October. Such a powerful month in Major League Baseball. Such a powerful word. October means playoffs (we have a Mr. October in Reggie Jackson, after all). With October comes design opportunity, the chance to further a brand through typography.
And just look at this year’s teams left standing and you’ll see some of the most recognizable fonts in baseball, teams that claim a design identity and extend it through typography.
Bill Frederick, principal and creative director of New Jersey-based Fanbrandz, has worked in sports design for decades, including developing the custom font for the Toronto Blue Jays, and tells HOW Design that this year’s four teams left standing help take typography distinction to a new branding level.
“Sports identities are unique in that they use typography by spinning it out and working with custom fonts to become an important branding tool for websites, way finding in stadiums, all sorts of uses,” Frederick says. “It is such an inherent part of their identity.”
So much so that even the word October in team fonts—as part of apparel and MLB branding—becomes instantly recognizable through the use of color and typography.
Frederick says developing a working script version for teams can provide a real challenge, even if products, such as Majestic’s “Take October” hoodie, for example, use those scripts to build marketing that spans across a league while remaining focused on a specific team. “They have to create the art to match the logo and make it work in that system,” Frederick says. Having a working font helps in those challenges.
Out of the 30 clubs, Frederick says just over a dozen have working custom fonts, everything from Arizona’s Snakebite font to Philadelphia’s Scriptwurst. But throughout the mix of the entire league, let’s look at the four teams left standing.
Frederick says the new Blue Jays’ font was in development as far back as 2011, following the club’s new identity roll out. To create it, Frederick and Fanbrandz senior designer Michael Raisch dipped into a bit of Toronto nostalgia and grabbed inspiration from the team’s 1977 identity, a split font with a line in the center. The new font has that split look too, but with a twist.
“If you look at it side by side, there is a very big difference,” Frederick says. “The current split font is much more timeliness in nature. I think from a fan standpoint, they are seeing something that feels very familiar, but also anchored in the present.”
By making that connection, Frederick was able to create an instantly recognizable font that Toronto—the baseball team—has embraced and Toronto—the city—calls its own. The success of the team has now stretched the typography success all across Canada.
“It is all comfort food to the fan base,” Raisch says. “They are bringing back that look that was critical.”
To make it mesh in the modern age, Fanbrandz created a pair of split-line looks, a positive version and a solid version to work in every conceivable situation. Frederick calls the split font as strong an identifier as a team can have. “Every Blue Jays fan understands the split font and owns it,” he says.
The Blue Jays are facing Kansas City, a team that adopted a font designed for them when they hosted the 2012 All-Star game. “It is a working font, a font that captured them as a club,” Frederick says. “It was a very regal look that was developed there with the chiseling.”
In the National League, the Chicago Cubs have a font based off Franklin Gothic. And since the Chicago identity isn’t rooted on typography, the Cubs font alone comes across a bit more generic and not as recognizable in nature as some of the other teams in the league, the designers say. But that’s a far cry from their opponent, the New York Mets.
“That font just completely captures the quirkiness of their identity that has been established for a long, long time,” Frederick says. “Between (the Mets) and the Blue Jays, they have the most instantly recognizable fonts. There’s not a Mets fan on the planet that wouldn’t recognize (the font).”
Of course, using the blue and orange so well—the blue was taken from the Dodgers and Giants, two New York teams that left for California, when the Mets formed in 1962—with a white outline helps “enhance that message through font treatment perfectly,” Raisch says. “The color palette is a strong part of that.”
As teams continue to expand their brands—Frederick says sports teams have long used more decorative typography than the corporate world—they realize the branding success it brings. “The value is immeasurable,” he says. “For the Blue Jays, it has been part of their day-to-day to help brand and do messaging for the team. They use that font and people instantly recognize who it is from.”
Fans recognize the font. And they recognize the month. October never looked so sports stylized.
Tim Newcomb covers sports for HOW Design. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.
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