Within the next few weeks the Toronto Blue Jays will be introducing their new logo and uniform set, one which borrows heavily upon what the team had sported for several seasons in the early-to-mid 1990s. In terms of branding it’s almost as if the previous 15 seasons – and three identity changes – never existed.
The Blue Jays are just the latest in a long line of teams who have rolled the dice when it comes to their tried and true look, ignored the cries of fans for years-and-years before finally caving in to public pressure and going back to a look that didn’t require a change in the first place.
Many teams radically change their look, but why? It might net the team a quick buck but that boost in revenue hardly lasts long and a fair chunk of that is split amongst the other teams in the league. It’s also worth noting that a look at the annual “top selling teams” chart will show you that those who stick to a look for many years, like the Yankees, Dodgers, and Cardinals are almost always near the top.
If the increase in revenue isn’t as drastic as one would expect then why are these changes happening at all? Some try to put a fresh look on a team which has had a few recent troubling seasons, some make a change as they move into a new stadium, while others try to bring in a new generation of younger fans with a more modern look. But it makes you wonder if these reasons are worth the risk of alienating your fan-base while also disconnecting your team from its roots.
A team elicits the most passion, the most emotion from its fanbase during two crucial events in their history – the first is when the team is new and the fan-base is happy to even have a team regardless of how terrible they perform on the field. The other is easy, when the team is winning. It’s during these two points in team history when fans feel the greatest emotional connection with a team and it’s eventually the point they remember back to when that heavy passion starts to fade away. They think of the moments, the players. They think about the logo and uniforms, and they want to wear what their heroes wore.
We all know the story of the Blue Jays, they took the city and country by storm with their success on the field relatively early in the history of the franchise, and it was all while sporting the same logo on their cap and uniform tops. Whether it was Bill Singer, Garth Iorg, Fred McGriff, or Dave Stewart, there was one constant and that was what uniform were these guys wearing. You could watch a video of Doug Ault’s two opening day home runs in 1977 and then tune into BBS twenty seasons later for that night’s ballgame and you’d see Al Leiter on the mound sporting that same logo on his cap… that’s an instant connection.
What happened in the decade that followed severed that link between eras.
The first change in 1997 was a big one, but you could still conceivably make the connection from the heyday to the present day, but they blew that all away in 2004. They didn’t even wear the same colour caps anymore. Blue became graphite and black, “BLUE JAYS” arched across the front of the jersey became “JAYS” slanted up, all it needed was an exclamation point — “JAYS!”
It was a complete slap in the face to the history of the organization and to the fans that loved the team, effectively eliminating the passion and emotion formed from that link to that winning team way back when. I know the record books say both Jimmy Key and Ted Lilly were Blue Jay southpaws, but that’s it… it’s nearly impossible linking those eras together in your mind when compared to, say, Jim Acker and David Cone, and a large part of it is branding related.
The Blue Jays will join the ranks of the Chicago White Sox, Buffalo Sabres, New York Jets, Washington Capitals, New York Islanders, Detroit Pistons and several more, all teams who had a classic look that their fans embraced with so much love, who tried to tinker with what worked and eventually just went back to what the fans wanted. Did they make a few bucks? Sure. Did they alienate some fans in the process? Maybe. All I know is none of the teams that went with a radical re-design only to switch back haven’t changed since… hopefully we will see the Jays follow suit and ride this new (old) look for several decades to come.
I’ve seen the new Jays identity — logos, caps, uniforms, everything. When you see it your mind instantly takes you back to the players of 1977-1996, you feel the passion of those glorious seasons, and now suddenly there’s a real visual link between George Bell and Jose Bautista. You guys will love it.