Question of the Week: The Message Behind the Jersey Makeover
Question of the Week is a weekly feature that poses a question to Raw Charge writers and other writers within the Boltosphere, discussing the ins and outs of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
On January 16, icethetics.info broke the news that the Lightning were planning to implement new home and road uniforms for the 2011-12 season.
On Monday, the product was finally released to the public--the new jerseys emphasize a new lightning logo, and a simplified color palette. The final product is clean-cut, classic, and bold, a rebranded approach to the multi-dimensional logos the team has employed since its inception into the NHL in 1992.
We've been talking jerseys ever since.
It seems like the fan base is polarized between a love and disgust for the new look. Many fans make an association between the new look and the "original six," while others see it as too simple, boring even. Some long-time Lightning fans, endeared to the logo traditions of the past, feel betrayed by the absence of the colors black and silver on the sweater (with some having gone as far as proposing alternate jersey concepts)
Like it or not, the Lightning are asserting a new image and a new brand. The new jerseys are just a piece of the new projection of the team. This week, we ask:
Do you think the Lightning were trying to appeal to new fans with this uniform change, or do you think it was more of Vinik and crew trying to establish an entirely new team identity?
Below the jump, Raw Charge polls Christopher Smith (icethetics.info), Jon Jordan (Kukla's Korner), Pete Choquette (Bolt's Prospects), and the rest of the Raw Charge staff for their take on the message behind the makeover.
Christopher Smith (icethetics.info):
I think it's somewhere in the middle. Good things happened following complete rebrands for the Bucs and Rays. Why can't that be the case for the Lightning? Leading up to Vinik's purchase, the black in the uniforms was starting to feel like black marks on the team, be it all the years of losing or OK Hockey. Don't get me wrong, we won a Cup wearing black and silver and that should count for something. But a fresh new look is a great metaphorical way of saying "out with the old."
In the press conference, they talked about all the fundamental changes they want to make to the organization as a whole. It's hard for a community to be able to fully come to grips with a complete overhaul like that if the very symbols that define the team remain stagnant and unchanged. They're showing they're serious about this team, both to old fans and new fans alike. When have we ever had that? As a fan from the very beginning, I'm thrilled. Just wish I was still in Tampa to experience it all go down.
The Lightning are trying to establish a new identity. Jeff Vinik, from day one, stated that he wanted a "world-class organization." And, let's face it, the previous iterations of the Lightning uniform were, well, less than world-class--they were reminiscent of the expansion team that they once were. The current uniforms are probably the least expansion-team-like that they've had thus far (outside of the current third jersey, that is). But apparently, that's not good enough since they were designed by previous ownership. And we all know how a new owner loves to put his own stamp on a team, don't we. So that's what I think this is--a new stamp, whether you love it or loathe it.
It's a little bit of bringing in new fans; that's an ongoing effort for every team in every sport. But more, I think it's an attempt to establish and maintain a new identity for the franchise, and I'm glad. Don't get me wrong, I'm a traditionalist and will probably always miss the black and silver (at least a little bit). But if there was any lingering doubt about Vinik as owner it was that his success as a businessman were not associated with long-term commitments. This should clear all that up. After all, if he weren't in it for the long haul, why would he waste time worrying about such things?
I think the change had to do completely with establishing their own identity as a brand rather than appealing to new fans. It's a visual change that says they are a brand new team with new management. It's a way of reinventing the team visually to not just the fans, but also the rest of the league. With the change of the uniform to something simpler in look, it gets back to an idea of old-time, simple hockey.
Don't Trade Vinny:
While I do think that the management team expected the new uniforms to be better received and therefore might drum up some fresh fanhood, I think the real reason this was done was to further distance the team from the dreadful OK Hockey era. This was simply a move to create a new identity, or "brand" as they so lovingly like to refer to it.
While it does distance itself from the "best" years too, the new logo does indeed wander far from anything resembling the OK Hockey years, much like the on-ice product is right now as well.
I think the focus was on a new team identity, rather than drawing in new fans. A fresh look and something that appeals to the fanbase will likely draw in new fans anyway.
This, on the other hand, is repelling a lot of fans. I could understand Mr. Vinik, Mr. Leiweke and company wanting to put their own stamp on the Lightning uniform and freshen the look, especially because the Bolts current jerseys and logo design are not one of the better uniforms in the league, nor one of the better sellers. But a funny thing happened on the way to the rebranding: For a group that stressed tradition and heritage, they turned their back on the history of the Tampa Bay Lightning logo/colors/jersey traditions in favor of a marketing concept.
