Shiver me timbers! It’s JUST a logo!
If everyone who had an opinion about the new black, grey and Lake Michigan blue uniforms actually came to an Admirals game, the Bradley Center would be rockin’ night in and night out. You can expect some grumbling when a team makes a change, but hockey fans seem to have a majority thought when it comes to this version of the American Hockey League team...walk the plank with that pirate!
The Admirals got a rink full of feedback following their big unveiling Aug. 1 at the Summerfest grounds. Some of it was positive. A lot was not.
"It wasn’t a surprise," said Harris Turer, the Admirals owner and chief executive officer. "People that are positive, you tend not to hear that stuff. But when people are upset or have a very strong opinion on something, you’re going to hear it."
Some fans who gathered in anticipation for the new look even voiced their displeasure on the spot. I’m not sure what they were expecting, but perhaps they thought a puffy shirt was soon to follow.
Polls sprung up everywhere, letting the voters have their say and comment on the garb. Those negative-minded tallies showed up in bunches. OnMilwaukee.com logged 41% saying "It looks like it was designed by a child." In a Journal Sentinel poll, 72 percent of respondents gave the logo a thumbs-down.
But here we are, with the Packers in pads, the Brewers battling road woes, and the Bucks changing their roster almost daily and the minor league hockey team’s color scheme and logo are creating the biggest buzz.
"You want people to talk about you," Turer said. "Now, do you want them to always talk negatively about you? Of course not. But, you DO want them to talk about you, and they were."
For the record, the guy who signs the paychecks loves the logo, and the free publicity that came with it. Turer began this logo transformation process over a year ago. He set sail in search of someone who could think outside the box.
Enter Joe Locher.
"Joe just didn’t come up with this in a haphazard way, he really put a lot of thought into what the Admirals are," Turer said. "He’s so creative, and he put a lot of thought into it, that’s what I like. I loved that right away."
Locher, who runs his own local advertising agency, The Yes Men, didn’t just conjure up a few designs and ask the Admirals brass to pick the best one. He researched the team, the city, the nickname and its history. Then he created a story to go along with his logo.
"As far as jersey designs, (I presented) literally dozens of looks," Locher said. "One was orange and black, based on the old James Caan Rollerball movie. One was really futuristic, black and lime green. Then there was a red, white and blue one that looked like it could have been from the 2024 Olympics. As far as the art style of the skeleton, we looked at about 6 or 7 different styles, from very spooky to Hello Kitty."
And what set the winning entry apart from the others?
"The one we decided on is actually inspired by skateboard art more than anything else, because that's what's popular with the age group we're after," Locher said.
"A lot of the complaints have been related to the simplicity of the art style," Locher said. "But I happen to think an ornate logo is not the way to go - if you think about how a logo is seen and used by a team, the goal should be to capture the essence of the idea in as few strokes as possible. There is nothing wrong with simplicity."
Turer got the best of both worlds when he met with Locher through a mutual friend, and gauged his interest in taking on the redesign project. The owner wanted different, but he wanted clean and simple too. Locher delivered.
"I had someone else do designs, they tried very hard, but it just didn’t click with me," Turer said. "I like how it was very clean-looking, very bold. I actually sat up in the suite level and watched some of our players with the jerseys on, and you can tell exactly what it is from a distance."
The youth movement is clearly the audience the Admirals are shooting for. Turer and Locher saw this as an opportunity to reach out to fans who may not even know the franchise exists. Even if it causes a stir in the camp of the older generation.
"Sometimes, the passion of a loyal fan base can blind people to the fact that a sports team is a business, and a business has to turn a profit," Locher said. "The fact is, the team has 1,500 or so loyal fans who go to all the games. That's not enough. The Admirals asked me if it was possible to push this brand to the point where it might possibly attract the attention of a new group -- to engage those of marginal interest, or maybe even those who have never been to a game. I think that's what's happening with this brand -- it's polarizing the fan base."
"Younger people tend to be trendsetters in our society," Turer said. "I want kids who may never come to a game to look at the logo and say "That’s pretty cool.""
And apparently, there are plenty out there who think it is cool.
"In the first six days that the logo’s been out, we sold more (merchandise) than all of last year," said Tim Van Wagoner, the Admirals director of marketing. "A whole cross section of fans and non-fans alike are buying the merchandise. If anything, though, I’d say it’s trending toward younger demos."
Turer recently visited a golf course while sporting the new Admirals design. His caddy, a teenager, noticed the hat, liked it, and asked about the logo. But Turer had a question for the young man.
"Ever been to a game before?" he asked.
"No," was the reply.
"Would you wear a hat like this?"
