Why All Teams Should Strive for Inspired Design

Social media is often the place where your brand shows up most consistently and frequently to consumers. Take that and the fact that the channels have become increasingly visual, and there’s never been a more critical time to obsess over your brand or team’s graphics package. 

Let’s face it. Visual identity in sports is a crowded space with lots of tired trends. If teams aren’t careful, they can easily blend into the sea of sameness. A team’s graphics package should reflect the brand through and through because of that. The goal should not simply be to create a graphics package that looks cool; the goal should be to create something unique and ownable for the brand. 

But how can a team create a graphics package that feels like something they can own? Logo aside, the key is to find graphic details you can pull in that feel brand-inspired. Elements that give subtle nods to the team, city, DNA, etc. in a way they can only own. 

Okay, but what the heck does brand-inspired design mean? I know it sounds like some marketing gibberish, so let’s start with a few real-life examples and explanations to help bring it to life. 

Yankees (Circa 2018)

When you think of the Yankees, what comes to mind? Iconic, timeless, and prestigious might be just a few. The Yankees are one of those brands that need no introduction and don’t have to chase the tired trends.

In 2018 at the Yankees (I was working there at the time), I felt like we nailed the perfect brand-inspired design for NYY. We owned the pinstripes, iconic for the team, and we brought in nods of gold to play into the premium and championship nature. The visual identity relied on strong compositions to be bold, intriguing, and not overdone. There was a stated yet strong elegance to the simplicity — and it was unlike anything else in the space.

Even with the minimal nature, you could remove all logos and identify NYY, and it felt like the Yankees, and that’s why it worked. 


The Chargers have built a fun, irreverent, edgy and showy brand and have done an excellent job creating a visual identity that helps them own that. First, they use large, bold text that’s a bit in your face (in a good way); the boldness matches their voice and tone perfectly. Secondly, they lean heavily into a lightning bolt pattern which is an inspired detail that’s ownable for them as a team. 

Again, like the Yankees, if you remove the logo and the players, you could still identify the Chargers through the lightning bolt details and big, bold text. 

The Suns

Over the last few years, the Suns have focused on owning the Valley with a laser-sharp focus. And when you think of the Valley, what do you think about? The heat, desert hues, etc. The Suns have created a visual identity that definitely has Valley vibes playing with sun shapes, lightning flares, desert textures & heat mirage-inspired details. 

The Yankees (2019), Chargers, and Suns are just a few examples of teams with a visual identity that lean into brand-inspired elements and details — but every team should focus on this. With sports teams publishing so many creative assets through social media, nailing a look that is ownable for the brand is critical to marketing. But how do you get there?

First, brainstorm your visual cues. 

The biggest key is to brainstorm all the visual cues that your team can own. These visual cues can be pulled from a lot of different places. A few examples include:

Team Name – For example, Jaguars playing into the Jungle or large cat scratch patterns. The Calgary Flames playing into (yes, you guessed it) flame shapes and textures. Or the Houston Rockets using the rocket and flame shapes from their logo as textures and cues.

Locality – This is about taking cues from the city, state or region your team calls home. There are a lot of different elements teams can think of pulling in from their city or region — skyline textures, maps, famous signs (like the NYC Subway numbers), landscape textures, etc. 

Brand History + Elements – This is about digging into your brand and history to pull out visual cues beyond the logo. What are other elements fans might somehow relate to your brand, whether obvious or more aspirational to where you want to take your brand? The Yankees using pinstripes is a good example of this. The pinstripes aren’t tied to their logo, but they are certainly an iconic component of their visual DNA. The Dallas Cowboys At Stewart-Haas Racing, smoke textures and details is a brand element for us as a nod to our owner Tony Stewart’s nickname. 

Second, build out and test. 

Once you have a list of visual cues to play into, it’s important to let the creative and design team do their thing. Briefs are essential to create a season look (even if it’s just an evolution); make a brief that guides on the brand elements you want to explore so those essential ownable elements show up. I think the best briefs give enough guardrails to guide, but don’t put designers in a box they can’t push. 

