A Brief History of Marketing Expansion Teams – San Jose

Success sells itself, but having a name, logo, and a sales staff sure helps.

Of the last nine expansion teams (San Jose, Tampa Bay, Ottawa, Anaheim, Florida, Nashville, Atlanta, Columbus, and Minnesota), here is a brief look at how things came together for them.  I write this while being cognizant of the fact that social media was non-existent even as a concept when these nine teams came in, and online marketing from an early point only applied to the latter four.  On the other hand, I can tell you that I was one of the people who watched the Atlanta Thrashers’ logo unveiling online, which was regarded as a groundbreaking event.

This will go chronologically, beginning with San Jose.

Forget the Seawolves, Comets and Screaming Squids.

The nickname for the Bay Area’s expansion National Hockey League team is officially — if you can’t tell by the logo at right — the Sharks.

But not the San Jose Sharks. At least not yet.

Team officials today announced the nickname for the new NHL team that will begin play in 1991 at the Cow Palace in Daly City. No city affiliation has been announced, but that may come soon. A deal may be completed by the middle of next week to have the Sharks play in San Jose when the downtown arena is completed in late 1992.

Club officials received more than 2,300 suggestions in their name-the-team contest. Some weren’t bad, while others — the Saddlesores and Integrated Circuits? — yeeech.

Staff Report, Mercury News. “OUT OF THE WATER! HOCKEY TEAM IS NAMED.” San Jose Mercury News (CA) 6 Sep. 1990, Front: 1A

Although the deal that cleaved the Minnesota North Stars in two and gave birth to San Jose had been brewing for some time, the team name wasn’t unveiled until September 6.  But if you check the citation above, it was a front page story in the San Jose Mercury News.

They don’t have a first name or a full-time home quite yet, but the Bay Area’s new hockey team has a nickname: the Sharks. That National Hockey League expansion team, which starts play in the fall of 1991, chose the name yesterday after sifting through 2,300 entries in a Name the Hockey Team sweepstakes. It came down to 15 finalists, including Rubber Puckies, Screaming Squids, Salty Dogs and the most popular entry, Blades, which was rejected because of its gang implications.

The second most popular entry, Sharks, survived because it sounds good, it is easy to remember, it is regional, and it has great marketing potential, said Matt Levine, the Sharks’ executive vice president of business operations. That one-syllable name also goes nicely with San Jose, the club’s likely permanent home.

Gilmore, Tom. “Sharks Are Coming — NHL Team Named – Hockey club’s nickname drawn from 2,300 entries.” The San Francisco Chronicle 7 Sep. 1990, Sports: D1.

Based on later articles, I believe that it was not the actual logo that was unveiled at this time, but the wordmark.  The person who announced the name was Matt Levine.  The earliest reference to him in San Jose that I can find was in this snippet:

Why will hockey work now in the Bay Area when it didn’t work before?

“Four reasons,” said Matt Levine, executive vice president for business operations. “Better management, greater interest in professional sports in the Bay Area, a league better balanced by geography and marketing-oriented management.”

And, of course, flamboyant Charles O. Finley, the former Seals owner.

“Charlie just wasn’t attuned to marketing,” Levine said.

Bucy, Bill. “New NHL franchise could look like the old one.” UPI NewsTrack 10 May 1990, News.

Levine had an interesting career in professional sports, working previously in the NHL, MLB, and NBA by the time he joined forces with the Sharks.  He provided comments later in May 1990 that had some insight into the process of marketing an expansion team.

But until the 1991 dispersal draft, there no team for Levine to market. The club will play at least its first season at San Francisco’s Cow Palace and then move to another site, possibly a new arena in San Jose, the next season.

“We have to sell the NHL itself the first year,” Levine said. “We won’t even have a name or team logo until the lease agreement is finalized. Our name is going to be city specific so we have to know where we are going to be for the long run before we name the team.”

Even picking a nickname must be done with great care.

“‘You have to be very careful that your name does not have a double meaning,” he said. “We’ve looked at 200 names so far and only two have been ruled out. We are not going to call the team the Seals, for obvious reasons, or the Blades. We liked the nickname Blades, when we surveyed a number of people on it, they said it sounded like a gang.

“The team’s colors also have to be selected very carefully because you have to have a scheme that will merchandize [sic] well.”

Murray, William D. “Sports Business.” UPI NewsTrack 31 May 1990, News.

“Seals” was the name of the Bay Area’s previous failed NHL entry, the Oakland Seals turned California Golden Seals (1967-76).

Levine was slightly off on one thing, which is that the name and logo were in fact in place before the lease agreement was finalized.  However, it was by only a week.

At the same time, season ticket deposits were being taken.

The Bay Area’s new National Hockey League franchise has no name and no permanent home.

