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The National Basketball Association’s Portland Trailblazers bring a fresh artistic take inside the Moda Center every home game thanks to a growing relationship with the city’s design community. That relationship has allowed the Blazers to complete a season of its inaugural Gameday Poster Series where local artists and graphic designers created an exclusive in-venue design for each of the team’s 41 regular-season home games. That concept builds on the team’s already robust partnerships with local designers for in-arena exclusive products.
“The whole idea of this concept and the program was to have fans define our brand,” says Todd Adams, Trailblazers brand development manager. “Our brand filters are approachable, unique and authentic. We want to make sure we are authentic to Portland and this allows artists to define what the brand looks like.”
The Blazers formed the concept based on the idea of a limited-edition concert poster. They investigated the concept in sports and decided the 41-game season was sustainable. Having worked previously with about five to 10 local artists, the Trailblazers reached out to those artists and their networks and then contacted the regional arts and culture council, the local art institute, the Portland Street Art Alliance, Portland State University and any other artist avenue possible, netting over 80 submissions in the initial call. A committee that included community members narrowed it down to 35 artists.
With very few parameters—no nudity, blood or guts, no player likenesses and no opponent logos—on the design, Adams says artists were given carte blanch and a blank canvas to interpret what the team’s famous slogan, Rip City, meant to them for specific games. With a mixture of designers that ranged in styles from typographic to graphic designers and cartoonists, caricaturists and water color, every artist had a tie to Portland and their own style.
“This was a continuation of product and what it means to connect authentically to Portland,” Adams says. “We know we have the basketball fan in Portland, but we want to reach into the artist community and get that community excited about the Blazers brand.”
The team made 100 posters for each game, priced at $10 (proceeds benefited the team’s foundation) available only in the flagship Rip City Clothing Co. store inside the arena. The concept not only made the design incredibly exclusive—there was no way to get the poster without being present at the game which created an incentive to come to the arena—the limited run was also meant to draw fans into the arena early, helping create more time for them to interact with events, products and concessions.
Each design was done prior to the season, but revealed on the day of the game. Promoted through social media, season-ticket holders were afforded a pre-sale option each gameday. During the game, each poster enjoyed promotion in the program, on signage and with an artist giveaway during the game.
While not every poster sold out, by the end of the year the program had gained momentum and 28 of the 43 home games (two playoff posters added to the mix) sold out. “What was great about the art is it was subjective,” Adams says. “What may appeal to someone one game might not be someone else’s favorite. All season long I heard people say, ‘That is my favorite so far.’”
With that, the Trailblazers were able to reach a varied demographic. They saw one high-level art collector, also a season-ticket holder, buy the 1 of 100 from the entire set. Others used the poster to commemorate the day, a city or even for the design (Adams remembers one dad saying his son liked dinosaurs so bought the poster for the night Portland played the Toronto Raptors simply for the dinosaur).
The poster series serves as an extension of the team’s “item of the game” concept that features in-venue exclusive collaborations between the Blazers and a local business. Some of those same product designers also created a poster.
Marcus Harvey, founder of the growing Portland Gear brand, now with its own retail presence downtown, says creating an item of the game led to a consistent presence in the team store’s local’s corner, allowing for exclusive in-arena Portland Brand-Blazers products.
“Every item of the game we have done has sold out that night,” Harvey says. A huge Blazers fan in his own right, he has enjoyed the relationship formed with the team’s administration—and even players—as his brand builds fresh cache by partnering with the Blazers. “People are huge Blazers fans here,” he says. “We love our sports teams, we love going to games and rooting for them. That is important to us. Portland is still a pretty small town so for us to be a small brand and level up and align with the Blazers and do something with a company and brand everyone already knows, when Blazers fans see Portland Gear stuff and think it is kinda dope, maybe now they will like Portland Gear.”
Whether an exclusive Portland Gear product or the new Gameday Poster Series, the Blazers have reached into the Portland design community in an effort to give fans daily freshness.
Tim Newcomb covers sports design for HOW. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.