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An NFL Offseason Offers Hope for Teams, but So Might a Rebranded Look

The NFL’s partnership with Nike has inspired some bolder changes in its first five years.

Scot Chartrand

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NFL teams reveal their new Nike uniforms in 2012–via NFL Films

The NFL’s Partnership with Nike Has Inspired Some Bolder Changes in Its First Five Years

For 30 of the NFL’s 32 team fan bases, it’s the offseason already. The focus is on what your favorite team could do to improve their performance and identity on the field next season.

But for several teams, there’s also the business side of improving the identity of the team.  Sometimes this can go hand in hand with the football side.  Sometimes, that identity can leave fans just as frustrated.

Today in the NFL, these changes have been further encouraged by the involvement of league partner, Nike, since 2012. What’s gone right under Nike? What leaves us wanting?  What happened before Nike?

We reached out to a number of experts in logos and brand identity for some of their thoughts on the past and future of brand and visual identity changes for NFL teams and explored how teams can make these changes.

THE WORLD OF NFL IDENTITY CHANGES BEFORE NIKE

There are teams that have maintained the same, basic look for well over a half-century. The Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, and others come to mind in thinking of a more timeless brand identity.

The lone star adorns the Cowboys helmet. Vince Lombardi’s famous “G” for greatness rests on Green Bay’s. Even Bubbles the Lion has been on Detroit helmets in some fashion since the 1960s. Their business side need not worry about that part of their identity.

Not every franchise has such a look…or one that might create a fan revolt if they tried to change it.

Over the years, NFL rebrands have either tried to modernize a look or completely overhaul it.  Sometimes, the rebrands were attempting to jump-start a floundering team on the field.  Other times, teams were in the middle of success.

Let’s take a look at examples of each.

Cincinnati Bengals, before and after 1981 change–via Amarillo Globe News (l) and Bengals.com (r)

Entering the early 1980s, the Cincinnati Bengals had failed to produce much success on the field since their founding.  Paul Brown took to Cincinnati and immediately created an identity similar to what the Browns had built under him in Cleveland with orange helmets designed to aid the quarterback looking down the field.

In 1981, the team switched from an orange helmet with the word “Bengals” plastered over it to today’s unique, striped orange helmet.  Strangely enough, their fortunes turned around on the field right away.

After defeating the Chargers in freezing temperatures to win the AFC Championship, they played in Super Bowl XVI against Joe Montana’s San Francisco 49ers and made another Super Bowl appearance at the end of the decade as well.

Todd Radom (@toddradom) of Todd Radom Design has worked in sports branding and design for a quarter century.  When we asked him about his favorite brand change in the NFL, he saw the Bengals as most notable.

This may be an outside of the box opinion, but the Bengals’ 1981 helmet and uniform change comes to mind first. They went from a bland, vanilla look to something truly ownable and noteworthy. The uniform has been degraded in the years since, but that first iteration was a brilliant one, way ahead of its time. The helmet communicates the franchise identity seamlessly and effectively. A winning tradition would have helped elevate this in the public consciousness.”

New England Patriots, before and after 1993 change–via Patriots.com

Not all fans of this year’s Super Bowl participant, New England, remember the old Pat the Patriot logo on a white helmet with a striped red jersey at the shoulders.

The Patriots made one Super Bowl appearance in the old uniforms, but fell on hard times behind less memorable quarterbacks, such as Hugh Millen and Scott Zolak. That was until Robert Kraft bought the team from Victor Kiam and hired Bill Parcells in 1993.

That year, the Patriots conducted a dramatic rebrand to their “Flying Elvis” Patriots logo on a silver helmet with blue jerseys.  The look also welcomed new quarterback Drew Bledsoe, and within a few years, Parcells led them to a Super Bowl appearance in 1996.

It would not be until Tom Brady’s arrival with Bill Belichick in 2000 that the look (and another adjusted uniform) became as cemented in the minds of football fans, but the dramatic branding change paid off in New England.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers, before and after 1997 change–via St. Pete Times (l) and Buccaneers.com (r)

In the middle of the 1980s, things were so bad in Tampa that a local media outlet took a survey to determine which NFL team locals should consider rooting for instead of the Buccaneers (FYI, the Browns were the winner).

