The NBA has some of the most iconic brands of any sports genre in the United States and even the World. The Chicago Bulls, the Boston Celtics, and if you grew up in the 90’s you’d never forgot those teal and purple Hornet Starter jackets. Although there are several brands that have spanned generations, there are several that are falling behind the times, several that are stale, and even worse is several that have re-branded poorly. There is an addiction in the NBA to re-branding and the benefits to doing so are quickly diminishing.
One of the most successful rebrands within the NBA, in my opinion, was a team that reverted back to a previous brand. The Charlotte Hornets were originally established in 1988 as an expansion team but relocated to New Orleans in 2002. Oddly enough, Charlotte produced another expansion team in 2004 named the Charlotte Bobcats. New Orleans wanted to separate itself and create it’s own identity from the Hornets and re-branded to the Pelicans. In the 2014/2015 season, Charlotte took over the once revered Hornets brand. The logo was cleaned up and updated, but the color scheme remained the same.
Why was this re-brand so successful?
A brand drives customer loyalty and creates an opening for premium prices, driving revenue and generating profit. A sports team, although it’s easy to look past, is a business first and foremost. Creating a strong brand and customer loyalty is the key to any teams success over time. Ultimately, the goal of the Hornets was to create a brand so strong that the team would survive in a rapidly changing environment. Allegiance and attachment to the brand created a major fallout with the relocation and the introduction of another new team in the exact location drove those attached to the Hornets brand away. These stages of loyalty created major problems for the Bobcats as the only spark they had was the inclusion of Michael Jordan as an owner, but even that just produced awareness and maybe a slight attraction.
Then the 2014/2015 season changed the game. The Bobcats successfully re-branded into something with established allegiance, previous loyalty, and a fan base that was still sour over the transitions. The re-brand into the Hornets created an instant emotional attachment to the team for thousands of people. The initial Bobcat fan base were indirect consumers and already showed a predisposition towards the sport by being previous Hornets fans. The change in the brand to the nostalgic Hornets created a wave of light, medium, and even heavy users that weren’t involved at all previously. Ticket sales skyrocketed, merchandise sales rose over 25%, and the redesign of the logo is one of the most popular in the NBA.
Re-branding in the NBA has been a massive disappointment over the last decade. Teams are re-branding just to re-brand and it’s turning off a large portion of NBA fans. Anti-Defection methods are becoming a thing of the past, as brands try to bring in light/new consumers while ignoring nostalgia, brand loyalty, and historical relevance. The Bucks, Hawks, Raptors, and Clippers all re-branded in 2015 alone. At this rate, all past merchandise will be out of date in 8 years and the most iconic teams in basketball will be asking themselves “Should we join this clown fiesta?”. I guess the only positive that came come from this downpour of NBA re-branding is the hopes that some day teams will remove themselves from the “superimpose our name over a basketball” phenomenon.