But by the time it begins faceoffs at the Cow Palace for the 1991-92 season, it expects to have a few things going for it.

Fans already have committed to filling the Cow Palace halfway, with more than 5,000 deposits for season tickets in the bank. This should inspire the builders to finish San Jose’s arena in time for the 1992-93 season.

Fornoff, Susan. “Building Is Half-Filled Already.” Sacramento Bee 27 May 1990, Sports: E14.

The exact date that season tickets went on sale is unknown.  It may have been during September 1990 that people who had placed deposits began to convert over to actual season tickets, based on this:

But there were also a number of native Californians, like John Siri, 29, of San Francisco, who was won over to hockey on the day in 1980 when an underdog American Olympic team beat the Soviets.

“That was it. That game was all I had to see,” Siri said. “I went out and learned the game and joined an adult hockey league. Been playing seven years now.”

Siri and 15 of his hockey-playing buddies have bought eight season tickets, at $1,000 apiece, to see the Sharks next season at the Cow Palace.

“We’ve been waiting so long for hockey,” Siri said, “The last few years, we’ve been making trips to L.A. Now that stuff is over.”

Tim Bryant, a spokesman for the Sharks, said the team already has deposits on 9,000 season tickets next season and would like to sell 9,300 of the venue’s 10,700 capacity.

Swan, Gary. “A Big Night for Bay Area Hockey – NHL exhibition game draws savvy crowd.” The San Francisco Chronicle 29 Sep. 1990, Sports: D4

In the meantime, the actual look of the team on the ice was coming together very slowly.

Hockey fans come and go at 10 Almaden, where the management of the SanJoseSharks engages them in earnest discussions about shades of blue.

You deposited $100 on a season ticket? OK, now cast a vote between teal blue and processed blue. The winner will join black, gray and white on the soon to be unveiled uniforms of the new NHL franchise that will begin skating in the Bay Area next October.

We were looking at one combination of colors that looked very much like that of the Miami Dolphins, with black, Sharks vice-president Matt Levine said. The fans were saying, “Hey, that’s the Miami Dolphins with black. Great colors, but get us our own colors.’

Fornoff, Susan. “Sharks Prepare For Some Major Off-Ice Battles – San Jose’s New NHL Franchise Tries to Establish an Identity.” Sacramento Bee 18 Nov. 1990, Sports: E1.
The dispersal and expansion drafts were barely six months ago when this was written, and the only things that were actually in place at that point were trim colors, a wordmark, and a name.  That San Jose was getting a team for 1991-92 had been settled months prior, and the wordmark and name rolled out in September, but the primary color still hadn’t even been chosen
Things weren’t exactly rosy on the season ticket front as Christmas loomed, but other things were coming together.

The San Jose Sharks are 11 days past the Nov. 30 deadline to have their 7,500 season ticket applicants pay 50% of ticket price.

But they still don’t have a precise count on how many they have guaranteed.

“We’re still counting because some have asked for extensions and others we haven’t heard either from,” said Sharks spokesman Matt Levine. “Blame part of it on the recession, part on the holiday season.”

Based on National Basketball Association experience, Levine expected that as many as 30% of the applicants might not follow through. The Sharks have a waiting list of about 1,500.

But Levine is encouraged that 45% of applicants, enticed by a first- edition team jacket, have paid in full. “We’re talking about people paying $1,100 apiece for some tickets one year before we are playing,” Levin said.

Single-game ticket prices are $12, $27, $35 and $55.

Today, San Jose will send its logo, uniform design and team colors to the league office to get approval. Teal blue will be the main color of the away jersey. Black, gray and white are part of the rest of the color scheme.

Allen, Kevin. “Season-ticket deposits still trickling in late for Sharks.” USA TODAY 11 Dec. 1990, SPORTS: 5C.
1990 gave way to 1991, and January into February without any updates.  Finally, in the second week of February, with barely three months to go until the dispersal and expansion drafts:

Can you keep a secret? Shhhh. Not so loud. Hold the paper closer. Closer.

Take a look at that picture with this story. Yeah, that’s the one.

Well, just between you, me and a few hundred thousand other readers, you’re feasting your eyes on the new logo for the San Jose Sharks hockey team — and you are likely to be seeing it before the official unveiling scheduled for this morning. According to sources with access to the design, this is the logo that will grace everything from the players’ official National Hockey League jerseys to fans’ T-shirts, sweats and shorts: a fierce, black shark biting a wooden hockey stick in half, swimming out of a white inverted triangle with teal, black and white borders.


Now, the Sharks management has taken great pains to keep this new logo as hush-hush as the design of the Stealth bomber, the recipe to Mrs. Fields chocolate chip cookies and the reason why fools fall in love. Oh, sure, they planned to unveil the design today to reporters from all over the country at a much ballyhooed news conference (on ice, even).

