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Quartz Obsession — Sports branding — Card 1
When the 2020 NFL season kicks off Sept. 10, the Washington football team will be called… the Washington Football Team. After 87 years of using a slur for Native Americans for its moniker—and after decades of protests over it—the team is playing without a name while it decides on a new one.
While there would be nothing odd about going nameless in European soccer—Barcelona FC is, after all, just Barcelona FC—it is jarring in an American context, where affixing a name to a team is almost as old as team sports. While in the early years names were often chosen by sports writers, modern team names are the product of marketing agencies, focus groups, and contests. And with names come colors, logos, uniforms, and mascots, all designed to bind fans closer to their teams and, of course, sell them merchandise.
The heraldry of sports give the games their flavor and personality, and our biggest sports stars are indelibly linked to their uniforms: Babe Ruth in Yankee pinstripes, Michael Jordan in Chicago Bulls red. And when players switch teams, as Lionel Messi recently threatened to do, the sight of them in unfamiliar jerseys can be wrenching.
No matter if your favorite team is named for a bird, a cat, or a pair of socks, let’s rep our colors.
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Quartz Obsession — Sports branding — Card 2
60: US college teams nicknamed Eagles, beating Tigers (with 46) for the most popular name
£64 million: Annual fee paid by Chevrolet for the right to have its name plastered across Manchester United’s soccer jerseys
$6.5 billion: The most recent private valuation of Fanatics, the ecommerce company that operates a majority of US sports teams’ and leagues’ online merchandise sales
$2.6 billion: Fanatics’ estimated 2019 revenue
3: Games in 1976 in which the Chicago White Sox wore short pants, the first and last times a Major League Baseball team has appeared in shorts
$5,500: Cost of a Gucci houndstooth coat with the New York Yankees logo
42: Jackie Robinson’s number, the only number retired by all 30 MLB teams
2: Jerseys worn by Manchester United over the course of one game in 1996. The coach blamed the original grey for the team’s poor first-half performance. The team still lost.
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Quartz Obsession — Sports branding — Card 3
Football is far and away the most popular sport in the US, an honor that comes with a near endless supply of pageantry in the form of military flyovers, mascots, and squads of cheerleaders. Due to Covid-19, this year’s season won’t have any of that. But the minute Pittsburgh Steelers’ fans are allowed back in the stands, you can bet they’ll be twirling their terrible towels.
Among all 32 NFL teams, the terrible towel is the most identifiable piece of team-specific merchandise, with the possible exception of the much more cumbersome Green Bay Packers’ cheese head. The black and yellow piece of terry cloth was first developed by Pittsburgh radio announcer Myron Cope during the Steelers’ 1975-76 march to victory over the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl X.
Twenty years later, Cope handed the rights to the towel over to the Allegheny Valley School for individuals with disabilities outside Pittsburgh. Sales of the towel have since generated more than $6 million for the school.
Over the years, the towel has become woven into the identity of the industrial Pennsylvania city. During a recent Steelers playoff run, newborn babies were wrapped in the iconic cloth at Pittsburgh hospitals. And while we can’t vouch for the towel’s ability to filter out viruses, there have already been lawsuits settled over unauthorized distribution of “The Terrible Mask.”
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Quartz Obsession — Sports branding — Card 4
“Why didn’t anybody tell me the ice is this slippery?”
—Gritty, mascot of the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team
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Quartz Obsession — Sports branding — Card 6
1875: Harvard students, faculty, and alumni vote crimson over magenta as the school’s color.
1880s: US colleges begin using nicknames for their teams, ushering in an era of Hokies, Wahoos, and Hoyas.
1946: The Lanham Act, also known as the trademark act, becomes law, and a whole world of exclusive merchandising becomes possible.
1954: The most famous soccer colors in the world make their debut—the Brazil jersey switched from white to the now-iconic yellow after the team’s humiliation in the 1950 World Cup final.
1974: Ted Giannoulas dresses as a chicken at a San Diego Padres baseball game, creating the tradition of sports mascots as costumed entertainer.
1992: A rally in Washington, DC demands the NFL team’s name change.
2004: In a first for English soccer, Wimbledon FC, from southwest London, moved 56 miles away and changed its name to Milton Keynes Dons. Many fans rejected the new franchise and formed a new team, AFC Wimbledon.
2013: Washington’s owner Dan Snyder says the name will never change: “NEVER—you can use caps,” he said, so we just did.
2018: The Cleveland Indians remove Chief Wahoo, a racist caricature of a Native American, from their uniforms.
July 2020: FedEx, the sponsor of the team’s stadium, formally asks the Washington Football Team to rename itself, as Nike removes the team’s gear from its online shop. Within a day, the team announces the name is under review and will change accordingly.
September 2020: The National Collegiate Athletic Association applied to add “Battle in the Bubble” to their roster of trademarks which include “March Madness” and “Final Four.”
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Quartz Obsession — Sports branding — Card 7
Boise State University received trademark recognition for its signature blue football field turf in 2009. The following year, the school sparked controversy by expanding that trademark to include any non-green field color.
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Quartz Obsession — Sports branding — Card 8
When Julie’s husband Billy dies in Carousel, her cousin sings “You’ll Never Walk Alone” to comfort her. The 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein tune is a hymn to overcoming adversity, during a time when the world was emerging from the worst conflict in its history.
Gerry and the Pacemakers covered the song In 1963, and the cover was picked up by Bill Shankly, Liverpool’s legendary coach, who personally made it his team’s anthem. Now, it’s perhaps the most prominent symbol of one of the world’s most feared soccer teams, showing that powerful branding doesn’t have to rely solely on jersey colors and logos.
Many other major soccer teams around the world have adopted “You’ll Never Walk Alone” as their anthem—Germany’s Borussia Dortmund, Scotland’s Celtic, and the Netherlands’ Feyenoord, among others.
But it’s Liverpool’s song. Scarves aloft, it is sung before every home game at Anfield, Liverpool’s legendary stadium, and after every major victory.
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Quartz Obsession — Sports branding — Card 9
We brought together songs inspired by, identified with, or even performed by the biggest sports stars and competitions. If this playlist were a jersey, it would come with a holographic certificate of authenticity.
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Quartz Obsession — Sports branding — Card 10
University of North Carolina is famously territorial about the specific shade of blue used in its team branding, but the Tar Heels haven’t always been on the same page. As the color drifted towards purple or aqua or royal blue at different points over the years, various school admins fought to establish an exact Pantone match. The latest squabble broke out between UNC’s design agency, who wanted Pantone 542, and its finance department, who insisted it was Pantone 278. The former won out, this time, though the website has to use a different shade for accessibility reasons.
You could probably get away with wearing either one at a game, just as long as you’re not using rival Duke University’s blue. That’s Pantone 287.
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Quartz Obsession — Sports branding — Card 11
You may not be able to wave your scarf or sing your team’s anthem alongside thousands of other fans, but we’ve got just the thing to get you cheering.
Enter our Hitting the Open Road sweepstakes for a chance to win a (socially distanced) vacation, including a National Parks pass, REI gift card, and a lot more. If you’re in the US, go here for kickoff.
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Quartz Obsession — Sports branding — Card 13
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This week’s email was a team effort, written by Max Lockie, Hasit Shah, and Oliver Staley, edited by Susan Howson, and produced by Jordan Weinstock.
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