(Above: Clockwise from top left: Lewis Hamilton’s logo by Safari Sundays; ’77’ identity for Andy Murray by Aesop; Paul Belford Ltd’s logo for Richard Commey; Hype Type’s identity for Maya Moore (Richard Commey identity designed by Paul Belford and Martin Brown. Photograph by Jim Fenwick. Lewis Hamilton identity, creative direction by Adam Walko)
Personal branding unlocks the door to big, fat merchandising deals, sponsorships and endorsements that can keep a sports star in the manner to which they’re accustomed long after they’ve hung up their boots or spikes. A tasty-looking logo can shift units with Olympian haste. René Lacoste – dubbed ‘The Alligator’ by the American press – kicked things off, and Fred Perry followed in his footsteps, both spawning durable clothing brands. But the marketing of sports stars really took off in the 1980s, with Michael Jordan, whose Jumpman logo adorned millions of Nike Air Jordans. Today, Brand Beckham has upped the stakes.While the governing bodies of sport continue to shoot themselves the feet, it’s the real professionals – the players and athletes – who are looking fitter in every respect to uber-sponsors like Nike and Adidas. They, or their agents, are playing the branding game with a lot more success than their crooked overlords.
Many of Goldenballs’ juiciest deals, such as his $160m lifetime contract with Adidas, were bagged on the basis of his prodigious popularity, without the need for a brand mark. Beckham only got himself a logo (designed by Alasdhair Willis) in 2011, when he and Simon Fuller launched ‘bodywear’ from H&M and an Homme by David Beckham scent as part of a new branding venture.
So how does the rest of the athletic A-list elevate themselves beyond their own sporting sphere? A personal brand mark is now considered a de rigueur piece of kit. At least, it is if you brand it like Beckham and put Simon Fuller in charge of your commercial affairs. Under Fuller, both Lewis Hamilton and Sir Bradley Wiggins have launched their own eponymous brands, with distinctive visual identities. Hamilton’s, designed by Safari Sundays, features a sleek, predatory design, along the lines of the nose of a F1 car. The Wiggins identity, based around a mod-style target/wheel, forms the livery of the cyclist’s new team.
When Andy Murray set up a management company with Fuller in 2013, they called it 77. The name was inspired by the 77-year wait for a British men’s singles champion at Wimbledon, which Murray had just ended, coincidentally on the seventh day of the seventh month. Murray’s much-publicised new identity by Aesop makes a mark out of his initials and this “hugely significant number”, vaguely conjuring a tennis court as well as the sharp edges that still characterise Murray’s temperament.
The challenge of the sports star identity – not just those of Simon Fuller acolytes – is to reflect character, or concoct some where it doesn’t exist. “It’s important for the logo or mark to tell a story, capture and enrich the athlete’s personality, passion and individuality both on and off the court,” says Paul Hutchison, whose Hype Type Studio has designed several identities for Nike’s NBA stars.
‘Sports personality’ isn’t quite the oxymoron it’s often accused of being. Sportspeople with personalities do exist, occasionally with the bonus of a familiar victory pose (Usain Bolt, Mo Farah) that can form the basis of a brand mark. Where personality is harder to discern, the designer is left only with athletic prowess, ‘attitude’ and a set of initials to render in a novel form that will look great of the side of a boot, bag or cap.
The ‘fast and mean’ look is pretty commonplace. But we may see more variety coming through as up-and-coming athletes, including those whose strings aren’t yet being pulled by major sponsors, join the branding bandwagon. Paul Belford Ltd’s work for Richard Commey, the new IBF Inter-Continental lightweight champion but an unknown outside his sport, took inspiration from Belford’s trade, not the boxer’s, in referencing the graphic language of branding by using a registered trademark and copyright symbol as an ‘R’ and a ‘C’.
In sport, personal branding is well and truly part of the game. Could it save some of the less savoury individuals in charge? Look out for Brand Blatter.
Michael Evamy is the author of LOGO and Logotype. See evamy.co.uk and @evamy