"The goal is to have everyone be a fan, wear the merchandise, and be walking billboards for your team," Turer said. "I’ve already seen people walking around with this stuff, and it’s pretty exciting."
And even though the cash register continues to ring at the Admirals souvenir shop, Locher continues to take just as much heat as the club that hired him. But like Turer, you have to have a thick skin when the backlash begins.
"It surprised me at first, but it makes a lot of sense if you understand the landscape," Locher said. "First of all, we set out to do a radical departure from the current uniforms. The 500 or so people who have been most vocally opposed wanted to keep the old uni's, so they were probably a given to be against whatever was done. It sure seems like there are a lot of people who like it. Someone's buying all that stuff. The unhappy ones are the ones who need to be heard in the blogs and chat rooms. . . maybe 800 people hate it and 8,000 love it -- but you're gonna hear from the 800. Hopefully, the 8,000 will vote with their checkbooks."
The Internet may be a great vehicle for the downtrodden to release their pent up logo frustration. But it has also turned the heads of fans all over the country. A sampling found sites like www.blogography.com where someone named "Jersey" goes on at length after ordering "the sweetest hockey jersey on the planet!" Jersey goes on to say the worst part is the seven week wait, because they are in such high demand, but it’s worth it to him.
"Coolest. Logo. Ever."
And over at www.sportslogopundit.blogspot.com -- a site that lets fans chat away about logos in all walks of sports, Brandon set aside some cyberspace to praise the new look in Milwaukee.
"Has it drawn the ire (iiiiiirrrre) of The Sports Logo Pundit? Hell no, this logo is awesome! It's one of my absolute favorites that I have reviewed. But I love pirates, I love cartoons and I love the severed leg hockey stick," writes Brandon.
All this chatter, good or bad, is a plus for the Admirals. Turer got bonus buzz when he brought this new Admiral aboard.
"That’s what I need out there, that creates a buzz about our organization. I hope down the road it creates more casual fans."
Perhaps the biggest fans, and the acid test for the new team jerseys, are the players themselves. Turer made sure that the guys in skates who would eventually sport the new look actually approved.
"All of our players saw them last year, during the playoffs," Turer said. "I brought both jerseys in, home and away, and I asked them, give me your honest opinion. I needed to know how guys in their early 20s view this, and all of them said "This is great. It’s outside the box.""
Locher also urges detractors to check out the new jerseys with the names and numbers attached. Fans may be judging the finished product without the complete look in place.
"Someone e-mailed me about adding blue waves on the shirt, to "jazz it up," Locher said. "This is a completely different school of design than that. We don't want blue waves, yellow anchors, copper and red numbers... the whole thing vibrating like a neon sign. There are a few clean, bold elements that click together. When you see them on the ice, you'll get it."
Whether or not some fans ever get it, time will tell. But numbers don’t lie...beginning with a 600 percent increase in merchandise sales in less than a week.
But not everyone is sold, and even time may not heal that hurt. Some fans have actually complained on websites that they will be the laughing stock of the league. Joe Locher just laughs at those who think, they are being laughed at.
"When all the Packers fans started wearing Cheeseheads to the games, a lot of sophisticated Milwaukeeans were thinking, "Oh, great - now the rest of the country will just think we're a bunch of dopey cheese farmers," he said. "But, did we show this side of weakness and worry to Bears and Vikings fans? Of course not. We made every game a big party and won the Super Bowl.
"The ghost Admiral can be like that too -- go with it, and you'll see it's a lot more fun than a crusty old sea salt."
Bob currently does play-by-play at Time Warner Cable Sports 32, calling Wisconsin Timber Rattlers games in Appleton as well as the area high school football and basketball scene. During an earlier association with FS Wisconsin, his list of teams and duties have included the Packers, Bucks, Brewers and the WIAA State Championships.
During his life before cable, Bob spent seven seasons as a reporter and producer of "Preps Plus: The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel High School Sports Show."
And the joke is, Bob has a golf shirt from all four Milwaukee television stations. Sad, but true: Bob has had sports and news anchor/reporter/producer stints at WTMJ, WISN, WDJT and WITI.
His first duty out of college (UW-Oshkosh) was radio and TV work in Eau Claire. Bob spent nearly a decade at WEAU-TV as a sports director and reporter.
You may have heard Bob's pipes around town as well. He has done play-by-play for the Milwaukee Mustangs, Milwaukee Iron, and UW-Milwaukee men's and women's basketball. Bob was the public address announcer for five seasons for both the Marquette men and women's basketball squads. This season, you can catch the starting lineups of the UW-Milwaukee Panther men's games with Bob behind the mic.
A Brookfield Central graduate, Bob's love and passion for sports began at an early age, when paper football leagues, and Wiffle Ball All Star Games were all the rage in the neighborhood.