The Sports Show, on view at SVA Chelsea Gallery in New York

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This represents a career highlight for me—I am co-curator of “The Sports Show,” on view at the SVA Chelsea Gallery, 601 West 26th Street, 15th floor, from August 22—September 19, 2015. The exhibition brings together more than 30 leading artists and designers who graduated from SVA in commercial design and advertising, film and video, illustration and cartooning, motion graphics, painting, and photography.

In assembling the more than 140 works in this exhibition, our intent was to showcase aesthetic excellence and achievement across a wide range of creative disciplines and subjects, all united by the theme of sports. The results include images of figures both unbelievably famous and utterly anonymous. Familiar sports—baseball, basketball, and football—are included, along with more niche pursuits, like surfing, roller derby, and putt-putt golf.

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In addition to their shared theme, all the works in “The Sports Show” are united by the fact that their creators attended SVA. This exhibition spans the entire history of the College, from its earliest days as the Cartoonists and Illustrators School—represented by the newspaper cartoons of Bill Gallo—to the present time, as seen via motion graphics, and online media. Taken as a whole, these works speak to the changing face of media consumption and technology, as well as to the evolution of SVA from a small trade school, which enrolled 35 students in 1947, its inaugural year, to the diverse, vibrant and influential creative community that it is today.

Special thanks to SVA, the SVA Alumni Society (where I have long served as a board member,) and particularly to my co-curator, SVA’s director of Alumni Affairs and Development, Jane Nuzzo. SVA Galleries director Francis Di Tommaso and his team have brought the whole thing to life, and they deserve much credit. The initial vision of “The Sports Show” came from SVA Executive Vice President Anthony P. Rhodes.

Participating artists and designers:

Rafael Alvarez
Jayson Atienza 
Elizabeth Baddeley 
Elisa Bates 
James Bennett 
Katie Biese 
Andrew Christou 
Mickey Duzyj 
Amy Elkins 
Charles Fazzino 
Brian Finke 
Latoya Flowers 
Nathan Fox 
Sarah A. Friedman 
Naoki Ga 
Bill Gallo 
Michael Halsband 
Kelly King 
Graig Kreindler
Marc Levine 
David Levinson 
Clay Patrick McBride 
Tal Midyan 
Frank W. Ockenfels 3 
Al Pereira 
Hanoch Piven 
Todd Radom 
Kevin Reece 
Yuko Shimizu 
Linda Shirar 
Denise Vargas 
Jason Vogel

 

Branding systems for licensing programs—an immersive visual experience

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I have worked on all kinds of significant and immersive licensing initiatives for the better part of a quarter century now, both in sports and out.

Eight years ago, my friends at Minor League Baseball approached me about a new licensing program that they wanted to kick off—the Minor League Baseball Hometown Collection. The concept was (and is) a sound one—protecting intellectual properties, resurrecting vintage logos, uniform lettering, and headwear marks, and creating brand new vintage-looking art—all as a way to generate revenue, of course, but also a strong statement in terms of telling a story, a celebration of the rich history of the Minors, told in loving visual detail.

We started out with a primary logo, of course. We then quickly pivoted to creating artwork for individual Minor League teams, most of them long defunct. The appeal to licensees and stakeholders was obvious right off the bat (see what I did there?)

My services include brand consultation and overall program branding, as well as research and digitalization of historic art, and design of retro-inspired theme art for individual franchises.

All authentic art is carefully researched and digitized in order to maintain its original visual integrity, with an eye for accuracy and detail. The retro-style art is rooted in the aesthetics of a certain place and time, a great opportunity to flex my design muscles and love of vintage design, especially typography.

This is an ongoing project, with many hundreds of visual pieces for dozens of franchises already being leveraged by MiLB and its stakeholders.

Some jobs can be categorized as sprints, others as marathons. This is a marathon.

Over the years, I’ve assisted other sports leagues and time-honored consumer brands (such as Kellogg’s and General Motors) in protecting their visual heritages and leveraging crafted visual assets for long-term profit.

