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What’s next for the Cleveland baseball brand?

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Members of the Let’s Go Tribe staff discuss the future of the Cleveland Indians brand and how to push it in new directions

Atlanta Braves v Cleveland Indians Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The LGT Roundtable has reconvened to discuss the future of the Cleveland Indians, as always. However, the gang puts their marketing hats on in this edition, throwing around ideas on the next step of the team’s slow evolution into a new horizon.

Stocked with an unpopular logo and patch-less sleeves, the Indians are in a transition phase. What follows is an attempt to arm the organization with forward-thinking, ground-level ideas about how to reach their fans.

The Twins, Diamondbacks, Padres and Brewers have all released updated uniform designs for 2020, and with the exception of the forward-looking D-Backs, the theme seems to be retro. Before we get to the Tribe, is there anything that stands out about any rebrands in particular, and anything that you think the Indians should take clear note of going forward?

Chris Davies: I think two things stand out to me. First, the Brewers embracing a fan-favorite logo (the ball-in-glove) and the Padres embracing a different color scheme, both of which the Indians could do and really stand out.

Matt Lyons: PINSTRIPES.

Is it too much to ask that the Indians work some kind of pinstripes into any kind of redesign? Even with the Padres and Brewers both implementing them, they are still underused in MLB nowadays. They’re the best, and they should not just be associated with the Yankees.

Seeing colors other than variations of red/white/blue, such as the Padres’ yellow and brown, is also fun. I’m all for more alternate colors.

CD: I just want to add to Lyons’ point, that the Rocky Colavito-era pinstripes looked great.

(Note: The Indians’ MLB shop is actually offering some apparel with pinstripes.)

Matt Schlichting: It’s been an 80-grade offseason for uniform changes and I hope the Indians hop on the wagon. Going the pinstripe route with an alternate uniform would be great, too.

Alex Hooper: I was yesterday years old when I found out the Indians had pinstripes in 1970, but I’ve always wished for a way to implement them. Retro is back, and I think that would be a cool thing to bring back.

I think the Indians did the right thing by bringing back the red top last year, but I think the typeface was wrong. I think if you’re going to bring them back, bring them back true to the originals, which we’ll get to.

Tyler Griffith: For the Padres, the Brown uniforms are great. But they seem divisive amongst non-San Diego fans. Living in San Diego for a big part of my life, I don’t know that I came across any Padres fans who didn’t like the color scheme, but it’s usually split when I talk to fans of other teams. So good on the organization for giving the fans what they clearly want. I’m sure they’ll enjoy those uniforms.

Though we are not getting a logo or uniform change this year, obviously the Indians will change their logo at some point, and everything will start and go from there. What will the next logo change be, and what are your thoughts on the primary logo?

CD: The caveman/crooked C is definitely our fan-favorite and would look really good on a new cap, with the added benefit that no one would be upset about such a change. I think the team could also use a new color scheme, though it might not be as popular, because 13 of the 30 MLB clubs use red and blue, and switching things up could make the team look more original and fun.

ML: I also love the novel idea of having a secondary logo, but honestly I don’t think we’ll be seeing anything of the sort from the Indians as long as they are called he Indians. There’s nothing they can do besides letters that isn’t going to allude to Native Americans that will get them in trouble again (and rightfully so).

MS: I think everyone wants the crooked C back in some form.

I think they could also use this as an opportunity to see what the response to rebranding will be like? Or maybe just ease into a new team nickname by slowly dissolving the “Indians”. Maybe introduce an alternate jersey that says “Tribe” on the front and uses a feather for branding, have a couple throwbacks that say “Cleveland” rather than use Indians, and use the crooked C, etc.

I believe they’ve gotten sufficient feedback that any rock and roll guitar themes will not be tolerated.

ML: That’s a good point. I wonder if the Rock and Roll patch was sort of testing the waters for that. If so, hopefully the feedback was loud and clear.

TG: There is a difference between “simple” and “bland”. The current block C falls under the latter. It’s not nearly as iconic/classic as the Cubs, but it also doesn’t have a lot of character like the old caveman C. It honestly looks like someone threw something together at the last minute and this is what we got.

I’m actually not convinced we will get a new logo. There’s a subsection of fans who feel that the Tribe needs to move completely away from the “Indians” moniker, but I haven’t seen any indication that the team is moving in that direction. (If they are, they’re moving at the speed of a glacier.) But they also haven’t shown any indication that they’re willing to work to create a logo that utilizes Native American imagery that doesn’t come across as patently offensive. So if they aren’t completely moving on from “Cleveland Indians” and they’re not leaning into the name from a more respectful perspective, they’re stuck in this weird limbo where the “Cleveland” in “Cleveland Indians” is the focal point.

Which, to be clear, is not a bad route to go at all. Pride in the city is a fantastic way to draw people in. But the problem is that it doesn’t seem like the organization knows anything about the city of Cleveland. Look at the All-Star Game logo. A big white guitar because “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!” When was the last time anyone delved into the city itself to find what makes it unique? It’s been a while, at least in terms of sports teams, and nothing about the Cleveland FO tells me that they’re going to be the ones to actually try and connect with the city.

