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Volume 20 No. 42
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Charlotte looks to Nets for rebranding

Editor's note: This story has been revised from the print edition.

The Charlotte Bobcats plan to use the Brooklyn Nets as the primary model for rebranding themselves as the Charlotte Hornets.

Bobcats owner Michael Jordan last week officially announced the team would return to its old Hornets name starting with the 2014-15 season. The change must be approved by the NBA Board of Governors before it can take effect. A vote is set for July 18, Bobcats officials said.

Team owner Michael Jordan and CMO Pete Guelli discuss bringing the Hornets name back to Charlotte.
Photo by: AP IMAGES
The Bobcats are thought to be the first major league team to reclaim a prior name, but there are other NBA teams — such as the Nets, who moved to Brooklyn from New Jersey last year — that have rebranding experience the Bobcats can tap into, said Pete Guelli, Charlotte’s executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer.

“What they’ve done is a best practice for the league,” Guelli said.

The Nets’ rebranding process took about two years to complete and was a project tied to their move to Barclays Center, the team’s new arena in Brooklyn, said Fred Mangione, Nets executive vice president and chief marketing officer.

The Nets worked with the NBA’s merchandise division as well as with Adidas, the league’s official retail apparel provider. The Nets made a few trips to Adidas headquarters in Portland as they “dug in hard” to find the right fit, Mangione said.

Entertainer and clothier Jay-Z, who was a Nets minority owner, also had input in developing the new brand. The result was a black-and-white color scheme with a capital B as the primary mark that has become a lifestyle brand in Brooklyn, Mangione said.

“Our goal was to come up with a logo that was simple and classic that would stand the test of time,” he said. “Some people thought it was too simple, but we’re fourth in the league in merchandise sales. We wanted to come up with something cool that all ages would want to wear.”

During their research, the Nets considered a red-white-and-blue mark tied to their old ABA days with Julius Erving. They also looked at black and gold, colors symbolizing the borough of Brooklyn, but the scheme looked too much like the Pittsburgh Steelers, Mangione said. They settled on black as a primary color after finding out a nontraditional black jersey for Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose outsold a regular home jersey for Miami Heat star LeBron James, he said.

The Nets did not use a fan vote or focus groups to help develop their new brand for fear word would leak out before they were officially ready to disclose the marks, Mangione said.

“We kept it internal,” he said. “The first thing we had to do was go to EA Sports with our brand for their video games. They had our stuff before anybody. We were praying it wouldn’t get out as we shipped it across the country. The league was shocked it wasn’t leaked.”

In addition, the Nets used social media channels to slowly unveil their new brand over time instead of announcing it at a special event. It was a strategic move to reach a wider audience, including their younger fan base, a demographic tuned to their smartphones, Mangione said.

In Charlotte, the Bobcats unveiled a tease of the Hornets’ rebrand at last week’s news conference with a “Back the Buzz” slogan in purple and Carolina blue printed on free T-shirts, a slight departure from the old Hornets’ teal.

Over the next 18 months, the Bobcats must rebrand everything from their website to concourse banners at Time Warner Cable Arena. All told, it’s a $4 million expense, Guelli said.

From a merchandising standpoint, NBA teams want as much runway as possible in rebranding to sell the team’s old-look inventory, league officials said. Remaining items are discounted and sold through closeout channels. Any leftover inventory is typically donated to charity.

“We’ll start a liquidation process once this [name change] happens and then start focusing on the new brand,” Guelli said.

Staff writer John Lombardo contributed to this report.