Dear readers: In marketing parlance, this is a consummate “hot market” story,
On Wednesday night, October 21, the New York Mets defeated the Chicago Cubs 8-3, thus sweeping the National League Championship Series. New York would be appearing in its first World Series since 2000, with Game 1 slated for the following Tuesday evening, October 27.
Thursday morning, I received an email from Mike Zulla, the Mets’ Director of Creative Services. The newly-minted NL champs needed a logo, one that they could utilize for local sponsorship deals, and one that would not conflict with Major League Baseball’s own championship marks or sponsors. This identity would need to pass muster with MLB and would need to be created, approved, and finalized ASAP.
I sometimes liken myself to Winston Wolfe, so memorably portrayed by Harvey Keitel in the 1994 film “Pulp Fiction.” I solve problems. I am often asked to take on highly visible projects with little margin for error. When speaking to design groups and young creatives, I always stress the fact that coming up with attractive visuals is one thing; navigating the process can sometimes be quite another. This is one such example.
The work would necessarily travel down two parallel tracks, one of course built on optimism—a “World Champions” logo. The other approach was one of pragmatism—“League Champions.” All contingencies were to be covered here with flexibility at the forefront of the process.
Job one was recognizing what would and would not get past our friends at Major League Baseball. My nearly quarter century of collaboration with MLB on similar projects provided a great degree of comfort for everyone in terms of how to advance.
We agreed that a 48-hour turnaround for initial concepts was both reasonable and necessary. The foundation work that is always so critical at the front end of a job such as this—research, a brand audit, a formal articulation of goals—was simply not possible given the dynamics involved. Nevertheless, I proceeded with great optimism, for several reasons. Working with Mike was the primary factor—he is a seasoned pro, absolutely unflappable, even-tempered, a joy to work with. I had every confidence in the world that if I did my job, he would shepherd the work through on his end and would be able to build an internal consensus as we pushed things along. My trust in him was unwavering. Secondly, I was quite familiar with the franchise’s marketing and visual culture, having attended my first MLB game at the Mets’ longtime home, Shea Stadium, in September 1971.
Once we had an agreement on how to move forward, it was off to the races. My first round of sketches coalesced around a few distinct themes. I created the elements so that they could be mixed and matched with relative ease, given the fact that no logo of this prominence ever gets through the requisite maze of approvals without some kind of revision. This is actually a good thing. Various stakeholders get to have their say, consensus is built, and, hopefully, all interested partners are satisfied at the conclusion of the process.
The Mets’ signature colors of royal blue and orange would carry the day in all cases. The team’s familiar skyline logo, their “NY” ligature, and the idea of a pennant—a flag—were all pieces to be explored. Letterforms would need to be integrated in such a way so that they did not conflict with MLB’s own World Series branding. And it was critically important to deliver the work with depth and context attached to it in the form of activation samples—photo mapping that would help sell the work and make it come alive through real-world examples of what things might look like when rubber would meet road.
Round one was received with great enthusiasm and excitement. Let’s keep in mind the fact that all of this work was taking place at the same time as the World Series was being played. The logistics of presentation, approvals, and communication are always challenging at this time of the year, but the job moved forward in a straight line thanks to Mike and his colleagues at the Mets.
Several small rounds of revisions followed, and we received MLB approval on the afternoon of October 30, the day the Mets hosted their first Fall Classic game in fifteen years.
The Mets, alas, came up short. The Kansas City Royals won the World Series on November 1, their first world title in thirty years. However, New York still had much to celebrate in this pennant winner, a likeable and marketable young team with a bright future.
On December 7, the Mets announced a new long-term partnership deal with Coca-Cola. That morning, a group of Mets and Coke executives rang the opening ball of the New York Stock. Each of them held a commemorative bottle of Coca-Cola, emblazoned with our new logo.
Some jobs are sprints, others are marathons. The opportunity to be associated with excellence is always a great thing. I can’t wait to see this identity get rolled out this summer. I’m hopeful that the many Mets fans in my life, friends and family alike, embrace the results of this fast-moving project.