The “Bucco Bruce” logo of a swashbuckler with a sword in his mouth and creamsicle orange jerseys didn’t quite inspire fear and neither did the team’s play.

Enter new owner Malcolm Glazer, new head coach Tony Dungy, and the color known as pewter. The “Pewter Pirates” suddenly sported a large red pirate flag on the pewter helmet and a team muddled in failure for 15 years became a consistent playoff participant through winning Super Bowl XXXVII under Jon Gruden.

In these cases, the teams rode significant branding changes from rags to riches.

Two other teams made major changes while on top of the world.

Denver Broncos, before and after 1997 change–via NFL.com (l) and Rant Sports (r)

The Denver Broncos logo and “orange crush” persona were so iconic, that the horse in the middle of the D on their helmet came from not just the top of Mile High Stadium’s scoreboard—“Bucky Bronco” was actually a model cast from Roy Rogers’ horse, Trigger.

Denver had been a top-tier AFC franchise since John Elway’s arrival, but they had gone 0-for-4 in the Super Bowl to match the dubious achievements of the Vikings and Bills at the time.

The first year the team switched to the dramatic rebranded horse head along with the navy uniforms (fueled by design from Nike), they erased that tradition of losing the big game and claimed the first of their two back-to-back titles.

St. Louis (now Los Angeles) Rams, before and after 2000 change–via TheRams.com (l) and stltoday.com (r)

In 1999, Trent Green went down with a season-ending injury for the St. Louis Rams in the preseason, and well, the rest is history.  Kurt Warner’s improbable story resulted in a title, but the following year, the Rams ditched their bright blue and yellow colors they brought with them from the Golden State to wrap themselves in Y2K with Millennium Blue and New Century Gold.

They went right back to the Super Bowl after a year and fell short to New England, but the bold move caught the eye of Chris Creamer (@sportslogosnet), who is well known for his work for two decades on SportsLogos.net, a comprehensive database of sports logos for all things sports.

“At the time I was a big fan of the change the St. Louis Rams made to their logo and color scheme, back around the turn of the century. It seems odd to have this opinion now with everything retro being big, but by the late 1990s that yellow and blue of the Rams was aging poorly and needed an update bad – a switch to navy blue and gold while maintaining the classic horns and introducing the modern rams head logo was great for the era. It hasn’t stood up to the test of time (the color scheme, that is… the logo is doing just fine) and it could stand an update now, but as far as a classic look getting an update in 2000 that was a good way to go.”

Arizona Cardinals, before and after the 2005 change–via USA Today (l) and AZCardinals.com (r)

So, what about simply modernizing a classic look?  That’s what impressed Donovan Moore (@colorwerx), founder of ColorWerx, a website dedicated to preserving historical sports color data.

“My favorite logo change of all time is a completely biased one, but I believe is still worthy of mention: the Arizona Cardinals rebrand in 2005. I’ve been a die-hard Cardinals fan since the late ‘60s, and what makes that particular change so perfect (in my eyes), was the fact that they created a logo that completely modernized the look, while still preserving the tradition of the primary mark. Most people noticed the corresponding uniform changes, but were somewhat unaware of the logo change. Put them side-by-side and you can easily see the differences, but on the field, they still look like the Cardinals.”

These days, there are fans of some teams who would long for such an incremental change.

An incremental change wasn’t on the mind of two NFL teams who were quite successful in the 1980s and 1990s.

Carmen Policy speaks at a press conference unveiling an ill-fated 49ers helmet in 1991–via San Francisco Chronicle

The San Francisco 49ers unveiled a “49ers” helmet in 1991 that replaced the “SF” they had won four Super Bowls with and scrapped it six days later.

Also in the 1990’s, the Miami Dolphins had prepared a very avant-garde design that would be a violent shock to the system for most Dolphins fans that was dismissed before any public unveiling.

Even the Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns kicked around prototype helmets in the 1960’s with logos that would stun many fans that weren’t aware.