But why shouldn’t the people who actually live where the team is going to play see the design before the rest of the world? You know, a home ice advantage.

So, how did we find out? Well . . . that would be telling. Suffice it to say it wasn’t easy.

Yes, yes, we tried asking the Sharks. We’ve been asking those guys since December. What did they tell us? Zilch. Nada. Bubkes.

Sunday we went higher up the Sharks food chain and asked Matt Levine, the team’s executive vice president for business operations, if we could sneak a peek.

“It’s a national story. ESPN, CNN, the New York Times, the National, Sports Illustrated are going to all have an opportunity to get the first look. While we love the San Jose Mercury News, it’s really cutting off our nose to spite our face,” he replied during a telephone call from his home in San Francisco. “To provide a sample of the artwork is something we cannot do.”

Oricchio, Michael. “A Logo On The Line – Sharks’ Deep Secret Surfaces Early.” San Jose Mercury News (CA) 12 Feb. 1991,  Front: 1A.
That was a front page story in San Jose, and a national story with the official unveiling.
Present at the official unveiling was the incomparable Gordie Howe, modeling the teal jersey.

Take a look at the picture with this story. It’s the new logo for the San Jose Sharks hockey team, which was officially unveiled this morning.

This design — without the words “San Jose Sharks” — complements the logo that will appear on the chest of the team’s uniform, which was also unveiled this morning.

Hockey legend Gordie Howe likes it: “The crest you wear on your chest is what catches everybody’s eye, and if this crest doesn’t catch your eye, you’d better check your pulse,” said the former Detroit Red Wings star at today’s news conference. “I can’t imagine how beautiful this will be when you get names on it and players in it.” Franchise owner George Gund likes it, too: “I’m very proud to be wearing this jersey,” he said. “It comes one step closer to bringing you a team on the ice in San Jose.”

Staff Reports. “Chomp on This: The Sharks Unveil Their Team’s Logo.” San Jose Mercury News (CA) 12 Feb. 1991, Sports: 1C.
 What would it mean for revenue, and how did everything come together?
The San Jose Sharks unveiled a million-dollar logo Tuesday.

At least that’s what the NHL expansion franchise hopes to reap annually from sales of merchandise bearing the design, which was displayed on a variety of garments during an on-ice fashion show at the Ice Capades Chalet in Cupertino.

“I would hope that in about three years, we will be generating $1 million to $2 million annually from our apparel and collectibles business, independent of what is done through the league,” said Matt Levine, the team’s executive vice president in charge of business operations. “There will be hundreds of items available, and we’re expecting a big demand.”

Mary Keen, the team’s director of merchandise marketing, said merchandise should start appearing in retail stores all over the country in two or three weeks, although jackets and jerseys probably won’t hit the shelves until late March.

Once the merchandise is in stores, Levine expects it to quickly become the No. 2 seller among NHL-licensed products in the United States, behind those of the Los Angeles Kings. He said large displays will be devoted to Sharks material at sporting goods shows in Montreal this weekend and Atlanta the following weekend, and said the team is exploring the possibility of selling items from carts inside shopping malls.

Fred Scalera, who is in charge of the league’s retail licensing division, said the merchandise should move quickly.

“We sent their logo out to our licensees and got a favorable response,” Scalera said. “They all seemed to think it will be a good seller.”

The Sharks’ logo features a white triangle design from which a shark is emerging and biting a hockey stick in half. The uniform colors are Pacific teal, white, black and gray.

The uniform unveiling came nine months after the franchise was awarded to brothers George and Gordon Gund, but Levine said it was important for the Sharks to take the time to make sure their logo design would be popular. [NOTE: emphasis mine]

The Sharks’ logo drew praise from NHL legend Gordie Howe, who modeled a team jersey during the fashion show.

“The crest you wear on your chest is what catches everybody’s eye,” said Howe, the NHL’s all-time leading goal scorer. “And if this crest doesn’t catch your eye, you’d better check your pulse.”

The logo was designed by Sunnyvale artist Terry Smith, who said he experimented with close to 40 designs before a final choice was made.

“It was a little more difficult than I had anticipated,” said Smith, who also designed the Bronco logo used by Santa Clara University. “Essentially, a shark is a cigar and I was trying to give a cigar personality.”

Weaver, Mike. “Sharks Display Their True Colors, New Franchise Expects to Cash In On Big Demand for Merchandise.” San Jose Mercury News (CA) 13 Feb. 1991, Sports: 1C.
The reaction wasn’t all positive.

Get used to it. The San Jose Sharks made the color official at an ice rink news conference Tuesday to the theme music from “Jaws,” “Mack the Knife,” “Do You Know the Way to SanJose?” and “America.”

