The McCann Time Capsule: Designing Baseball Uniforms
As baseball heads next week into the postseason playoffs, there have been several recently published stories that have brought to light one of McCann’s more unusual sideline creative talents—designing baseball uniforms and logos. While these refer to two separate rebranding efforts aimed at helping major league teams that at the time weren’t doing that well, the spirit of the two designs couldn’t be more different—one being the sunshiny, multicolored 1975-1986 “rainbow” uniform for the Houston Astros and the other being the 2003-2011 “angry bird” logo for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Houston Astros: The creative tale of the “rainbow” uniform is told in-depth by espn.com through interviews with several of the key decision-makers, including then McCann Houston Creative Director Jesse Caesar, former Astros executive Gary Rollins, and Jack Amuny, a freelance graphic designer McCann had hired as a subcontractor on the uniform project. Here are some excerpts.
- Rollins: "We were in severe financial trouble and very close to being bankrupt. Also, we had a pretty bad ball club. The team owner wanted to put a new face on everything, something that would look uniquely special. So I went to McCann Erickson, which was one of our ad agencies, and had them take a completely fresh look at developing a new on-field look for the team. This would probably have been in late 1974.
- Caesar: "We got that project because we did all the advertising for AstroWorld, which was an amusement park that later became part of Six Flags. So we already had a relationship with the Astros. . . I'd never worked on a uniform before. But it was the era of the Athletics with their colorful uniforms, and other teams, like the White Sox. I think everybody was reassessing what they could do, except for the Yankees."
- Rollins: "McCann wasn't just tasked with coming up with a new uniform, but a new kind of uniform. So Jesse and his people, they came up with the idea for the horizontal stripes."
- Caesar: "I wish I could take the credit for the stripes, but the idea came from someone else on my team. There was a guy who had a local art studio, and on major projects we farmed a lot of the stuff out to him. That's what we did here. His name was Jack Amuny. He's the one who actually put pen to paper."
- Amuny: "McCann Erickson was one of my clients. I had an ongoing relationship with them, including some work I had done for AstroWorld. I had never worked on a sports design project before, but I was a big baseball fan and a big Astros fan. The colors were already established, the various shades of orange, but I came up with the idea for the stripes. Honestly, I would have preferred something more conservative, like pinstripes, but they wanted something a little different, so that's why I went with the horizontal stripes."
- Caesar: "Today, of course, you'd do it on a computer. But back then you had to do everything by hand."
- Amuny: "I had to cut out strips of colored paper and lay them out to show the design. You'd go to the art supply store and buy these nice, beautiful papers in all different shades. We cut 'em out, glued 'em down.”
Toronto Blue Jays: The story of how the blue jay bird logo took a fierce-looking turn is related in detail on sportsnet.ca. Here is an excerpt.
“Research by the organization’s marketing department determined that black was a popular colour among younger fans — a key target for the Blue Jays, whose merchandise figures were slipping. ‘Selling merchandise is a very important factor for every ball team,’” says Godfrey [Paul Godfrey, the 2002-2008 team president]. ‘Whatever anybody says, I can tell you when they change logos and things like that, it’s to give a kick-start to merchandise sales.’”
“Brandid, a division of the advertising agency MacLaren McCann [now McCann Canada], was hired to create an entirely new logo. It was given two main points of direction: Focus on the bird and the word ‘Jays,’ dropping the ‘Blue.’ The team’s marketing department had concluded most people just referred to the club as ‘The Jays’ and wanted to coopt the simplified name. Brandid carried out its own surveys and found the Blue Jays’ core fans were males over the age of 50. ‘Instinctively, they knew that we’ve gotta get kids interested in baseball again,’ says Randy Redford, former V.P. and creative director of Brandid and the designer of the Blue Jays’ ’04 logo. ‘Their objective coming out of it was, ‘Hey, we need to appeal to a younger fan and we need to create an identity that they’re going to relate to.’”
“Redford’s creative process involved examining sports logos from around the world, along with brands that catered to young demographics. He also immersed himself in research about the blue jay and found it wasn’t well-liked by other birds because of its territorial nature and bold, bullying behaviour. Redford decided to draw on that attitude in the creation of the aggressive bird that ended up on the logo — a significant departure from how the team portrayed the animal in past emblems. ‘The eureka moment was at the point in which you figure out that the bird and the ‘J’ could nestle together quite nicely. It struck sort of a nice balance,’ says Redford. ‘There was an edginess, a speed to it.’”
“The entire design process took less than a year, with Redford submitting about eight different concepts to the Blue Jays. The winning mark was tested by a consumer panel and eventually unveiled near the end of the ’03 season. The logo of the bird connected to the letter ‘J’ initially appeared on black and grey caps; the same symbol, with ‘Jays’ spelled out, was emblazoned on the team’s home white and alternate black jerseys.
“The Blue Jays don’t disclose merchandise numbers to the public, but Godfrey and Redford recall a spike in sales figures after it was introduced. Redford says for that reason, his creation served its purpose while at the same time providing him with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. ‘Fans have a very emotional connection to the teams they follow,’ says Redford, who’s also worked on emblems for the Toronto Phantoms, RBC and Rogers during a career that spans over 25 years.”
MLB: Other than an incidental ad hoc practice in designing player uniforms and logos, McCann has also had a more mainstream communications connection to baseball. From 2002-2010, McCann New York handled the Major League Baseball ad account.