It’s not that teams didn’t try major rebrands prior to Nike’s work with the NFL…

NFL IDENTITY CHANGES UNDER NIKE

After replacing Reebok as the NFL’s exclusive manufacturer in 2012, Nike sought to bring with them some of the same revolutionary branding they had created for universities, such as Oregon.

At first, the only team in the Pacific Northwest tried Nike’s magic.  In the following years, teams became bolder.

Seattle Seahawks Nike uniform–via Tacoma News Tribune

NFL Rebrands by Year under the Nike agreement:

  • 2012:  Carolina Panthers, Cincinnati Bengals, Seattle Seahawks
  • 2013:  Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings
  • 2014:  Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • 2015:  Cleveland Browns
  • 2017:  Detroit Lions

While some were more modest upgrades and modernization of the brand, others were much more dramatic.  Seattle, Jacksonville, Miami, Tampa Bay and Cleveland are generally considered to be among the greatest changes in terms of rebrands in this group.

SportsLogos.net’s Chris Creamer saw the perks of teams trying to be bold in utilizing Nike for rebrands so far as well as the drawbacks teams have faced.

“Nike taking over the NFL has led to some interesting and out-of-the-box designs – their Miami redesign would’ve worked if the team was an expansion franchise, but alas a history (with championships) is involved there, so it changes how one perceives it. I can’t say I was much of a fan of what they did with Cleveland, Tampa Bay and Jacksonville, but I’m never going to fault a company for trying something new, I’m just not necessarily a fan of the result.”

On the other hand, fan sentiment seemed to applaud redesigned uniforms in Seattle.  It certainly didn’t hurt that the team has since experienced success in them with a Super Bowl title and two appearances coinciding with the Russell Wilson era in 2012.

However, as Creamer noted, some fans in places like Cleveland and the three Florida teams have been less receptive.  A visit to some of the pages of the SportsLogos.net Forum section of his site will often find discussions about the two-toned Jaguars helmet and the appeal of the Dolphins’ throwback jerseys as examples of fans hoping for change already.

Todd Radom sees some improvement in the work Nike has done as the contract has aged along with some opportunities ahead to improve their work:

It’s still early, but Nike has corrected some egregious mistakes, particularly with regard to neck trim. I think it’s safe to assume that we will begin to see a wave of changes next year and beyond, so the jury is still out as far as I’m concerned.”

Those windows for change of the initial teams to rebrand under Nike are now starting open.

As noted, Nike’s contract with the NFL began in 2012.  According to the NFL Constitution and Bylaws, teams essentially must wait five years after a change in branding to try again.

NFL Constitution and Bylaws Article XIX 19.9

NFL Constitution and Bylaws Article XIX 19.9–via NFL Digital Care

NFL 2002 Resolution G-3 and Attachment–via NFL Digital Care

It’s not just the five-year waiting period, though.  Besides the notification of March 1, of the year prior, it takes two years just to design a new uniform as noted in a report published by CBS Sports last year that dealt with dissatisfaction around the Cleveland Browns uniforms.

Cleveland Browns huddle–via NFL.com

Cleveland will have to start the process now, but still wait until 2020 to see the finished product. However, fans in Jacksonville and Miami are eligible this upcoming season—provided that pre-work has gone in.

So what is sparking all this fan interest in uniforms and logos?  Is it just Nike?

Again, we reached out to our experts for their thoughts on the evolution of fan interest in team branding elements.

From Todd Radom’s perspective, he noted, “Some folks have always cared about this stuff, but the sheer number of uniforms that are trotted out these days and the marketing behind them has really ramped up interest tremendously. There was a time when NFL uniforms were, for the most part, functional and very utilitarian. Third jerseys, the use of throwbacks and, yes, ‘Color Rush’—have all helped to ramp up fan interest.”

Chris Creamer remembers an earlier time that piqued his interest, sharing as follows, “Pre-internet, I just presumed I was the only person in the world who cared about the uniforms being worn. I’d point out the throwback helmets and jerseys during the NFL 75th anniversary games in 1994 and the others in the room would usually respond with ‘huh, I didn’t even notice.’