I also believe in this exercise, it’s important to have a few options to react to, so have as many creative helping to solve this challenge as possible. Push the team to bring forth various looks & feels and elements — some literal, some over-the-top and some abstract — then select and scale down to create your final look.

Pressure test the look.

Once you believe your visual identity is in a good spot, ask critical and hard questions to ensure the look is ownable for your team. A few of the questions I like to ask:

When people see our collective assets, will they immediately think [insert team/brand]?

  • If we removed our logo and our players, would people be able to identify our brand?
  • Are there other teams in the space who have a similar look?
  • Does the look feel modern and fresh without being tired?

A visual identity is integral in bringing your brand to life, and it goes well beyond a logo. As our worlds become increasingly more visual, it’s becoming more and more important for brands and teams to get their look right. Every brand has something unique it can own, whether it’s locality cues or something inspired from its history, so take that inspiration to create a brand-inspired design that stands out from the rest of the crowd. 

Here’s to more ownable visual identies across the sports space. 

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It’s Time To Redefine What Quality Content Means

In this era of TikTok, memes and lofi content, we face a unique challenge for creatives and digital teams. The challenge? To redefine what we view as quality content.

For so long, “quality” content has referred to the level of production value – how polished, how pretty and how much work was put into it. Creators and marketers have historically defined the standard for quality content and advertising by what they deem aesthetically and creatively appealing. And, we have been looking at it all wrong.

Digital, with instant feedback from consumers and a generation that’s creating straight from their phones, is forcing us to rethink how we approach and think about all aspects of marketing — and the definition of quality content should be one of them. For so long quality content has been based on a marketer’s definition and has completely ignored the audience.

Are you ready for the truth about content?

Our audiences don’t care how much time was spent creating something. They don’t care if a piece is polished or it isn’t. They don’t debate 4K video vs. iPhone video or care if Photoshop or Canva were used to make a graphic. And, they especially don’t care if something went through a 100-person approval process.

Our audiences care if the content is interesting to them, period.

Because of this, it’s time to flip the definition of “quality” content on its head. Quality content should not only be defined by production value. Quality content should be determined by how much it resonates with the audience.

This is not to downplay high-production value. I believe production value and creative integrity matter, but there’s a time and a place. For far too long creative has been upheld as a very precious thing that has to be perfect. And in our audience’s eyes, that’s not the case.

It’s actually empowering and freeing for all creatives out there when you realize the standard of creative you’ve set for yourself is higher than the audience you’re catering to. All the rules we’ve been taught or enforced on ourselves are out the window. We have permission to experiment; not everything has to be perfect.

If quality content can take many shapes and forms, then we don’t need to get bogged down in the details that simply don’t matter. We can test and try and let some less-so-polished things fly.

If we can remember that consumers scroll, tap and move on quickly and that the shelf life of content is short and fleeting, then we can permit ourselves not to have to make everything perfect.

If we can understand that quality content is less about the time spent on something and more about how much it resonates with people, we’ll spend more time on how to evoke emotion in people and less time worrying about how to simply make it pretty.

Quality content is about making people feel, not making something pretty. It’s always a win when you can make people feel something with pretty content, but it doesn’t always have to be high production and artistically perfect to resonate.

Creatives and marketers have to get comfortable with what makes us uncomfortable. We should always want to put our best foot forward, but that doesn’t mean we have to be so precious that we don’t recognize that lofi and less polished content has its place — and that it actually reosnates.

So here’s to lots of quality content ahead, whether it’s a lofi Tiktok created straight from your phone or a long-form video that tells an emotional human interest story. As a consumer, I hope my feeds are filled with both.