CD: I agree with Tyler. As much as I’d like something other than Indians, for branding’s sake (because what other logo do you have with the nickname Indians than something offensive?) it seems like we’re stuck with something bland. But I also agree with Tyler that civic pride could be a great thing.

Think about English football teams. Most are named simply after the town they play in, they have nicknames, but those aren’t used for branding particularly.

I imagine a Cleveland Baseball Club with awesome civic logos like the guardians from the Hope Memorial Bridge, or with a round logo (similar to what the Brewers just added) that features local landmarks such as the Terminal Tower or the West Side Market. The opportunities here are numerous and it could all be accomplished by simply abandoning the traditional nickname all together rather than re-branding based on something silly like Dreamers and trying to create a logo for that.

TG: I recently got into MLS and it’s about half and half teams having nicknames (LA Galaxy) and just being the football club (LAFC). Being a fan of LAFC has not been diminished because they don’t have a nickname, whereas the Cleveland Indians have been that for a century. But I really don’t think losing the nickname would ruin the attachment to the team.

AH: I’m so glad you both say that, because I’ve been getting killed for years while suggesting “Cleveland Baseball Club.”

Yes, brand equity is a thing, and over a century of it, it is not something you just throw out. But if there ever was a place or time to try it, it is here and now.

The Cleveland T-Shirt economy itself proves that you are going to sell the crap out of anything that just says CLEVELAND on it. That is your identity. It’s certainly not the current nickname, which, if you are going to remove a logo for being perceived as offensive, just go for the clean sweep. There is some serious cognitive dissonance in differentiating the two.

You have an opportunity to be forward-thinking culturally, as well as be the first team to abandon this weird, corny naming mechanism we have in American sports. European soccer has so many ideas we should be pulling from, and branding is certainly one of them.

CD: Could also steal from the NBA and start putting all kinds of different things on the front: CLE, The Land, etc., with logos for each new thing not burdened by team nickname.

MS: Personally, Cleveland Guardians continues to grow on me. It’s such a weird unique thing about the city that a couple of bridge statues are that iconic.

ML: I’m personally not a fan of having half a dozen different jerseys like the NBA but I’m for whatever keeps ads off on-field apparel. If that means the Indians (or whatever they’ll be in the future) have a bunch of different variants - bring it on. I have no clue what a future name could be, but I’m OK with it not being strictly Cleveland related. Nothing wrong with a good ole fashioned animal or other noun. I’d be surprised to see Guardians at this point as the XFL is using it for their New York team.

TG: It’ll be fine once that league inevitably folds.

Make a pitch for your perfect logo/uniform:

CD: 1. Baseball uniforms are not well designed. Belts and buttons on athletic gear is antithetical. I don’t care for a lot of what came from the late 70s/80s, but the v-necks and elastic waists were a step in the right direction. Something like that with better-fitting performance material, the way basketball uniforms have evolved, would be best.

2. Having static uniforms for years at a time is likely costing MLB money. Soccer and basketball teams roll out multiple new uniforms each year and people plunk down lots of their hard-earned money to get the latest. I think MLB should move toward this model as well, if only to keep corporate sponsorship away as long as possible and also because I naively believe this could be another revenue stream for players to share in.

3. My ideal uniform for Cleveland would be multiple uniforms, the primary being a blue-green combo, with city editions or throwbacks using the blue-red scheme. As I mentioned before, the team could go nickname-less and then have different iconography for each uniform: block C on one, caveman C on another, guardians on a city edition, and maybe spiders on a throwback.

AH: I think the latter notion is one that gives more credence to the CBC idea. Instead of trying to adhere to a nickname all the time, you can dip into a pool of old names and teams in the area. With baseball, those are aplenty, and would be real fun. You can also pivot off of things that are non-sensical like the Los Angeles (Trolley)Dodgers and Lakers, as well as the Utah Jazz.

The idea of sinking billions of dollars of brand equity into nonsense is undeniably American, however.

MS: That makes me love the idea of Cleveland Baseball Club. I mean, the Browns are totally nonsensical too; we might as well go all out on it. We can also be greedy and push to make “Tribe” the defacto primary nickname.

AH: My ideal situation would be very much in the vain of what Chris said, except I disagree with the notion about buttons and belts. That is more of a romantic feeling towards them, with memories of my JV coach yelling “LOOK LIKE A BALLPLAYER” when the squirrely kid forgot his belt.

Alas, I love the idea of Green and Blue, I think it’s sensible. “Cleveland” on the home and away jerseys, “Forest City” on an alternate. I would vouch to stay with the clean home whites and piping style.

ML: Honestly, I don’t think I have a preference or dream logo/uniform. I just want something I know is going to be around for a long time, something that the team can really sink their marketing teeth into, and clearly that’s not “Indians” right now.

MS: Stop all the bunting.