The internet changed all of that when I discovered that there were plenty others just like me and they all thought they were all alone in their interest. The explosion of interest is fantastic for me because I run a site dedicated to this topic, but I also wonder if it puts too much pressure on teams to tinker with their look and to try and come up with a reason for every little design element perhaps complicating a design.

Back in the day, a team would have two stripes on each sleeve and it wouldn’t be for some manufactured reason, it’d be because it looked better that way.”

To Creamer’s point, when the MLS’s Columbus Crew SC rebranded back in 2015, they actually identified six separate elements to a simple soccer roundel.

So, these days, fans don’t take rebrands that lightly as evidenced by the infamous one-day L.A. Chargers logo last year that involved the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Lightning exploring their relationship dynamic on Twitter and sparked a quick retraction.

LOOKING AHEAD TO CHANGES IN 2018 AND BEYOND

So, what’s on the horizon in the NFL?

As already noted, the Jaguars and Dolphins are eligible to make a change—as are any teams that have not made a change since 2013.

Tennessee Titans owner Amy Adams Strunk confirmed last training camp in an interview with The Tennessean what had been rumored previously, that the Titans would be changing uniforms (and likely helmets) for 2018.  She went on to add that the changes are “not minor.”

In fact, Titans fans need to ready themselves for this in April. Back in Jacksonville, one of the newly eligible teams to make a change appears ready to take another swing for the fences with Nike.

The Titans aren’t the only fan base that can look forward to this upcoming April.

As rumored last year and confirmed this week by Mark Long of the Associated Press, the Jaguars will have new helmets in 2018 and will feature more teal in their uniforms in a redesigned look.  The impetus here might be the team’s former coach now serving in the front office—Tom Coughlin.

Chris Creamer agrees with the suspected changes ahead with the Jaguars.

“The Jacksonville Jaguars need to re-embrace the teal part of their identity; I realize the Dolphins use something similar in-state, but there’s nothing necessarily special about this club wearing black and gold (also… Saints?), not to mention that gimmicky helmet. One of those designs folks will look back on ten years from now with a chuckle, and twenty years from now with a ‘they need to bring it back!’”

So, we have two teams making changes to their identity this offseason.

What else would our experts like to see?

Dallas Cowboys huddle–via Bleacher Report

For Donovan Moore of ColorWerx, it’s cleaning up some aspects of “America’s Team.”

My most hoped for uniform change is one a lot of uniform aficionados have been waiting for: the Dallas Cowboys. Although they made a very subtle color change in 2012 to match the helmet color to the road pant color (at least in print – the helmets used to be Silver-Blue), they are still using Silver and Navy helmets with White, Royal Blue and Silver-GREEN pants at home (yes, they are officially called Silver-Green). I truly believe they could easily standardize the color scheme without too much of an uproar from the traditionalists.”

Los Angeles Rams’ Jared Goff–via WPVI-TV

Todd Radom looked ahead to two teams rumored to be targeting notable changes in 2020.

Let’s start with the Rams, who are a disjointed mess. Then we can shift our attention to Cleveland, a franchise that needs to blow many things up and start anew—and yes, this sentiment applies to their on-field look too.”

The Orange County Register confirmed last year that the Rams have begun the process of making the change, but have yet to decide when. Originally, they were to change uniforms to coincide with moving into their new stadium in Inglewood, Los Angeles Stadium at Hollywood Park. However, with the project delayed by a year, the Rams may very well give the new uniforms the same fate.

Perhaps the Rams will return to something closer to their look when in Los Angeles most recently?  Don’t get Rams fans started…

Los Angeles Rams “Melonheads” fans–via Los Angeles Daily News

There are a whole host of possible changes and tweaks diehard fans have thought about that weren’t even mentioned.

Occasionally discussion will arise topics like the Philadelphia Eagles and Kelly green uniforms (owner Jeffrey Lurie has said he’d love to see this). Additionally, the Denver Broncos and the old bronco in the D logo on helmets occasionally will arise as a possible change (Color Rush helmets tried this the last two years).

After all, beyond the traditional uniforms, teams can experiment further with throwbacks and now Color Rush uniforms to stir the imagination and support of fans.

