HbD InDepth: 2020 Stadium Series Branding (Part 1)
You’d be hard pressed to find a true hockey fan that hasn’t imagined him or herself strapping on an old pair of skates and sliding out onto the rippled frozen surface of a lake. Clutching a well-worn stick. Puffing great breaths of frigid steam. Chasing a beat-up rubber disk. Some even say the gates of heaven open onto a frozen pond with St. Peter in a black and white striped shirt carefully monitoring the penalty box.
But thanks to the NHL and the success of the Winter Classic, the Heritage Classic, and now the Stadium Series, outdoor hockey has become a reality. And this year, that reality will happen to take place in my own back yard.
Into the Wild Blue Yonder
If I were to step out onto my back porch, rear back and heave a hockey puck as far as I could throw it, there’s a possibility it could almost reach the United States Air Force Academy. Nestled in the front range of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado Springs, the Academy’s picturesque Falcon Stadium has been the home of the NCAA Division 1-A Falcons since 1962. The thin air, blue skies and gorgeous mountain backdrop here have combined to create what CBS Sports has ranked as one of the top venues in all of College Football.
Could there be a more perfect setting to host an outdoor professional hockey game? This year, thanks to the NHL’s hugely successful Stadium Series, that question might be answered once and for all as the Colorado Avalanche play host to the Los Angeles Kings in the wild blue yonder of Falcon Stadium on February 15, 2020.
Needless to say, the moment I heard the announcement that the game would be played so close to home, my excitement level reached instant overload. Who would be the opponent for the Avalanche (answered early on as the LA Kings)? How many tickets would be available (the stadium seats over 46,000 fans)? And most importantly to a sports branding designer, what will the event logo look like?
Hockey By Design takes an in-depth look at the NHL’s creative involvement in developing and executing the brand for such a unique and significant event.
All Outdoor NHL Hockey Isn’t the Same
The immense popularity of the National Hockey League’s outdoor regular season games has spawned three distinctive series: The Winter Classic (played annually on New Year’s Day), The Heritage Classic (featuring exclusively Canadian teams) and the Stadium Series (played since 2014 in classic U.S. baseball or football stadiums). Designing the brand and promoting each of the three series creates a distinct set of creative challenges.
It has been a conscious NHL decision to differentiate the Stadium Series events from the Winter Classic, which always takes on a retro feel and is a throwback to the game’s origins on the pond. The Heritage Classic is similar in approach to the Winter Classic, but focuses on Canadian teams and matchups, which is why the maple leaf has played a prominent role in the visual branding for those games.
Meanwhile, the Stadium Series games are the League’s “future-forward” games. They often feature sleeker, more cutting-edge designs, not just in the logo, but in the team jerseys and even in the on-field decor.
The Air Force Academy event was announced in January 2019. Following the announcement, the NHL team, which typically requires at least six to twelve months for the design and implementation of the event branding, began researching the location including the Colorado Springs region.
An initial site visit to the thin air of the Air Force Academy (elevation 6,621 feet above sea level) took place with the events team touring the grounds. From there, key pieces of visual iconography were explored that would be included in the logo, specifically the iconic Cadet Chapel and jet aircraft.
In this case, there was also the special significance that accompanies playing an NHL hockey game at a U.S. Service Academy. A distinctive military look for the mark was inspired by customized plaques that are created and displayed on the Academy campus commemorating each graduating class.
The developmental process sketches included below, show that a range of options were explored to ensure a balanced breath of work and consideration of all possible solutions. A close look at these variations shows some interesting directions which explore different looks at the outer shape, the jets, the typography treatments, and the placement of the NHL logo. The approval process for these event logos typically involves several rounds.
This class plaque approach was similar to the one taken for the 2018 event played at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. between the Washington Capitals and the Toronto Maple Leafs, and it made perfect sense to carry it over for the 2020 game.
A High, Quality Logo
The final logo is a terrific overall design that captures the key elements of the venue while maintaining a detailed simplicity. The color palette is a perfect combination of Air Force blue and jet aircraft silver grays. A tasty red accent is used to highlight the jet exhaust stream and as a separation element above the sponsor logo.
The addition of the metal rivets (symbolic of Air Force from a textural standpoint) on the container shape of the logo immediately take on a military aesthetic, which creates a perfect and iconic housing space for the chapel and jet iconography.
Pleasing the sponsor is always part of the challenge with an event logo, and any designer who’s had to deal with placing an existing sponsor logo into an event brand knows that it can be an absolute nightmare. Happily, the slightly incompatible Navy Federal Credit Union logo is placed comfortably and subtly within the lower portion of the plaque shape and was approved without heavy-handed interference.
It’s always a catch-22 for designers who prefer to avoid incorporating sponsor logos, but also realize there would usually be no event to design a logo for without them.
Pond Hockey Perfection
As the outdoor contest approaches, the temperatures in Colorado Springs are obliging nicely. Snow and freezing temperatures should precede the event, with the extended forecast promising sunny skies and temperatures near freezing on game day. Absolutely perfect for outdoor NHL hockey.
As the venue takes shape and the massive on-site branding project progresses, Hockey By Design will post follow-up coverage of the event designs. In the meantime, it’s worth checking out this link to see a comprehensive presentation of the similar 2018 Stadium Series event branding. If the 2020 event is approached in the same way, NHL Creative Services should have a treat for us pond hockey junkies. Stay tuned!
In celebration of the LA Kings playing in the upcoming Stadium Series, you have a chance to win our Kings play-by-play poster commemorating their 2012 Stanley Cup championship, signed by Bob Miller, the iconic announcer, himself. All it takes is a Twitter follow and retweet to be entered.
For more information, just click here. And good luck!