Charlotte Hornets fans still swarm to old logo

radamsheard@charlotteobserver.comJune 18, 2014 

Walk into an athletic wear store in Charlotte looking for Hornets gear, and you have a decision to make: the old, cartoon-like figure of the ’90s, or the new, fierce hornet that marks the team’s comeback?

The new logo has plenty of fans, but store managers say the old design may have an edge with shoppers.

“We still sell the old logo a lot more,” said Nicole Angelucci, assistant manager at Lids, the athletic hat store at Concord Mills. “It’s what they’re used to.”

Almost five months after the NBA team’s new logo started appearing on merchandise, Hornets-themed hats, T-shirts and jerseys “are performing extremely well,” says Hornets Chief Sales and Marketing Officer Pete Guelli. Still, he acknowledges the vintage design commands plenty of loyalty.

Why the popularity for a logo that was old news after the original Charlotte Hornets left for New Orleans more than a decade ago? It’s partly the retro look of the purple and teal, partly the nationwide craze for vintage athletic gear and partly nostalgia for a beloved team that sold out the now-demolished Charlotte Coliseum game after game. Americans spent $8 billion on athletic logo apparel in 2009, according to the most recent figures available from the National Sporting Goods Association – and vintage gear is a growing segment of it.

Demand for vintage colors and logos started to surge around 2010, said William Warren Jr., who works in the marketing department at Mitchell & Ness, a Philadelphia-based sporting goods company. He said the retro vibe of the purple and teal made old-school Hornets gear the most popular – even though Charlotte’s team was called the Bobcats at the time.

“When you think retro ’90s,” he said, “you think Charlotte Hornets.”

New Era, a Buffalo, N.Y.-based hat company, saw an almost 40 percent increase in overall sales for vintage NBA wear from 2011 to 2013, said spokeswoman Katherine Kulczyk.

“I think it’s that kid that’s probably from the age (of) 13 to 20 that’s looking to the past to inspire their style,” Kulczyk said. “All the color schemes of the ’80s and ’90s are coming back.”

Casey Cox, a manager at Lids at Concord Mills, says colors often drive sales: “A lot of people shop colors now as opposed to teams.”

It’s one reason he thinks the old logo, with its iconic colors, has fared so well.

“When you look at the fashion trends, they all use the old logo,” Cox said, gesturing toward an animal print hat with the original Hugo on the front.

For fan Trisha McGuire, a 35-year-old Charlotte native, it’s about celebrating the past.

“It’s kind of that throwback,” she said. “I was really into the Hornets growing up.”

Moving forward

With such strong loyalty to the old-school design, it’s no surprise that the team’s unveiling of nine new designs last December met with mixed reactions.

The new designs feature a sleeker, more modern look – and will almost certainly figure in the new team uniforms to be unveiled Thursday.

Evan Kent, who along with brother Scotty Kent started the campaign “Bring Back the Buzz” to bring the Hornets name back to Charlotte from New Orleans, likes the new logo but acknowledges: “It’ll take some getting used to.”

Social media traffic has borne that out – at least initially. General Sentiment, a New York company that analyzes social media trends, reported a surge in negative mentions of the term “Hornets logo” on Dec. 22. Turns out that was the day after the new logo was revealed.

Cory Hyman is a longtime Hornets fan and the owner of the vintage sports store rackraidersvintage.com. Despite his business in vintage sportswear and appreciation for the old trademark, Hyman says he is also “a huge fan” of the new logo.

“I’m thinking people will eventually warm up to it,” he said.

Too scary-looking?

And to those critics who find the new logo too fierce, Lids at SouthPark manager Justine Brown scoffs.

“They go, ‘Oh, it’s so scary-looking.’ I’m like, ‘What do you want to do – cuddle it?’ 

Still, there will be those who can’t let go of that friendly face from the ’90s – and they won’t have to.

“The old logo is still available,” says Guelli. “It’s always going to be a part of the legacy of the team.”

Adams-Heard: 704-358-5197

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