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Why Over-Communicating Matters For Social Teams

As a social media manager, it can be nerve-wracking to let people in too much. If we share our calendar, copy, process, etc., will everyone and their mom give their thoughts? In an industry where people personally have access to the tools and feel entitled to provide input, sharing can feel like an invitation to give unwarranted feedback on things. 

I get it. 

There was a time in my career when I probably held things too close to my chest. I had experienced the micromanaging of social media just for the sake of micromanaging (i.e., little trust in those who lived and breathed it), and when people micromanage for the sake of it, it can build distrust within social media teams. You start to think that anytime you share something, it will spark a wave of changes and possible fire drills. 

Here’s the thing, though. Not sharing and not communicating your plans will only cause broader issues internally. You might be able to dodge it for a while, but eventually, it will hurt you and the team.

Social media managers, here’s why you need to over-communicate.

1 – Social media isn’t about you.
Social media represents the entire organization and brand, so while people need to trust that social media managers are executing to maximize the platforms, it doesn’t mean that others inside the organization don’t need visibility. Social media managers need to be open to feedback when something isn’t right for the brand, and people outside the social team need to learn the art of giving feedback that it’s critical vs. subjective.

2 – Decision-makers need visibility.
Social media has become one of the hot items for many organizations internally, which often creates a sense of urgency and laser focus. There are most likely meetings where social media is brought up, and there isn’t someone in the meeting who lives the day-to-day to speak to the work. Because of that, leaders within the org need to be armed with the right information to answer questions, evangelize, celebrate the work and advocate for resources. If key decision makers don’t have the visibility on what’s going on, it will cause fire drills and frustration when they cannot appropriately speak to or advocate on behalf of the team.

I do understand that in an ideal world, someone on the social team is the one speaking for the social team, but the reality is that’s not always going to be the case. Arm the people within the org who can be advocates with the information they need. 

3 – It builds credibility.
Everyone who works in social media understands that social media does not “just happen.” If you have not been in a role where you are executing, it’s hard to understand what it takes to get from point A to point B. Over-communicating and oversharing is an excellent opportunity to educate on what it takes to make the magic happen and flex your knowledge. 

Instead of thinking about oversharing and over-communicating plans as a chore or something that could open up problems, reframe it as an opportunity to position yourself as a thought leader within the organization. When done the right way, evangelizing the work should build credibility with you and the team throughout the org. 

4- It allows you to shape the why. 
Social media work is public, which means everyone will see it at some point. Suppose you share the work upfront before anything comes to fruition. This allows you to give people the “why” behind the work — why the focus on this platform and not that one, why this creative direction, why this distribution strategy, why this initiative. 

When you can shape the “why” behind the work, it allows you to drive the insight and narrative around the work vs. someone seeing it in the wild for the first time and coming to their own conclusions. And when people have to make their conclusions on their own, it often causes more questions, more fire drills, and more work. Save yourself the headache. Shape the why upfront. 

On the flip side, decision-makers within organizations need to protect social teams that over-communicate. 

If your social team does a good job sharing plans and communicating, do not beat them down with arbitrary feedback, a million decision makers for “approval,” and process for the sake of process. You hire good people for a reason, so let them do their job. Protect your social team and their energy and ensure that you build an environment where feedback is given constructively and when necessary, not just because it’s someone’s subjective, objective opinion. 

At the end of the day, when social teams don’t share plans and strategies, it can distract from good work. Sharing is an opportunity to drive the narrative around the work, so evangelize and champion it and find those people in the organization who will help advocate for the vision. Sharing is caring and will help you and the team in the long run, even if there are some growing pains in the process. 

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Brand Matters In Sports & It Takes Work To Get There

One of the things I’ve believed for a long time is the need for sports team to build up their brands well beyond the scores. In an unpredictable industry with so many variables you cannot control, a team’s “brand” should be the one constant.

If you spend all your energy focusing on the team performance, then you put all your bets on building a brand based on winning. After all, if you’re only focused on team performance, then the only way you’re going to connect with fans is if you perform at a high level and win consistently. 