Branding and identity are big business.

So, it’s the offseason again for most teams, and all hope springs eternal for next season.

What can we expect? We’ll know soon enough.

…and for other teams that won’t see April showers bring new branding flowers, it’s another opportunity to stir up more and more interest in their team’s identity and only increase awareness of branding, uniforms, and logos.

Scot Chartrand is a contributor with Front Office Sports and has worked in program management driving strategic initiatives at a corporate level. He has a passion for helping clients and corporate stakeholders achieve strategic goals while providing change management and optimizing process that drives repeatable results.

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The Bears Join NFL Team Gym Movement with Bears Fit

The Chicago Bears want their fans to workout like their players. Well, not actually, but at least in a facility that feels the same.

Front Office Sports

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Photo via BearsFit.com

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else. 

The Chicago Bears want their fans to work out like their players. Well, not actually, but at least in a facility that feels the same.

Yesterday, the team opened Bears Fit, a themed gym that allows fans to “train like a Bear,” according to Mick Zawislak of the Daily Herald.

What do you need to know?

1. Memberships start at $54 and climb to $149 a month for a family membership.

2. The new gym is just four miles from Halas Hall, the team’s headquarters and training facility.

3. So far, 40 Bears alumni have signed up as gym members, according to Zawislak.

4. Not only can you train like a player, you can eat like one, too, thanks to a menu of smoothies similar to those offered at Halas Hall.

What’s inside?

Once a Sports Authority before the company filed for bankruptcy, the 45,000-square-foot space has now been turned into a fitness center complete with everything from a 40-yard turf field to a yoga studio, group fitness classes, saunas, steam rooms, tanning beds and an interactive kid club.

It even has a recovery center that sponsored by Advocate Health Care that features two cryotherapy chambers and four hydromassage chairs.

They aren’t the only team getting fit…

The Bears aren’t the only ones hoping that their brand can transfer to the fitness space. In fact, both the Cowboys and 49ers have launched similar gyms with “fit” attached to the name of the team.

The Cowboys were the first team to open a location in 2017 and already added a second one this year. The 49ers followed suit, opening their first location in 2018.

All of the facilities have the same look and feel because they are part of a joint venture between each team and Mark Mastrov, founder and former chairman of 24 Hour Fitness.

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Could The NBA Shorten Its Season? According to Adam Silver, Maybe

The idea was among those floated by Commissioner Adam Silver at the league’s annual end-of-season meeting of its Board of Governors.

Front Office Sports

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Photo Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else. 

Could we see a shorter NBA season sooner rather than later?

That idea and many others were floated by Commissioner Adam Silver at the league’s annual end-of-season meeting of its Board of Governors.

What do you need to know?

1. The league is exploring the idea of trimming games down from 48 minutes to 40 minutes, which would match both college and international rules.

2.  Silver likes the idea of adding in in-season tournaments, something that the NBA 2K League has seen success with.

3. Any changes of this magnitude are likely five-to-six years out, according to Silver.

European soccer presents a shining light…

When it comes to changes, the most radical of all could be implementing in-season tournaments that give teams something to play for during the year beyond just the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Not only would it build more off-time into the schedule, it would also give the league tentpole events to drum up larger and differentiated viewership opportunities, something that is of chief importance to the league.

While the idea of an in-season tournament foreign to U.S. sports fans, Silver pointed to international soccer as a best practice for what the NBA could do.

“I know for most of the American viewers, that’s a very foreign concept because we’re not used to having multiple goals throughout the season. But as I said, it’s very commonplace in international soccer. It would take a while to develop those new traditions because I think initially the reaction may be ‘Who cares who wins the midseason tournament? It’s all about the Larry O’Brien Trophy.’ So we need to take a long-term perspective on these things.” – Adam Silver

What about “load management?”

Is 82 games too many? While nothing is likely to change anytime soon, “load management” has become a talking point across the industry due to the fact that many fans are paying or tuning in to watch the stars play, and they aren’t playing.

“I think a fair point from fans could be if, ultimately, the science suggests that 82 games is too many games for these players, maybe you shouldn’t have an 82-game season,” said Silver. “I accept that, and that’s something we’ll continue to look at.”

