This post is part one of a two-part debate.
Last week, the Canucks unveiled their new AHL affiliate, the Utica Comets, as well as the spiffy new duds that the club would be wearing, and I should say right up front that I love the look of it all. I think I prefer the Comets crest to the birthing whale, and I’ve always been a big fan of Vancouver’s blue and green palette. It’s my favourite colour combination in the world outside of green and yellow (which, sadly, died out with the Minnesota North Stars, and likely no NHL team will employ again until John Deere breaks into the hockey sponsorship game).
On one hand, the Canucks should be commended for doing their research and making a nod to Utica’s hockey history through their branding. According to Canucks.com, the crest ”honours the Comets heritage by incorporating the classic Comets shield, honours the game of hockey by using the puck as a focal point and draws connection to Canucks master brand through colours, lines and shapes.”
That’s all well and good. But, while they did a good job of connecting to Utica’s past, I think they erred in their connection to Utica’s present. It’s all too Canucky, in my opinion. As much as I love seeing the blue and green, my biggest issue is that palette. Those are Canucks colours, and for a team planted on the other side of the continent, I don’t like the blatant and constant visual reminder that they’re not the city of Utica’s team so much as they’re a Vancouver Canucks affiliate.
The Abbotsford Heat’s branding has been a major issue for me for quite some time. It was already going to be a stretch, dropping an affiliate of the hated Flames in Canucks country, but what made it worse, in my opinion, is that they went with such a blatant allusion to the mothership. Allusions to the mothership are great in funk music. In the minor-league hockey market, I think they sever the tie between the local fan — who you sort of need — and the club you want him or her to support. I know a lot of Abbotsford residents that won’t sport Heat gear because it’s really just Flames gear with an “A” on it. That bugs me, because I think the iconography of a city’s sports team should make you think of that city first.
It’s no surprise that the best-attended AHL teams are the teams that do the best job of maintaining an individual, local identity. Seven of the top ten drawing clubs — Hershey, Chicago, Grand Rapids, Lake Erie, San Antonio, Charlotte, and Rochester — all have a unique look that speaks to their community before it speaks to their affiliate. (Two of the other top three — the Providence Bruins and the Toronto Marlies benefit from being within striking distance of their NHL teams. The Marlies and Leafs are both in the Greater Toronto Area, and Providence is just an hour out of Boston.)
Meanwhile, 5 teams in the bottom 10 are branded like affiliates: Worcester, Adirondack, Abbotsford, Binghamton, and Oklahoma City. Those last three are the three worst-attended teams in the AHL. There are other factors at play, to be certain, but I think alienating branding errors play a major role here.
Now, it won’t be as big an issue in Utica as in Abbotsford, where the parent club is hated and they should really have downplayed that as much as possible, like M. Night Shyamalan’s involvement in After Earth, but I think the issue still applies. The Comets’ connection to the Canucks is far too prevalent, in my opinion. If the goal is for this club to succeed long-term in Utica (although, with a lease that conveniently runs out the same time Calgary and Abbotsford are set to part ways, we could argue that it isn’t the goal) I think you need to do more than run their history through The Canuckifier™ and call it a day. The colours should speak more to the city of Utica.
That in mind, I guess I can handle the blue. The old Clinton Comets rocked a very similar blue. The Utica College Pioneers do as well. The local newspapers (Utica Dispatch, Oneida Daily Dispatch) have blue as a lead colour. When the city seal is in colour, it’s a deep blue. But I’d have cut down on the green. The whole thing is a bit too Canucky for my tastes, and it’s a branding decision I can’t get behind.
I also maintain that they should have been called the Utica Erotica. But I digress. Am I nitpicking here or do I have a genuine gripe?