Color analysts say teal is a “gentle” color that looks good on such women as Candice Bergen, Meryl Streep and Jane Pauley. Carole Jackson, author of “Color For Men,” says teal shades are flattering on Jimmy Carter, Tom Smothers, Ron Howard, Red Skelton, Woody Allen and Robert Redford, to name a few.

How it’s going to look on beefy hockey players with missing front teeth is another matter.

And, how will it look on the fanatic fans who will smear their faces and bodies with teal? Well, teal is more flattering to most hair and eye colors than either 49ers scarlet or Giants orange.

On the down side is the matter of nail polish — for female fans who prefer to paint their talons as a way of pledging allegiance. Teal still beats Giants orange and black or A’s green and gold, but in this case, 49ers scarlet and gold is more flattering.

Gottschalk, Mary. “Teal Can Be Flattering for Fans – It’s Hard to Get a Feel For S.J.’s Men of Teal.” San Jose Mercury News (CA) 13 Feb. 1991, Sports: 1C.
Gottschalk, for what it’s worth, was actually the Mercury-News’ fashion reporter.
And a bit of insight behind the scenes.
In the old days, a team would hold a press conference to introduce its latest coach, announce a major trade or request a new stadium.

But that was then and this is now: The National Hockey League’s franchise-elect San Jose Sharks invited a few hundred people to a fashion show Tuesday. There, they unveiled their new dress-for-success uniforms.

Said Sharks vice-president Matt Levine: Now, we just need the players to put in them.

Listening to Gordie, evidently it’s a more emotional kick for hockey players to put on their jerseys than it is for football and baseball players, Levine said. Other teams have made mistakes. We listened to what the players had to say.

Hey, the Sharks listened to what everybody had to say. They listened to fans even inviting them to critique color tones during their exhaustive research sessions. They accepted all of the entries in a Design-A-Logo contest. And they didn’t hang up the phone not right away, at least when the uniform company suggested they try royal blue instead of that confounded teal.

We spent 12 months on this process, said Levine, a sports marketing specialist. I’ve done them in three or four weeks with six different NHL teams.

“Shark Uniforms Show Dress-For-Success Link.” Sacramento Bee 13 Feb. 1991, Sports: F1.
And more reaction.
I can just see my pals in Philadelphia snorting into their beer when the SanJoseSharks skate onto the ice in their cute little teal uniforms.

“Hrummph,” they’ll sputter. “Californians.”

Teal, in case you’re not up on yuppie wimp fashion colors, is a lovely shade of off-blue. You see it in women’s clothing departments and interior decorating magazines. You might read, “Mrs. Cartwright-Higgins looked stunning in a teal frock with Alencon lace.”

So I’ll take comfort in the fact that teal jerseys will look nice on me, if not on the team. And I’m thankful that at least the mascot isn’t a French poodle.

But I can’t imagine showing my face in a Philadelphia sports bar after this.

Vroman, Barbara. “TEAL??? GET REAL.” San Jose Mercury News (CA) 14 Feb. 1991, Editorial: 6B.
I’m deliberately withholding more of the reaction from “traditional” markets for one reason: I don’t care what they think, and neither should Las Vegas or any future expansion team give a damn what outsiders who won’t be rooting for the team think.
To quickly go through the San Jose timeline:
  • May 10, 1990 – Team announced for Bay Area to begin play in 1991-92
  • May 1990 – Season ticket deposits become available
  • Sept 6, 1990 – Team name (Sharks) unveiled
  • Sept 1990 – Conversion of season ticket deposits to actual tickets begins (possibly)
  • Dec 11, 1990 – Logo, colors, and uniform designs submitted to NHL for approval
  • Feb 12, 1991 – Logo, colors, and uniforms officially unveiled to the public to mixed reaction
  • May 30, 1991 – Dispersal and expansion drafts put actual players in the jerseys
One major thing to note is that there were extended periods of dormancy that were taking place.  Staff hirings may have been taking place during these gaps, or they might not have been; it simply wasn’t announced.  There does not appear to have been much done to engage fans outside of an NHL exhibition game that was played in September 1990.  There don’t appear to have been any major events taking place outside of that.
The phrase “hurry up and wait” comes to mind.  There are huge gaps from May to September 1990 where plenty was undoubtedly taking place behind the scenes, which seems to be limited primarily to naming the team.  From the time that the name was announced in September until the time that colors were selected (with input from the public) was over three months, going until two weeks before Christmas.  The logo was designed without input from the public at all, but only from people employed by the team.
It’s been 25 years, and San Jose is still called the Sharks.  Their logo existed in its original form until 2007, and has only been slightly modified since.  And teal, or a very slight variation of the original teal, is still the team’s major color today.
This is a team that did everything right from a marketing standpoint.  Yes, there were huge gaps of downtime during the time between the team being announced and the time that the team hit the ice.  It doesn’t mean that nothing is taking place.