When the Portland Trail Blazers decided four years ago that they would at least consider changes to both their logo and traditional home and road uniforms, the team put together a focus group of fans ranging from long-time season ticket holders to new transplants to the Portland-metro area to gauge interest in potential tweaks.
“We decided to go through a pretty extensive brand audit that included looking at our identity,” said Ryan Flaherty, Vice President of Brand Strategy for the Trail Blazers. “We went out and did multiple focus groups with a couple hundred fans, the fans ranged from 17 to 70. Old school, been here in the region forever to new school transplants, Blazermaniacs, season ticket holders, people at every game, people that have never been to a game but are still casual fans. Kind of spanned the entire group, and within those focus groups we really concentrated on the new logo — is it worth changing, is it worth updating — as well as our uniforms. With those groups we asked them tons and tons of questions and got their feedback.”
The overwhelming sentiment? Keep the look, at least for the standard uniforms, relatively unchanged.
“There’s some subtle differences,” said Dewayne Hankins, the team’s Chief Marketing Officer. “What we learned through this process is that, much like the pinwheel, there aren’t a lot of changes that our fans were asking for. We’re lucky to have pretty classic uniforms.”
Which is why the new uniforms, unveiled for the first time at the yearly Rip City 3-on-3 event at the Rose Quarter, don’t look all that different than the previous iteration. But between Nike taking over the uniform contract for the next eight years, feedback from players about changes they’d like to see incorporated and a bit of general modernization, the new editions do have a different look and feel, subtle as it may be.
“We looked at different color combinations, style, design elements, iconic symbols and what we learned from that is that they have a lot of pride and love for our current logo and the uniforms,” said Mario Milosevic, art director for the Trail Blazers. “They didn’t want us to change much… Through this process with uniforms, they wanted us to be authentic to our heritage but also be innovative and they want us to reflect our community and culture. They also want us to keep the signature elements.”
In terms of materials, all the new uniforms will be made from from Nike calls “Alpha Yarns” and recycled polyester fabric made from PET bottles. The result is a lighter uniform, something players had requested, that wicks sweat away 30 percent faster and dries 15 percent quicker than the previous jerseys. The logos on the uniforms, such as the pinwheel and the NBA’s logo, are now plastic rather than stitched patches, which cuts down on weight, as does using thinner materials for wordmarks, numbers and names, which were much thicker on the adidas uniforms.
The names of the jersey colorways have also been changed to “Association” edition (which you probably know as the white “home” uniform) and “Icon” edition (previously known as the traditional “road” black uniform). While that might seem like little more than marketing, the change has a practical application, as teams are now allowed to wear any of their jersey options at home — there is an “Athlete-inspired” edition set to release closer to the regular season and a “Community-inspired” edition that will debut closer to the holidays — with the road team having to conform to that decision. So you could see the team wearing the black “Icon” editions at the Moda Center and their white “Association” editions on the road.
“The home teams will get to select the uniforms that they wear and then they’re work with the road teams and people like (equipment manager) Eric (Hallman) on making sure that process is smooth and simple,” said Hankins. “The idea is that you can wear any of the uniforms, home or road.”
There are also two more uniform options available to the team, though those won’t be released until a later date.
In general, the Nike jerseys are more trim and form-fitting than the adidas editions, and there is only one silhouette for all 30 teams, whereas before, different teams had different cuts. The rounded neck and arm cutouts from the adidas jerseys have been replaced with a v-neck and winged shoulders, resulting a less baggy profile while improving range of motion.
“The silhouette itself instantly modernizes,” said Flaherty. “We had kind of the old, swoopy high school jersey and the rounded collar. If nothing else, the silhouette and the font is going to modernize it.”
But as for changes that are specific to Portland’s uniforms, the most obvious change are to the wordmarks numbering. The serfs or “wings” on the letters have been removed from all but the “B” in “Blazers” on the “Association” edition and the “P” in “Portland on the “Icon” edition. What’s more, the italicized lettering was one of the few dynamic changes fans wanted to see, so the team straighten the font, resulting in a cleaner look.
“I think fans, by and large for the most part, wanted us to move away from italics,” said Hankins. “It seemed to place us in a certain creative timeline that we were no longer in. That was the one that was really loud and clear.”
The layering on the letters and numbers has also been slimmed down, with the letters now featuring two colors — black and red — where before there were three colors — black, red and silver. The silver that outlined both the name and numbers on the back of the previous jersey has been removed completely, leaving the name without an outline and the number outlined only in red. The NBA logo has been removed completely from the front of the jersey — it is now on the back in the center of the jersey above the player name — while a Nike swoosh has been placed on the left shoulder.
As for the shorts, the red, black and silver vertical stripes remain on the side, though all three have been slimmed down considerably. The updated pinwheel logo has been moved from the right front of the shorts to the right side, making it easier to see when players are in motion. The NBA logo has also been moved from bottom left to the upper right and another Nike swoosh has been added to the upper left of the shorts.
But the most notable change is the addition of the “rip city” wordmark to the waistband, which is more textured than the elastic waistband from the previous jerseys. The “rip city” wordmark consistently tests well with fans, so there has been a concerted effort to use it as much as possible recently, up to and including on the new uniforms.
“It’s a big, new element that we like,” said Hankins. “As you guys know, we’ve kind of made ‘rip city’ more prominent over the last couple of years and this sort of adds to that.”
The cut of the shorts, specifically at the side of the knee, has also been tweaked in order to improve range of motion.
As for the red, black and grey sash, the team strongly considered removing it from the new uniforms all together, but once again, fan feedback greatly informed the decision to keep the stripes. The width of the sash has been narrowed to match with the stripes on the side of the shorts, but it’s still there.
“If we had taken the jersey sash off, which we did on several versions, and the fans were fine with it, we maybe would have lost the jersey sash,” said Hankins. “But the fans felt that was a crime, in some ways, to remove from the uniform. So it was interesting feedback that way.”
Perhaps one of the most notable elements of Portland’s new “Association” and “Icon” editions is what they currently do not feature: the logo of a sponsor. The team remains in conversations with numerous companies and is “very optimistic” of the prospect of adding a sponsor logo to their jerseys this season, as teams such as the Cavaliers and Kings have already done. The goal is to have a jersey sponsor in place before the start of the 2017-18 season, though it is also possible a logo will be added mid-season, or not at all in the event that a suitable partner takes longer to find.
The new Nike “Association” and “Icon” editions will be available at retail starting at the end of September and will be significantly less expensive than the previous adidas authentic jerseys.