This video below from Steve Jobs on their Think Different campaign captures the essence of what brand marketing is about. As Steve says, it’s about values. It’s about being clear what your brand stands for and what you want fans to take away from it. 

More than that though, Steve nails it when he says “even a great brand needs investments and caring if it’s going to retain its relevance and vitality”.  It’s this idea that really hits home with sports. If you want to remain relevant during the highs and lows of team performance, then you need to give fans a reason to care and feel invested beyond wins.

But what does it take to build a brand for a sports team? I’ve been spending a lot of time working through brand work and how we define it, execute it, and bring it all to life. I’ve come to this place where three core components are required: your brand identity, your brand strategy, and your brand plan. And while I think many people lump these all together, I believe they are all three distinct building blocks that must work together.

Brand Identity 

The first building block of your brand is your brand identity. I realize this might be counterintuitive to all the “strategy first” that’s been ingrained in our heads, but hear me out.

So often, when a brand identity is talked about, the only focus is on the logo and look and feel. Your brand identity is not just a logo; a brand identity is about your DNA and the things that make you unique. Visuals are a huge component of any brand, but to believe it’s the only thing that defines your brand identity feels fundamentally flawed and ultimately waters down the work it requires to build one. 

Before marketers build out any plans, they must understand why a brand exists, and your brand identity helps you get there. Building your brand identity should be strategic in nature, but it’s not your strategy. Think about your brand identity as the team’s compass for how to bring the brand to life. 

I don’t believe there are hard fast rules for building out your identity, but a few things to consider including in the identity work that will help you understand what you stand for:

Your Origin Story – How was your team or company founded? Are there any interesting facts, moments or themes from the beginning that helped to build your foundation today? 

Your Why – This is where you include things like your brand ambition, purpose, vision, and values. 

Your Personality – If your brand was a person, how would it talk, write, and interact with others? This is where you outline your muse, your voice & tone and your writing style. 

Your Look & Feel – This is exactly what it sounds like. Your logo, visual identity and style guide. 

Your Brand Platform – A brand platform is what you want to communicate and your public-facing messaging points and tagline. 

The result is a brand book to guide internal and external partners when you put this all together. For the most part, this won’t change and any additions or changes should be subtle. 

Brand Strategy  

On the other hand, your brand strategy is about the visionary roadmap to bring your brand identity to life. 

Your strategy should first start with your goals, but these goals must cascade down from “your why” that you outlined in your brand identity. 

Once you understand your goals, it’s important to take a look at your competitor landscape, the opportunities and the challenges. By doing this work, you’ll start to see the white space opportunities that could help you reach your goals, stand out from your competitors and ultimately build a strong brand identity. 

The final part of your strategy is to outline the methods – those key big focuses – that you’ll take to reach your goals and vision. 

Your strategy should be more long-range, forecasting ahead and giving you a roadmap of the big vision for an extended period of time (often spanning two to five years) — but it will need to be revisited and re-built, unlike the brand identity. 

Brand Plan 

Your brand plan is about the actionable actions you will take to implement your strategies, and these are the tactics that the team executes on a day-to-day basis. 

Your brand plan changes more frequently. Even if your strategy is a three to five-year roadmap, you’ll look at your brand plan yearly, quarterly and even in opportunistic moments. 

All of these components come together for a robust plan that will make sure your team is standing out, well beyond the scores. This is important for everyone within the organization to know — and is most likely relevant for external partners as well. Building a strong brand requires buy-in from everyone within an organization, and it’s not just the job of the marketing team to contribute.

Once you have your work on paper, I also recommend distilling it into a simple framework that people can easily digest. Like the work above, there are a lot of ways to do this, but here’s a sample of what a brand architecture can look like.

Take this work and evanalegize it.

Does this sound like a lot of work? That’s because it is. But if you only focus on short-term tactics, you’ll only get short-term gains. Teams and leagues must play the long game.  

