Two years ago, the Arizona Diamondbacks unveiled a brand new look that sent the purple, black and teal in which they won the 2001 World Series to the scrap heap.
Longtime fans were divided deeply on whether the change was for the better. Some were cynical - it was done to sell more souvenirs, it was done to shun the Jerry Colangelo influence on the team, etc. - while some were excited to have a more "traditional" color scheme for the team after years of, "Purple? Really?"
What everyone can agree on is that the re-imagining of the team's look was a spike driven squarely in the team's history timeline to mark a new direction. And it is something that the Phoenix Coyotes might want to look at when the long, tortured saga of the franchise's search for new ownership concludes.Perhaps some readers might wonder why I am advocating a change in the Coyotes' branding when the team changed colors only six years ago. Still others might cynically say that you can dress up a turd however you want - but in the end, you've still got a turd.
There are certainly pros and cons to rebranding a sports franchise. For teams with long histories and a wealth of traditional capital built on both the business and consumer side, a rebrand of any type is a huge gamble. These types of franchises typically limit their changes to small tweaks to existing logos, added accents to current colors and designs, and generally employing small, subtle visual nudges to keep their brand from looking too out-of-sync with the times (except, of course, for those wonderful - and intentional - retro styles).
A major or even complete sports franchise rebrand is more of a marker for teams that are stuck in a rut, teams that need new energy and the illusion of a new beginning. A rebrand says in visual terms that "things will be different from this point forward." And that is precisely what the Phoenix Coyotes' message has to say beginning with this season.
Before we go on, let's make one thing clear - there's nothing inherently wrong with the Coyotes' current colors or logo. The team's brand has come a long way from the art deco Coyote that launched the franchise in 1997. And thus far we have not seen too many ill-advised mutations of the current brand - excepting maybe the fox that got put on the new third jerseys to replace the coyote. The current colors and logo are tasteful and traditional all the way down to the stripes on the shorts.
But the team's current colors also represent an era in the team's history that most fans would like to forget. There's Jerry Moyes, whose well-intentioned but hapless stab at owning a sports team resulted in enormous financial loss even beyond the standard operating shortfalls that plague many NHL franchises. How about the "Friends of Gretzky" years, featuring the installment of a sports agent as GM, a two-week playing stint for a fat, uninterested Brett Hull, Petr Nedved as the first line center, etc.? Or Gretzky himself, playing at being a coach before belatedly realizing that coaching is a job that demands involvement and investment instead of passing tactics from a golf cart? And certainly the team's annual appearance at the bottom of the standings cannot be seen as a fond memory - particularly considering that even with such high picks, the team's prospect depth until recently was appallingly low (hellooooo, Lance Monych, Dmitri Pestunov, Martin Podlesak, and Eduard Lewandowski!).
Perhaps most crucially, the team's current colors are grim and ever-present reminders of the bankruptcy. No Coyotes fan will ever be able to look at the red and white colors with the howling coyote and not remember the flood of negativity, derision and humiliation directed not just at the team, but at the fans and the city itself. The Coyotes' logo and colors were plastered everywhere on both sides of the national border with Canada as an example of failure - something to laugh at and criticize, not admire. Unlike the Diamondbacks, for whom the purple and teal recall the joys of a national championship, the Coyotes' red and white stands for misery and embarrassment that is better left buried in the past.
Certainly, a rebrand would present new revenue streams as fans scramble to gobble up the new-look souvenirs. But the true value of a team rebrand is that spike in the timeline, that marker that says that, for better or for worse, there is a new beginning for this franchise. Few teams in sports need that new beginning more than the Coyotes.
Coyotes fans may be passionate and fanatic in our small numbers, but we're also realistic. We know that this autumn's denouement from the Balsillie/Moyes bankruptcy fiasco is our franchise's last reprieve. We won't get any more second chances. If this team is going to survive in Arizona, it has to do business very differently from the way it was done in the "red and white years." A new visual identity can be an effective complement to competent bookkeeping and good coaching when it comes to changing the public's perception about the future prospects for this franchise.
Our phoenix is struggling to dig itself out from the ashes of its very public incineration. So why not put on a new set of feathers to commemorate its new life?