In the end, it’s all about the fans…

“I think we always have to step back and remind ourselves that, at the end of the day, this is about the fan, especially as the media landscape is changing and the bundle of pay television is changing, and we may move into a world where we have to win that support of the viewer every night.” – Adam Silver on the potential future changes in regards to the NBA’s schedule

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Rick Welts Talks NBA Business, Distribution and Mental Health

In the second of a two-part conversation, Warriors President and COO Rick Welts discusses the team’s move out of Oracle Arena plus wider league business.

Mike Piellucci

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Photo Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

There are still six months to go before the Golden State Warriors play their first-ever game in Chase Center, its new home in San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood. But, according to Warriors President and COO Rick Welts, “everything’s happening all at once” behind the scenes.

From its 29 retail locations to the 200-plus events it’s expected to host each year to, of course, the basketball team, Chase Center is expected to change San Francisco by providing the sort of hybrid sports-entertainment venue the city has never known. And, for the past seven years, it’s been Welts’ job to help spearhead every step of the building’s development.

Welts sat down with Front Office Sports this week to talk about the move, the team and the wider world of the NBA. In the second of this two-part conversation, he discusses the final games at Oracle Arena, the next frontier of growth in the NBA, broadcast rights both domestically and overseas, mental health and more. This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

With these being your last few months in Oracle, how do you as an organization and as a team say farewell to an arena and to a place that means so much to the history of the organization?

Great question, and we have spent the majority of this year focused on exactly that. We think from Day One, I’ve got some credit from our fans, especially our Oakland fans, for having been so transparent about every aspect of the journey the last seven years. There have been no surprises. We’ve done what we’ve said we’re going to do. But this year we themed our season ‘Celebrate 47,’ which represents the 47 years the Warriors have played at Oracle Arena, and we’ve done something every game of the year to try and recognize our history, recognize people, recognize great things that have happened there, great moments that people have experienced. We’re going to continue to do that through the last four home games and on the last regular season game, we have some even more special things planned, which will be surprises for our fans. And then we don’t know really when we’re done, right? Because then the playoffs start and who knows at that point? You won’t know ahead of time when the last game in Oracle has been played. But we really have tried to do everything in our power to honor our history there and to celebrate it.

READ MORE: Rick Welts on the Warriors New Arena and What it Means for the City

Three years ago we introduced our Town jersey, which is the nickname people from Oakland call Oakland. We’ve created the most successful jersey inspired by the Oakland oak tree that we’ve probably ever had, and we’ll be wearing it this year. We’ll be wearing it in the future in San Francisco as just a symbol of the time that we spent in Oakland. A couple of weeks ago, we announced we’re re-purposing our downtown Oakland headquarters. The basketball facility’s going to be dedicated to our camps and clinics programs, so we’ll be able to teach even more kids — thousands more kids a year — how to play the sport of basketball. And our business office complex is being repurposed for our Warriors community foundation. It’s going to house a bunch of the nonprofits that we support through our foundation that is focused on improving the educational outcomes of especially at-risk kids. We’re going to provide office space and office support for a lot of those 501(c)(3)’s that we think have related missions because they’re all being granted funds from the Warriors Community Foundation because they touch some aspect of that improving educational outcomes. I think that is a very big demonstration of what we have been saying, which is we really are going to continue to be as big a part of Oakland as we’ve always been even though we’re playing our games a few miles away in San Francisco.

Branching off that, how do you make sure that message continues to get across to the pure basketball fans who may not be as cognizant or invested in the team’s community initiatives versus simply wanting to see the Warriors play basketball in Oakland and are now no longer able to? How do you make sure you’re engaging those fans and letting them know that, whether it’s San Francisco or Oakland, this is a team for the Bay Area?

