Minor League Baseball’s Rochester Red Wings have 100 years of history. To celebrate their city, the Red Wings wanted to pay tribute to a popular local cuisine: the garbage plate—a delicacy most often consumed after 2 a.m. that includes hash browns, macaroni salad, burger, cheese, onions, mustard and hot sauce.
“They told us if you can create a uniform based on that and it looks appetizing, you have a job,” says Jason Klein, co-founder of the design studio Brandiose. “For one night, they adopted the identity as the Rochester Plates and cap sales were through the roof. Everybody in Rochester wanted to get a Plate hat.”
Designing for minor league sports offers Brandiose—led by Klein and Casey White—their own lane in sports design, one often defined by fun, irreverence, kid-friendliness and all with an element of surprise. “As kids who grew up in Southern California and having Disneyland in our backyard, the idea that storytelling could transport you to another universe was really enticing to us,” Klein says. Minor league designs allow the duo to infuse their passion of storytelling with hometown layers.
And 17 years in, Brandiose has created more than a niche, with about 80 percent of its business in minor league sports—they also do work for Major League Baseball, Nike, the NBA, Mattel’s Disney division and more.
“I think the biggest misconception about minor league sports is that Minor League Baseball teams are in the baseball business,” Klein says. “They are in the entertainment business. They can’t control the product on the field, so they are more like Disney than they are like the Yankees. A lot of what we are doing is entertainment design, getting people engaged in their hometown stories that they love and creating these immersive environments. That is very different than the way major league sports teams work.”
The design becomes about more than just a clever logo. Without million-dollar ad budgets and void of strict design guidelines, minor league designs need to grab attention. “If we call ourselves the Lehigh Valley IronPigs that is going to get us on SportsCenter,” he says. “If we call ourselves the Flying Squirrels that will make people turn their heads. That is millions of dollars of free advertising.”
Teams must fully embrace the monikers. Brandiose does more than create a team name or a cap logo, helping with the uniform design, mascot creation and even the naming of the team store and other key parts of the stadium to fit with the chosen theme.
Brandiose has over 60 teams on permanent retainer, available to put together special events, such as Rochester turning to the Plates. Klein and White also build anywhere from two to eight full rebrands each year, whether a team is moving cities, has a new owner wanting to infuse their own personality, or a milestone event—such as a new stadium. These are all reasons to start fresh.
The most recent Brandiose reset came for the Atlanta Braves’ AAA team, the Gwinnett Braves, just outside of the city, providing plenty of confusion with two teams in the same market with the same nickname. Klein says the process for Gwinnett, which unveiled its new name and look in December, began like every project, with his team spending time in the community researching, talking to fans and season-ticket holders and becoming honorary citizens. “We want to immerse ourselves in the brand and the community,” he says.
Brandiose ran a name-the-team contest with fans that netted thousands of suggestions, everything from the Buttons (after a local founding father) to the Sweat Teas. The Big Mouths, a tie to bass fishing, stuck out as a popular theme. “Everyone really loved the bass story,” Klein says, “but maybe Big Mouths was missing something.” So Brandiose kept working and settled on the Stripers, a play on striped bass.
They created sketch designs to tell the story, a variety of logos the team could apply as they saw fit. They left the Braves colors in place while added a “zing” of striped bass green to separate the brand. Logos include a striper in the shape of a G, a striper throwing a ball with its tail and a worm on a hook, which ended up a key surprise element and the logo on the cap.
“People always ask us if the worst thing is when people hate what you create,” Klein says. “The worst thing is when they are apathetic about it. You want people to love and hate what you create because it creates dialogue. The worst thing is to be forgettable or predictable. We never want a fan to see something and drag it into the mental hard drive of things I understand and don’t need to look at any deeper.”
From IronPigs to Stripers to Flying Squirrels, Brandiose will continue to tell local stories of entertainment. And they might just have a garbage plate in Rochester along the way.