Ottawa·Analysis

Incoming Sens president needs to tackle stale centurion logo

New Ottawa Senators president and CEO Tom Anselmi will have to deliver on the promise of change quickly, if he wants to appeal to long-suffering fans. And on the marketing side, nothing's more pressing than the logo issue.

Tom Anselmi must take bold steps to revive flagging brand

The current "3D" Ottawa Senators logo and uniform, in use since 2007, regularly ranks among the worst in the NHL in fan polls. (Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)

It was a big week in Sensland.

On the ice, the team capped off a strong run of games leading into the all-star break, keeping them firmly rooted in a playoff position and having — in the words of owner Eugene Melnyk — "whacked" the better teams in the league.

Off the ice, Melnyk called a surprise news conference to announce the departure of founding co-owner Cyril Leeder and the arrival of his replacement, Tom Anselmi of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment [MLSE] fame.

Melnyk explained that change was needed at the top. He said that a revitalization of the brand was overdue, and that Anselmi had the chops to lead the Senators through its foray into downtown development that includes a new downtown arena at LeBreton Flats.

Anselmi echoed those sentiments at the news conference. He went further in an interview with Postmedia, saying that "new eras are times where you stop and decide where you want to go next" and that 2017 "feels like one of those moments right now."

For fans of the team, fed up with close to a decade of mediocrity and worried about the indisputable rise of the rival Toronto Maple Leafs, Anselmi will have to deliver on the promise of change — and quickly. Because so far, this 25th anniversary season has been a bit of a dud.

It starts with the logo

There's no easy way to say this: the centurion has got to go.

First, the team's 25th anniversary logo, more reminiscent of a certain professional wrestling look from the 1980s, is embarrassing for an NHL franchise.

The subtext in the hiring of Anselmi was the idea that the team needs big-time leadership and big-market ideas. But nothing, however, typifies the Sens' small-market identity right now more than the current 3D centurion logo.

"The Sens have had identity problems since day one, when they decided not to leverage the historic brand they already had, said Spencer Callaghan, account director with communications agency Thornley Fallis and a longtime Senators fan who tweets under the handle @Senturion.

Roman look 'tangential' 

"The Roman theme was tangential to the name Senators at best, and had no relation to Ottawa as a city, or Senators as a hockey brand,' said Callaghan, a longtime critic of the team's marketing efforts.

Callaghan said it's "telling" that it took a design created by a fan — the team's much-loved heritage jerseys, with their bold stripes and impossible-to-miss "O" logo — to get people embracing the city's lengthy hockey heritage.

"The Sens' heritage jerseys are a clear fan favourite, as can be seen any time you walk in the arena. Despite not being the primary jersey, and not being on sale for nearly as long, they rival the standard home and away jerseys in popularity."

Daniel Alfredsson models this popular heritage uniform currently used as the Sens' alternate uniform, worn on Throwback Thursdays. Designer Jacob Barrette came up with the idea and collaborated on it with the Senators. (Jacob Barrette)

That fan, Jacob Barrette of Le Collectif Design, came up with the heritage concept when news of a possible Sens heritage classic outdoor game broke. 

His drawings got such rave reviews on social media that the team contacted him to collaborate on a uniform to coincide with the team's 20th anniversary.

"It's a clean look. It references the history of the Senators team in Ottawa well beyond the 25 years since they've been brought back. And I think it's just simply a bold look," said Barrette, who's been leading an informal push on social media to have the team adopt the heritage uniforms full-time — and not just as an alternate on "Throwback Thursdays."

"Basically, I just want the team to look good. I think that's what's important, at the end of the day."

Barrette has even worked with another designer to update the so-called "2D" centurion logo that was in use before the team adopted the current centurion in 2007.

Jacob Barrette has pitched this updated version of the '2D' logo worn by the Senators prior to 2006. (Jacob Barrette)

Even returning to that design, said Barrette, would be both an aesthetic improvement and a sensible business decision — and judging from the vast majority of fan feedback on social media, he's not alone.

"We grew up with that logo. It's something that, yes, is nostalgic," said Barrette. "But at the same time, I think from a marketing standpoint and a jersey sales standpoint  ... we're now the ones bringing our kids to the games and buying jerseys for our kids. It would be a great marketing move [to bring it back]."

Inexplicably, Barrette's overtures to the team  — he's even offered his designs for free — have been ignored. Mr. Anselmi, it's time to give Barrette a call.

History isn't a four-letter word

The Senators seem to have a difficult time differentiating between what's outdated (the current logo) and what's historically relevant (the heritage uniform).

But it goes beyond the logo, according to Callaghan.

"A clean, simple, timeless design — the kind you see with the Canadiens, Yankees, and Cowboys — is not only better," said Callaghan. "It reflects a brand that is confident, proud, and doesn't need to chase trends."

And the Senators have, Callaghan said, made missteps in that department time and time again.

"From the dismissal of (anthem singer) Lyndon Slewidge, to the lacklustre 25th anniversary logo, to the disappearance of the white heritage jersey, to ditching the Sens theme, the team doesn't embrace its history like a strong, proud Canadian hockey market should," Callaghan said.

"This isn't Tampa Bay or Phoenix, the brand should be timeless."

Clarke MacArthur celebrates after scoring Ottawa's first goal during the first period of the Heritage Classic in Vancouver. The off-white jerseys are not currently used by the Senators. (Rich Lam/Getty Images)

Unfortunately, backing away from the 25th anniversary logo and admitting that an outside designer could improve the team's look likely will ruffle feathers in the Senators' marketing department.

But egos shouldn't get in the way of something that's so central to the way fans connect to their team, said Barrette.

"There's a lot of stuff we can complain about as fans, and it's all fair. It's a team we're passionate about and we follow. We might not like a trade, or we might not like a player's performance. There's not much we can do about it," he said.

"But in terms of the look and what the players wear, we're the ones wearing those uniforms. We're the ones buying those uniforms. And that's something [with which] I feel I can help and others can help."

On the bright side, said Callaghan, Anselmi's 17 years with MLSE suggests he understands the value of strong branding.

Tom Anselmi was introduced as the new president and CEO of the Ottawa Senators at the Canadian Tire Centre on Wednesday. (CBC)
 

"My hope is that Mr. Anselmi brings a better understanding of how history and tradition help build a strong brand. That concept is something that MLSE does very well, and it's clear that the Sens could learn from their example," he said.

When Anselmi spoke to reporters after being named the team's CEO, he referred to an inferiority complex within the Sens' fan base and suggested that the team should be valued more than it is right now.

What better way to start the revitalisation, then, by adopting a classic look that can stick with the team over its next 25 years.

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