Well, just that way. I think we always have been the Bay Area’s team. The history of the Warriors, we started in Philadelphia as the Philadelphia Warriors and we moved to San Francisco as the San Francisco Warriors in 1962. Played there for nine years until we moved to Oakland. We played a year in San Jose when Oracle was being renovated. So we’ve played seasons in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose in our history. We only have one NBA team. There are two baseball teams and we still have two football teams, at least for another season. Loyalties can be split there, but everybody can be a Warriors fan, because we’re the only team representing the Bay Area and we’ll continue to represent the Bay Area in everything we do. Community outreach-wise, where our players focus their charitable attention. We really do view this as a regional team. We’re not changing the name to the San Francisco Warriors. We’re going to remain the Golden State Warriors and that is very much a reflection of how we kind of view our place in the bigger community.

Shifting gears to a broader NBA level, what do you think the next frontier of growth is for the league?

Well, I think we’re seeing a lot of it in the international focus that Adam has picked up and running with that David Stern really initiated throughout his 30-year career. I really believe the international opportunities for the NBA were something that could really distinguish us from the other domestic leagues here. I think Adam’s picked that up. We just announced a league that we’re supporting in Africa. We just announced a media distribution plan for that league. We have done a lot in China, as you know, I think we have something like 300 employees with NBA China who live in China and run the NBA’s business there. The league is doing some worldwide basketball competition especially at the youth level to try and bring together the basketball world to different countries, different continents, to try to do something to develop the great next generation of NBA players. We’re already blessed with a quarter of our players being born outside the United States.

I think the hope is that we’ll continue to develop more countries, more great basketball players, and I would say the real big difference between our model and soccer’s model — the first thing I would say is they are the number one and two sports in the world. Now, we’re not under any delusions about where soccer’s position is in the world. I think Americans, for the most part, don’t really understand how big what the rest of the world calls football is. But the second-most popular sport in the world is basketball. Now there’s a big gap in between, but the good news is there’s no other sports in between. But our model is different, right? If you’re a kid growing up in Buenos Aires, you dream about playing for your club team in Buenos Aires, you dream about maybe someday playing for Argentina in the World Cup. But if you’re a little Manu Ginobili growing up in Buenos Aires, you just have one dream, and that’s to play in the NBA. That’s where all the best players in the world play. It’s just a different structure. And once Manu Ginobili comes and plays for the San Antonio Spurs, needless to say, some of the other products we have like television have a great opportunity in a place where Manu is famous and followed.

We have a great distribution opportunity for our game programming, and as the technologies improve, we’re just around the corner from literally having the ability to deliver any game to any person in the world on a real-time basis. Now how should we organize that is a really great question, but it’s an opportunity the NBA has that very few other sports entities have, and I would argue the only one of the American leagues who has an opportunity of that size as we look forward to the future and how we’re going to build the business, how we’re going to build the game.

What have the early discussions about those broadcast distribution models been like?

We’re there in a majority of countries in the world now. It’s just that the technology is evolving in a way where we can be everywhere, distribute faster, better quality and also have an opportunity to be able to monitor who is watching and giving them an option to potentially pay for that content or go through traditional distribution in countries like we’ve had here in the United States. Every country represents a different set of challenges and a different set of opportunities for game distribution, but the crazy wonderful thing about our business is that we produce a thousand original episodes just by virtue of playing our games every year. There’s very little incremental cost in distributing those broadcasts to a wider audience. We just want to organize it in a way that, over the long run, is most beneficial to the NBA. That’s what all those really smart people working for Adam Silver in the league office spend their days doing and all businesses flowing from that, whether it’s sponsorship, the bigger the presence we create, obviously the bigger opportunity that we have as the NBA to grow as we look out to the future.

With that idea of growing internationally in mind, how are the Warriors staying on the forefront of that?

I would say it’s evolving. We’ve taken the Warriors to China twice in the last five years now. It was a very different experience. The first time we were not a very well-known team and we’re playing somebody called Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. They kind of owned the world in that moment. And then the last trip there, we were that team, which was quite a juxtaposition from where we’ve been before. Historically, we’ve really asked the league itself to organize our international activities, and the teams have been focused more on their local markets. That’s really under discussion right now on how that model’s going to evolve over time in terms of team content production and distribution and how that fits in best and how to get the most dynamic and successful programming collectively out of the NBA and its teams. I think that’s a subject of a lot of discussion internally right now.

