We interviewed our Creative Team’s Art Director, Sam Cook, to understand the process of creating a brand identity for a world-class sports competition: the Basketball Champions League Final Four.
As an experienced designer in the sports industry, would you say the theory behind designing for sports events is different than for other industries?
The key difference is understanding the nuances that the sports/events industry brings with it and how this further influences the visual properties that a brand identity must bring to bear. Any good brand identity, whether it’s for sports, events or any other industry should ultimately be fit for its prime location of manifestation. With sports and events, typically speaking, the final manifestation is a culmination of physically produced touchpoints, which all join together to create a fluid spectator journey.
The real key to success in this space is creating a brand identity that builds consistently throughout a spectator journey – keeping the visual pace ever evolving and fresh until people are experiencing it living and breathing in a live space, where the action plays out, moments happen, and memories are made. We can create an emotional journey through aesthetic content and messaging which builds, sets the stage and becomes an iconic visual representation for event experiences.
Basketball Champions League Final Four: Case Study
What was the client’s brief? How did you approach it?
The brief from the Basketball Champions League was to create an event identity for the Final Four – the culmination of a regular season that sees 30 European clubs and some of the best basketball talents in the world. The Final Four was held in O.A.C.A. Olympic Indoor Hall, in Athens. The scale of the event from a ‘live’ perspective was limited to the stadium capacity of 18,989 per game, with a total of 4 games taking place. However, I believe the games were televised as well as streamed online on digital and social platforms, increasing the reach of the games exponentially.
We subsequently created a sub-event identity for the BCL Final Four, both celebrating and elevating the last stage of the tournament. The approach was to add something new and interesting to that stage in the competition, but whilst still working visually alongside the core BCL competition brand. Therefore, this identity took many cues from that of the pre-existing base identity, such as colour and typography. We further extended the ‘look’ by creating a bespoke range of visual properties, developed from showcasing the trophy at the centre of the visual narrative. This developed to form the event crest and the greater graphic language.
Did you face any challenges? If so, how did you overcome them?
The instantly visible challenge was creating something new (the Final Four identity) out of an established championship identity (Basketball Champions League), which both visually worked alongside it, whilst creating something new and eye-catching to establish itself as its own identity. The real challenge was to identify a new, exciting visual focus-point for this part of the identity, providing an individual and meaningful profile that didn’t compete with the BCL brand.
We overcame this challenge by utilising the BCL trophy as the focal point, specifically the very top of it; which resonated as a crown. This meant we could take an existing, approved element and upcycle it. Working with the ‘Crown’ at the top of the trophy, it was then easy for us to introduce new metallic colour ways and further messaging narratives that suited the suggested European basketball royalty. We wanted to crown the best team in the competition the kings of European Basketball.
We trialled versions of the event identity in a ‘Spanish’ colour set to create a greater point of difference from the blue hues otherwise use. However, this ran into difficulty: it was later decided that Athens would be the location of the games. This naturally brought the colour sphere back to to the blue hue ranges again; based on their national colours. It was then decided, for the purposes of longevity that the Final Four identity at its core wouldn’t draw aesthetic influence from the location. A more economic outlook ultimately means the ongoing use of this identity theoretically shouldn’t need to change and adapt for years to come. However, we’ve still left enough flexibility in the identity for a national colour palette to be introduced further down the line if the sense of ceremony warrants it.
Did you consider other alternatives in terms of design?
After a phase of consultation and defining a clear brief with the client, we explored two design routes based on our core concept which achieved the desired profile. Through further conversations, the one that resonated most with the client was developed to the final identity
The larger topic of conversation was around how influential the location of the games was on the identity itself. Typically, a favoured path to underpin an event identity is to draw influence from the country and culture of where a set of games is going to be held. For instance, this can be seen in the upcoming Japan Rugby World Cup 2019.
What was the process of building the design visuals and seeing the event identity come to life?
Our typical design methodology, particularly when it comes to design for venues such as stadiums – is we tend to make it our business to understand and fully scope all the theoretical endpoints that identity will ultimately manifest itself in. With this in mind, we developed the event identity in tandem with realistic in situ visuals, so that we could be certain every step of the way that what we were producing work fit for its final application. We developed the work in this manner to ensure client buy-in early on as well as set a clear vision of final manifestation for the artworkers to adhere to.
What were the results of your work? Is there a clear ROI?
Design as a whole, particularly for sporting properties and events, is a very hard subject matter to measure in a quantitative manner. Therefore, we ordinarily have to gauge a range of qualitative cues to measure the success of a project, such as a client’s feedback, spectator’s reaction, social media interaction and uplift.
We know that the client was incredibly happy with the look, consistency of quality and process of the final services and product. Furthermore, the BCL deemed the identity good enough to utilise it and adapt it in 2019 – it was created with longevity in mind, so by that standard, their investment has been successful
We also know that the client utilised the renewed identity for their own communications and events marketing. This is viewable across their myriad of social media and digital channels. Utilisation in this sense shows us that functionally speaking, it was also a super effective visual tool good enough to leverage the exposure of the event as a whole. It was also evident across those channels, through the utilisation of #hashtags, that spectators/consumers alike utilised the visual identity for their own content. This is the biggest win from a consumer point of view that we could hope for.
In sporting terms, AEK were ultimately crowned the champions on the evening, beating AS Monaco to win the coveted Basketball Champions League. And all this, to the chorus of a packed O.A.C.A. Olympic Indoor Hall, with 18,000+ screaming fans. You only have to see the event photography to know that both teams had an incredibly passionate following, which only added to the sense of ceremony.
What was the most convincing aspect of the work that pleased the client?
Firstly, our ability to operate in the very narrow space of creating a new aspect of focus, within a pre-established identity was impressive to the client. Ultimately, finding inspiration from within the visual properties that already formed an aspect of the BCL was both greatly pleasing to the client and a perfect aesthetic fit to the championship. From a team point of view, the fluidity of the identity that we created and its ability to flex through the various stages of a fan journey and stadium application was incredibly pleasing. The results speak for themselves – it produced a brilliantly visually consistent result that truly elevated the Final Four Identity.
Finally, how would you compare it with other projects you have worked in?
It’s been one of my favourite projects. We’re very adept at taking a pre-existing brand identity and developing or extending it to work physically for sporting/event spaces; places where it probably wasn’t originally considered for application. For example, the iconic ‘Razzle Dazzle’ event look for the inaugural Invictus Games came about because the original identity, as powerful as it was, wasn’t created with venues in mind.
The real treat of the Final Four project was the new range of ‘identity’ we created and injected into the project – which is something we’re doing much more of. For us, being able to create an event identity from scratch, defining everywhere it will be experienced allows us to create work which will be maximised over any application; adding consistency through guardianship as well as collaborating with talented people from other disciplines to amplify it further.
So the BCL project is a further successful sign of what’s to come. Most importantly, working this way allows us the greatest opportunity to make great, rewarding work.
The Basketball Champions League FInal Four returns this Friday 3rd of May, in Antwerp. In the semifinals, Sefagredo Virtus Bologna will face Brose Bamberg, while 2016/2017 champions Iberostar Tenerife will face the hosts of the tournament, Telenet Giants Antwerp.