The logos and other branding the Charlotte Bobcats will take on when they become the “Hornets” next season won’t be a time trip back to 1990.
But they will be something close.
As the team already announced, it will return to the teal-and-purple color scheme. The nine new logos – unveiled at halftime of Saturday’s Jazz-Bobcats game – have a slightly fiercer look than the ones Charlotte’s original NBA franchise used.
And Hugo will be back as the team’s mascot, team officials confirmed.
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The Bobcats’ business side, in collaboration with NBA branding officials and designers brought in from Nike, came up with the look revealed Saturday. The primary logo is a hornet with spread wings and lettering across the body. A secondary logo is a side view of that same hornet, stinger drawn as if poised to attack in a diving motion.
The other seven logos have specific purposes, such as reintroducing Hugo to the Charlotte public or a kids club tie-in or a block-letter symbol with a crown atop, tying the team to the Queen City.
What was both fun and daunting about the Bobcats’ process was that – to the team’s knowledge – never before had a major-league sports brand left a city to be used elsewhere (in this case New Orleans), then returned to the original city with another franchise.
“It’s never happened before and it may never happen again,” said Pete Guelli, the Bobcats’ chief marketing officer. “It wouldn’t have happened had New Orleans” not made a change to the Louisiana-themed Pelicans.
“The Cleveland Browns are the only example that would even remotely connect,” said Christopher Arena, the NBA’s vice president of identity, outfitting and equipment.
When the NFL Browns left Cleveland for Baltimore in 1996, owner Art Modell agreed to leave behind the name, logos, colors and records in Cleveland, should the NFL expand to there.
Nothing similar happened when the Hornets left for New Orleans in 2002. Owner George Shinn took the name, the colors, the uniforms and Hugo to the Big Easy. Only when new owner Tom Benson started purchase of the team in 2011 was a name-change broached publicly.
Similar as the new-look Hornets will be to the old look, they didn’t have the option to simply adopt exact replicas from the 1990s.
“We wanted to connect to the historical element, but we had to stay by league standards,” said team president Fred Whitfield. “That forced us to refresh, rather than just go back to the old look.”
Whitfield was referring to NBA rules that discarded logos go under league control and are marketed separately under what the NBA calls its “Hardwood Classics” brand.
That’s the brand the Bobcats currently sell in their team store, with the original Hornets logos or replicas of jerseys worn by Larry Johnson or Alonzo Mourning. Whitfield said the team will start selling new Hornets-logo merchandise around the weekend of Jan. 18.
Arena said the league is fine with teams returning to historic looks, as the Golden State Warriors, Detroit Pistons and Philadelphia 76ers all have the past few years, but ask teams to “do it newer, fresher.”
The new uniforms won’t be unveiled until the summer, but the Bobcats are holding monthly “Buzz City” promotions at home games the rest of the season. That will include appearances by former Hornets and giveaways, such as bobbleheads of Dell Curry, Muggsy Bogues and others from that era.
Whitfield said the team plans to use that “Buzz City” slogan regularly in its marketing beyond this season.
The Bobcats tapped heavily into Nike’s design expertise in coming up with the logos and other branding vehicles. It’s not a surprise, considering the decades of success team owner Michael Jordan has had with his brand within that company. Also, Whitfield twice worked for Nike before becoming Bobcats president.
Whitfield said they made sure not to disrespect Adidas’ place as the NBA’s uniform-producer.
“Nike also has a partnership with the NBA,” Whitfield said. “They worked hard inside Nike to understand the history (of the Hornets in Charlotte) and they’ve had great success creating branding identities. They have all kind of resources.”
Arena said the NBA had no problem with the Bobcats tapping into Nike’s expertise.
“We’re not looking at Nike as this global competitor” to Adidas, Arena said, but rather “a design agency that works at it.”