If you build your brand right, you’ll build fan affinity that

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Want To Work In Sports?

There are a lot of misconceptions about what it’s like to work in sports and what will help open doors to opportunities. So often, people have a notion of a “dream job” that is either unrealistic or makes them blindsided to other fantastic options out there. After more than 13 years in the industry at various types of organizations throughout sports, there are a few key things I’ve learned. So, you want to work in sports? Here are my five most important pieces of advice. 

1) Don’t chase logos.

Early in my career, I interviewed at Nike, and I cried when I got on to campus (yes, literally). Why? Well, first, working for Nike was a dream as a marketer, and it felt like the pinnacle of sports advertising. Second, as a runner, I saw some of myself in their brand. The emotional attachment to working there was a bit irrational.

Having worked across so many organizations now, I realize how silly it is to place a company I’ve never worked for on a pedestal. Yes, that job might have been incredibly fulfilling, but putting a belief on a logo and not the work environment can easily set you up for disappointment.

The jobs where I felt most fulfilled throughout my career have often been the most unexpected. Why? Because the logo doesn’t matter if the environment isn’t right. Putting organizations on a pedestal will only set you up for disappointment. 

In sports, it’s important to throw away the notion of a “dream job”. Don’t chase logos. Chase the right role and environment. 

2) Be open to all opportunities.

Too often, when people say they want to work in sports, it means the team side. People often overlook the endless opportunities well beyond teams from agencies, brands, sporting goods, leagues, and tech partners.

Limiting your search to the team side (or one particular silo in sports) limits your opportunities. Sports jobs are few and far between, so it’s essential to cast your net wide. 

One of my first jobs in sports was with a nonprofit called the Atlanta Track Club, a running organization with a membership with more than 30,000 members and 40+ events a year. While it’s not an organization most people think of when they say they want to work in sports, it was exactly what I needed. Being a smaller organization meant that everyone had responsibility, no matter their role or level. As a result, I got to take on big projects early on that working for a bigger team org may not have offered, from owning the social strategy to going through a complete website redesign.  

Too often, we close the door on organizations because they aren’t the bright and shiny choice. What I’ve learned, though, is that there are so many fantastic opportunities well beyond the traditional sports mold.

Be open to the doors that crack open. Leagues, tech partners, agencies, brands, nonprofits, teams — all of these can be great options. 

3) Be open to moving if you can. 

Since graduating college, I’ve lived in DC, Atlanta (2x), Indianapolis, Baltimore, New York City and now Charlotte. None of these cities were exactly on my list of dream places to live, but it’s where the job opportunities came open, and I took a leap and said “yes” each time an opportunity came my way. And always, the cities I moved to surprised me in the best kind of way. 

If you want to work in sports, it’s tough to look at a map and say, “I want to live here.” Sports roles can be far and few between, and jobs simply don’t open all that often. Being willing to relocate is a significant advantage, not just at the start of your career.

One of my mantras is that nothing is permanent. When you realize that, it’s freeing. Don’t be afraid to take leaps to places you’ve never thought of.

4) Don’t get discouraged.

When you look at someone’s resume, you only see the yeses. You don’t see all the nos, the time, the doubt, the failure, the sacrifices. 

Trying to break into sports and move up can be brutal. I’ve heard hundreds and hundreds of nos throughout my career, but I’ve tried my best not to get caught up in them (even the ones that have felt devasting). 

It often takes a lot of nos to get to that yes eventually. This is true for your first job and every job after. Nos are part of the process, but they don’t define you. Be gracious, know your value and keep on.

Patience and persistence will eventually pay off.  

5) You MUST learn to love the industry. 

I’m going to keep this one short and sweet, although it’s probably the most important on the list: You must learn to love the industry more than you love sports. 

At the end of the day, this is a business. Long-term success requires understanding organizational goals and ensuring the work maps back to that. Fandom alone won’t do that. Become a student of the business.

What advice would you share for someone looking to work in sports? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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