Do you have such a brand? E mail me —I’d welcome the opportunity to work with you.

Sports Logo Case Study #11—the 1915 Phillies, MLB’s First True Team Logo

The 11th in an ongoing series of entries about vintage sports identities. Sports fans, as I have often said, are the most ardent brand loyalists on the face of the earth. There are stories to be told here at the intersection of art, commerce, history, and fandom.

2015 marks the 100th anniversary of what I consider to be one of the first—if not the first—true team logos in the history of Major League Baseball.

What makes this a “true logo?” Simply put, it was used across a wide variety of platforms to promote the team as part of a cohesive strategy. Although we are bombarded by logos and corporate symbols today, this was very rare in the world of MLB before the late 1940s. Some of the most familiar icons associated with MLB clubs were either a) used solely on uniforms or b) developed much later than this one.

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1915 PHILLIES PRESS PINThe logo made its debut during the 1915 World Series, which the Phillies lost to the Boston Red Sox.

The symbol first appears in the form of a medallion, designed by venerable Philadelphia jeweler J.E. Caldwell & Company. Part of a credential given to members of the press, an example of this rare keepsake sold at auction for more than $15,000 in August, 2013.

Located in the shadow of Philadelphia’s City Hall, J.E. Caldwell & Company had a great source of inspiration close by from which to draw. From its perch high above Philadelphia, the 37 foot tall, 26 ton statue of William Penn atop City Hall has been a visible civic landmark since the turn of the 20th century.

An engineering marvel, Philadelphia’s City Hall was the tallest building in the world from 1901-08. It remained the tallest building in the city of Philadelphia until the late 1980s.

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The logo features a Penn statue that has come to life, backed up by a chaotic scene involving nine other players. Abundantly detailed, the mark simply reads “Philadelphia National League Base Ball Club.” Two things are noteworthy about this. The first involves the fact that “Phillies” is nowhere to be seen. The second involves the use of the antiquated two-word “Base Ball,” which began to fade from use in the years following World War I.

What’s also striking to me is the fact that this is a fun logo! There’s a certain level of goofiness involved in this huge local icon having come to life, very out of character given the visual landscape of Major League Baseball at this time.

1925 PHILLIES SEASON PASSThough rarely seen in the years immediately following its launch, the club again featured the insignia in medallion form ten years later, this time as a solid gold season pass. The logo was used on team letterheads starting in 1926, and was seen on scorecards, schedules, and roster guides from the late ’20s up until the early ’40s.

 

1933 PHILLIES

1938, the Phillies changed their uniform colors to yellow and blue in honor of the tercentenary celebration of the 1638 Swedish landing in what is now Wilmington, Delaware. That season the club elevated their logo to star status, placing in on the sleeves of their uniforms for the first and only time.

1938 PHILLIES PATCH

1938 PHILLIES PROGRAM

It should be noted that the Phillies fielded some truly awful teams during these years. The club’s average attendance for the entire decade of the 1930s was around 3,000 fans per game. They switched stadiums in the middle of the 1938 season, moving from Baker Bowl to the Athletics’ Shibe Park. Modern sports marketing was being pioneered at this time—in 1935 the Cincinnati Reds hosted MLBs first night games. The Chicago Cubs employed graphic designer and marketing expert Otis Shepard, eventually named to the club’s Board of Directors in 1945. The underfunded Phillies, a bare-bones organization with little vision or budget for promotion, phased out the Penn logo in 1940-41.

The club underwent an identity of crisis in the early ’40s, officially changing their name from Phillies to “Phils” in 1942, then reversing course the following season. The team became “Blue Jays” a year after that, although that nickname never took hold in the public imagination.

1942 PHILS

Now long forgotten, the Phillies’ William Penn logo served as the primary visual representation of the franchise for a quarter century. 100 years after it was introduced, it deserves a second look.

The Tigers Old English “D”—a Motown classic since 1896

This story first appeared at Sporting News on June 18, 2015

By Todd Radom

If any professional sports logo can truly stake a claim to being the unofficial symbol of a city, it’s the Detroit Tigers’ iconic Old English “D.”

