As a big Boston sports fan and athlete (okay, more like a weekend warrior these days) I’ve always been drawn to sports logos. From the clever “H” hidden in the Hartford Whalers hockey team logo to the Boston Celtics Leprechaun, I used to sharpen a pencil and draw these logos over and over till I had them just right.
So last summer when I heard that a professional hockey team was returning to Winnipeg, in Manitoba, Canada, I wondered how such a franchise creates a new brand for themselves. As a hockey fan, I couldn’t wait to see if the old Winnipeg Jets logo would be dusted off and brought back to life or if the team and its new owners would take the opportunity to rebrand the Jets. It turns out the owners decided to rebrand the team with a clean, modern design that was clearly inspired by the old logo that was used from 1972 to 1995 . However the story of how the new logo came to be and the collaboration between the franchise, the NHL and the designer, is extremely interesting.
The Winnipeg Jets History
Before I discuss the new brand, I want to give a brief history of the Jets. After the 1995 season, due to financial and on-ice losses, the Winnipeg Jets moved to – of all places – Phoenix, Arizona. Loyal fans prayed that someday a team would return to Winnipeg and so the city retained the name “Jets.” In 2009, a group of investors called True North Sports and Entertainment built a brand new 15,000-seat complex in downtown Winnipeg that they hoped would help a depressed commercial district and possibly bring a professional team back to this hockey rich city. On May 31, 2011, it was officially announced that the Atlanta Thrashers would move to Winnipeg and begin to play the following 2011-2012 season.
The secrecy involved in the new logo design stretched all the way to the NHL draft. On June 25, 2011, the Winnipeg Jets still had not revealed their new logo or color palette. Instead of putting on the team’s hat and jersey, which draft picks normally do, the first pick for the new Winnipeg Jets had to put a generic black and silver NHL jersey and cap on. What a missed opportunity in my mind. On a day when die-hard hockey fans are watching to see the fate of their team for the next 5-10 years, it could have been a golden opportunity to show the new logo and the first draft pick simultaneously.
It wasn’t until 3 days before the team released it 2011-2012 schedule that the long anticipated unveiling of the logo happened. The team debuted their new sweaters during a dramatic unveiling in which players trotted out of the back hatch of a Canadian Forces Hercules aircraft at a local air force base.
Sports Logo – Redefined
The new design does pay homage to the old Jets logo. But – the insignias are a dramatic departure with a modern twist on the jet, and it uses a new color scheme based on the “Aviator Blue” used by the Royal Canadian Air Force. The two-toned gray “jet” in the center is a silhouette of a McDonnell Douglas CF-18 Hornet. The jet is perched atop a red maple leaf, which is the secondary color scheme. The use of the maple leaf was sure to ruffle some feathers in Toronto, whose logo is a blue maple leaf. Luckily, it was in cooperation with the Toronto Maple Leafs that Winnipeg was given permission to use the iconic Canadian symbol.
Also revealed at that time was the name of the new identity designer – Dominique Fillion, the lead uniform and team identity designer at Reebok (the official uniform supplier of the NHL). So it wasn’t an agency who got the commission to rebrand the Winnipeg Jets. Instead, it was the non-traditional collaboration of the NHL and Reebok, along with participation of the Department of National Defense for Canada, that came up with what routinely would be handled by an identity branding agency.
As a branding and identity designer, this collaboration was extremely interesting to me. It made me wonder how much rebranding is done the “old-fashioned” way of putting it out there and having agencies pitch to try to land the job? A job that is usually a high profile project that brings recognition to the winning agency, nonetheless. In this case, things have definitely changed. The NHL and Reebok have a collective interest in the success of the identity, and building on its brand equity to reach passionate fans.
We all know that great brands equal a loyal fan base. The return of the Winnipeg Jets as a professional hockey franchise proves that you can successfully rebrand a sports team. In fact, according to the NHL, the Winnipeg jersey is one of the top selling jerseys in the Western Conference. In the end, the missed opportunity of a reveal at the draft had no effect on the fans and their desire to buy merchandise and have a team return to Winnipeg.
At the end of the day it only made sense that the NHL and Reebok joined together to brand a franchise that both parties involved have a huge interest in succeeding. And speaking of succeeding… looks like I need to sharpen a pencil again and start sketching the Jets logo until I have it just right!