ever there was a logo that needed unveiling was this one, with so many elements involved.

Northwest Arkansas Naturals Logo, Detail

Sometimes too much can be, well, just too much. In this instance Phoenix Design Works spared no resources when it came to adding toppings to this new identity: Thunder, waterfall, mountain, baseball and swooshes. From this news item, it may be that they were simply egged on:

Brian Nickerson, the organization’s operations coordinator, was credited by [Naturals General Manager] Edelstein for coming up with the idea to incorporate a waterfall into the logo. Nickerson researched the unique qualities of the region and found that more than 130 natural waterfalls exist in the state, including 90 in the region targeted for marketing by the organization.
“I think it gives a true sense of the natural beauty in this area,” Nickerson said. “That was something that was very important to us. I went into it wanting to find what sets this area apart.”
Nearly a dozen renderings of the logo were considered before a final decision was made. Other elements were considered for the logo, including rivers and animals, but Edelstein said the idea of using a waterfall struck him from the beginning.

I don’t see why PDW should have stopped… I wouldn’t mind seeing a deer drinking water, or a bear with a baseball cap swinging a bat while fishing for salmon. Sarcasm aside, it’s impossible not to be dizzied by the logo, and the general visual onslaught of sports branding. Tim Walker, founder and creative director of DOXA, an Arkansas-based design firm, who e-mailed me about this identity, asks:

What is the state of identities for sports franchises, anyway? Where are the simple and effective marks like the Yankees’ and the Cubs’ that have stood the test of time and become a part of our culture? At some point, there seemed to be a shift toward what I guess is thought to be more retail focused identities although I may be wrong about that. The local television news seemed to spend more time showing people buying hats and polo shirts than talking about the new Northwest Arkansas Naturals team or even the reasoning behind the new identity.

Northwest Arkansas Naturals Polo Shirt

Well, Tim, with a nice polo shirt like this one, how could you not?



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