Over the years, the Tigers’ “D” has come to represent Motown civic pride, a perpetual emblem for a resilient city and its people.

The Old English “D” is MLB’s oldest visual icon, connecting Tigers legends from Cobb to Greenberg to Kaline to Cabrera. In fact, it even predates the Tigers’ status as a major league franchise.

Today’s Tigers started out as a minor league team, playing in the Western League in 1894. Led by Ban Johnson, the Western League changed its name to “American League” in 1900 and declared itself a major league one year later.

Here is the first known reference to the Detroit Tigers’ uniform D, as published in the Detroit Free Press on February 29, 1896:

02.29.1896_FIRST TIGERS D

Some perspective is in order here: three weeks before the above story was printed, Babe Ruth celebrated his first birthday. Henry Ford was busy tinkering in his workshop on Bagley Street in Detroit, still three months away from completing work on his first gasoline-powered automobile. Grover Cleveland was president of the United States.

And yet here we are, nearly 120 years later — the “D” both endures and thrives as one of the most identifiable insignias in American professional sports.

The phrase “Old English D” first appeared in print in the March 13, 1896 edition of the Detroit Free Press, and it has been known as such pretty much ever since.

Visual evidence of the Western League Tigers is not easy to come by. These illustrations appeared in the Detroit Free Press in the spring of 1897:

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This 1899 team photo, courtesy of the Ernie Harwell Sports Collection of the Detroit Public Library, depicts the club in their road uniforms, as differentiated by their black pants (they wore white pants at home that year). The mix of the “D” appearing on both left and right sides of the uniform in this photo, as well as the different styles of the letter, speaks to the fact that the “D” had by this point been shifted to the same position that it occupies today.1899-DETROIT-TIGERS

The Tigers dropped their “D” after the 1899 season, going back to a plain block “DETROIT” in 1900. It was restored in 1904, on their road uniforms. This team photo represents the first usage of the “D” by the MLB Tigers:

1904 TIGERS_FIRST D

The “D” first appeared on their caps the following season. It didn’t quite match the uniform “D” then and it still doesn’t.

The “D” has completely disappeared from both caps and uniforms for seasons at a time. In 1927, it was replaced by a remarkably complex tiger head for one single season. The team wore a script “Detroit” both at home and on the road from 1930-33.

The “D” has morphed many dozens of times over the years. Hall of Fame catcher Mickey Cochrane restored the “D” when he was named Tigers manager in 1934, and it’s been there ever since—with the notable exception of but one season, 1960.

The origin of the Tigers’ nickname itself is shrouded in a cloud of mystery. During their first season, 1894, the franchise was known as the Detroit Creams, so called because of the fact that team owner George Vanderbeck stated that the club would be “the cream of the league.”

For many years, Detroit’s third manager, George Stallings, was given credit for the Tiger name, supposedly due to the fact that he dressed his team up in black and brown striped stockings.

The trouble with this claim is that Stallings was hired as Detroit’s manager on December 5, 1895, many months after the first appearance of “Detroit Tigers” in print. That took place in the April 16, 1895 edition of the Detroit Free Press. There are multiple references to Tigers from that day’s paper, including an item entitled “Notes of the Detroit Tigers for 1895.”

While the striped tiger story may or may not be apocryphal, closer examination and additional research reveals that there might be some truth to it after all. They were referred to as the “men of the striped sweaters” in the May 18, 1897 edition of the Detroit Free Press. And a May 27, 1899 item in the St. Paul Globe states the following: “Now that the Detroits have abandoned their old striped jackets, the nickname Tigers has no direct application.” Jackets and sweaters, as opposed to striped stockings, could well be the inspiration behind the Tigers nickname.

A widely accepted theory suggests that the club was named in honor of the Detroit Light Guard, Michigan’s oldest National Guard unit, who were popularly known as the “Tigers.”

Whatever the case, the Tigers and their Old English “D” march forward, much like Detroit itself. A little rough around the edges, timeworn, a work in progress — but an undisputable American classic.