Change will always get a knee-jerk reaction from the public, but such a big change that contradicts the history and heritage of the franchise by the management... well, it's less than appealing to the fanbase.
The black, silver, blue and white, the bolt down the hockey pants, and the "victory stripes" under the arms... Say what you will about them, but they're part of the Lightning. They are ours. And by turning off the base, you turn off potential new fans as well.
Winning does cure all ills, but I'd sooner expect fans to cling to the original jersey, or the 2nd logo and jersey, before they embrace the version dubbed the "Tampa Bay Maple Wings."
Jon Jordan (Kukla's Korner):
I think the new regime was TRYING to visually put their own stamp on things more than anything.
To me, the home threads are a little too superheroesque (if you haven't already, take a look at "The Flash", change red and gold to blue and white and, well...) The roadies are slightly better, in my opinion.
It's clear already that it will take some time for the new look to grow on most fans but ultimately, if they win, we all know that's all that matters.
I think that the new logo and jerseys "systems" are as much about saying that this is a new team and culture as they are about separating themselves from this team's frankly embarrassing past. And I'm saying that as a longtime fan.
There is a certain irony that so much emphasis was placed early in the season on embracing the Lightning frachise's past glory. Sure, hanging photos of the team's Cup win in 2004 in the hallways and dressing room at the St. Pete Times Forum is nice. But that Cup win is the exception rather than the rule in Lightning-land, and I think the new uniforms and the slew of other announcements coming out of SPTF this week are all a part of changing this team's identity.
Simply put: the new ownership and braintrust want to turn a corner in the team's history and start building three things: brand, brand, and brand. Branding the team to fans, to the Tampa Bay community (both corporate and grassroots), and to rank and file NHL players. Seriously, this team is being rebuilt right down to its DNA, and the new uniforms reflect that.
In that respect, the new logo and jersey seem a little more palatable. But I'll still miss the black, silver, white and blue. I guess I'll have to wait for retro nights to rock my Basil McRae jersey.
Pete Choquette (Bolt's Prospects):
I think they were trying to establish a new team identity, but I think they went about it by trying to have a very traditional uniform and logo design, which created a bizarre dissonance with that goal.
I think very early on they made the decision to go with a two color design that would look more traditional like the Wings and Leafs have. The problem is that they scrapped 18+ years of actual tradition in the process by doing away with the black jerseys, changing the logo, taking away the celebration stripes in the armpits, and taking the lightning bolts off the sides of the pants.
What's worse is that the new primary logo is so painfully generic and overly abstracted. If you look at the Red Wings jersey design, what makes it work is that the logo is incredibly complex and visually interesting. The shading on the tire, the spokes in the wheel, the feathers, the swoop to the tip of the wings: it's a work of art. It draws your eye and makes up for the fact that there are only two colors in the design.
Now, the Lightning and their designers may argue that the Leafs logo is very simple and abstract and it works and a lot of fans have pointed out the new design is very reminiscent of the Leafs'. But, what makes the Leafs jerseys work is the fact they haven't changed much since 1966. Their tradition and the fact they haven't really changed much in over 44 years is what makes those otherwise boring two color jerseys "iconic."
So, to summarize, I think the new design is the worst of both worlds: I think they ignored 18+ years of tradition and managed to come up with a fairly pedestrian and uncompelling design in the process. I think the backlash from the Lightning fans on the Internet has been reflective of that. I hope there's enough time to make some adjustments, where they can at least try to take some of the better aspects of the new design and at least make something interesting, even if it does ignore the 18+ years of tradition.
My take is that Vinik & Co. are reaching out to new fans. This is clearly a move that speaks to the community, a visual representation of a team that is undeniably new.
The thing is, in Tampa Bay the fan base could be bigger. I still run into people who don't know that the team exists. Locally, there is a great lack of interest for the Lightning, for Stamkos' 39 goals, and for the classic leaders of the team.
What is the benefit of losing the old logo for a newer, fresher one? Once it's plastered all over the city, it'll be strikingly clear that the Tampa Bay Lightning is a new, classy organization that is seeking a greater presence in the city. A new logo, a new visual representation, seeks to give the organization more recognition, and grow the fan base at home.
And if you missed it, last week's question covered the relevance of the All-Star Game format.