We didn’t even talk about domestic television. The NBA has a little bit of a different situation than the other leagues in that the league entered into very long-term deals with Turner and with Disney for ABC, ESPN and TNT. With the Time Warner-AT&T merger, the landscape is obviously changing period. The number of homes subscribing to ESPN or any other traditional distribution is declining. We have to figure out over time how are we going to best deliver our game broadcast to consumers? That’s a lot of technological advance that’s going to be considered in doing that. But the deal Adam made gives us six more seasons after this season with guaranteed increasing revenues from our national television packages, which is a gigantic luxury because the world is going to look impossibly different six years from now in how we’re all receiving the games we watch. So we have a wonderful opportunity to watch others try and see other technologies develop and see a lot of people try to test different models. We’re going to learn a lot before the league is in a position to be negotiating our new television agreements, whatever they are. We certainly expect they’re going to look much different than they do today. But from a revenue standpoint, from a business standpoint, obviously that’s an incredibly important part of the puzzle.

For you as a team president, you don’t want to just be reactive but you are at the mercy of working with a larger partner and within larger strategies of what the league wants to do. So how do you prepare and how do you strategize, and what is the line of what you can do versus overstepping bounds?

Well, we have a lot of rules (laughs). It’s kind of funny, people look at us as competitors, but on the business side we’re really a pretty regulated industry. So we all agree on how best to attack the marketplace to produce the best offerings and produce them at the right price. I think the NBA, I would argue, is much more collaborative as a 30-team organization in the league then the other leagues are. We have a whole department called “team marketing and business operations” that’s 30-some wicked smart people, most of whom have got some Ivy League MBA degree on their resume who do nothing but collect business information and analyze it, distribute it back to the teams in a way that’s helpful and sharing best practices and really seeing where our own individual team opportunities are as we’re able to see what that part of the business is doing for 29 other teams.

I think people are always surprised at how much transparency amongst NBA teams in terms of sharing business data, because we certainly operate very differently on the basketball side of our business. We try to not share a lot. We try to seek advantages wherever we can. But on the business side, we think the philosophy is that we’re all going to be better if we all do better. We need to be helping each other solve problems that we all are facing and take creative solutions that work in one market and apply that to a different market. That’s just the business culture with the NBA. That’s taken 40 years to develop and I think it has served the NBA well and continues to serve the NBA well going forward. It’s just different, again, than what the other leagues have in terms of their league-team business culture. We’re, I think, the beneficiaries of that.

READ MORE: Future of Basketball Trending Toward More Beautiful, Global Game

Adam Silver’s comments at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference regarding mental health drew a lot of attention. To what level of urgency is mental health being treated throughout the league and what’s the responsibility of organizations to players for support in that arena?

I think Kevin Love will be remembered as somebody who was a pioneer in this area. I think reading his story and reading his view of what it’s like to be an NBA player, the pressures that you’re under and the kind of positive and negative pressures that are put on you to act in a particular way, I think was a real eye-opener for a lot of people. Both the league and the union have jumped on this I think in a very big way to say it’s something we probably haven’t adequately addressed, historically, and that we need to pay a lot of attention to, and we as a league and as a union and as teams owe it to our employees — all of our employees — to, where there is a problem, try and offer assistance, and I think that that’s what’s going on right now probably across all leagues but certainly going in the NBA. It’s actually pretty startling and pretty wonderful to see so much focus on something that I think over time has not received the kind of focus it probably deserved.

Finally, what’s the biggest area of importance within the league that the average consumer doesn’t understand the significance of and how do you bridge that gap?

I think most of it would be sausage-making but it’s really important sausage-making. I think all leagues struggle with how to distribute the revenues they generate, right? When you talk about revenue sharing, it’s like a third rail for all leagues. Trying to figure out what the right way to make teams remain incentivized to be incredibly creative, to invest more money in their business and feel like that could be rewarded if they’re successful in doing that. I think it’s the hardest thing all leagues try to figure out is how to take all the revenues generated by teams and leagues and how to distribute them in a way that creates the right incentives for teams, creates the right competitive environment, which ultimately creates the best product for our fans.

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