First, do no harm

I would like to thank the proprietor of this site for giving me this forum.  I’m a life long fan of the Browns (the first game I remember was the Drive and I’ve been hooked since) and 2015 will be my 14th season as a season ticket holder who commutes from Columbus eight times each year to watch consistently horrendous football. This post started off as an idea banging around in my head that I’ve been wanted to get out, but when I put fingers to keyboard it grew to a size that didn’t really fit a typical forum post.  I hope you enjoy, I certainly feel better having my thoughts released in what I hope in cogent fashion. 

First, do no harm. That is the directive doctors are given, but it applies to many other areas of life such as “branding.” It’s acutely important when the brand is iconic like a soft drink company, an automobile manufacturer, or a storied football program. What do the above examples all have in common? Some marketing people got it into their head1 that their iconic brand was becoming stale. Truth, sometimes a brand needs to update to changing consumer tastes.2 But the majority of the time, the brand is suffering from self-inflicted wounds of simply not maintaining its core product.

This brings me around to our beloved hometown football team, the Cleveland Browns. This past off-season, three years of tireless work resulted in a complete rebranding for the franchise. Over the course of two way over-hyped announcements the browns updated their color scheme, logos, and uniforms. Let’s review the results.

A refreshed brand!

Get on the hype train for a major change!

The first stunt was a reveal of the new team logo and color scheme. To paraphrase our esteemed Cheddar Bay founder, that was a big, fat nothing-burger. The highlights, despite weeks of hype and foreshadowing announcing major exciting change was a “brighter” orange color and a brown facemask. Had the team been forthright about the plan and not hyped a nothing move, this could have been a huge marketing win. But in classic Browns fashion, they snatched defeat directly from the jaws of victory. The new primary logo with a Brown facemask was at best a tweak. The facemask color has been grey, then white, then grey again, so a move to brown wouldn’t have even raised eyebrows. Well, except for several weeks of hype and teases.

But that brighter, more energetic shade of orange. That’s a big deal, right? No, like a new coat of paint or fresh carpeting (new louder orange paint/carpeting, mind you) in a hotel, this is maintenance and nothing to get excited about. It’s not like they tore down the stadium and rebuilt it.3

Round two of the rebranding effort somehow accompanied more hype than the nothing that was round one.  This involved three years of hyping focus groups, surveys, Nike, energy, and a cacophony of other buzzwords. When that April Tuesday rolled around, the big secret reveal was already on the internet because the Browns can’t even let boxes sit in warehouses correctly.

And oh what a mess!

Back the beginning I reference “do no harm.” With an iconic brand like Coca-Cola, Ford, University of Michigan athletics, or a beloved football team with a storied past,4 a modern update that harkens to the past is, to put it simply, what is required.

Bubby Brister

Yellow pants are still trash, yo! (photo credit:

For example, did you know that the Pittsburgh Steelers made a dramatic change to their uniforms before the 1997 season? It’s true. They changed from classic block letting to a Futura rounded font on their jerseys. It’s dramatically noticeable when watching old NFL films, but when the Steelers play games. Meh. Still looks ugly, but it is a classic look.

So back to that April Tuesday, in a star-studded event, what should have been a fresh coat of paint, was a rearranging of the lobby to put the front desk in the hotel restaurant where the bar used to be.

What the March logo reveal said about imperviousness to rebranding should have provided the important lesson in how to freshen up the uniforms. Instead we got monstrosities that the coaches don’t even like. So much for energy and edge. More like distinct strategic disadvantage.5

Almost all orange kit

Alex Mack with the winningest jersey of an ugly lot.

My basic premise is that by “doing no harm” the team could have freshened up the look in a positive way while infusing several of the elements the team ended up using.

First, let me extol the positives. The kit stayed true to strictly brown, orange, and/or white colors.6 If they wanted three pairs of pants and three jerseys sticking to colors the team has worn at times throughout its history is straight “keep it simple, stupid” stuff. Making all striping match the 3 color striping of the helmet is also positive, especially when you consider that that stripe is the primary feature of our primary logo. And if we’ve got to have a orange jersey,7 the cleanliness of our orange makes it the best of the lot.

Moving on the the neutral “features”, I’ll just list them quickly as they neither add nor detract from the overall look.

  • Orange and brown socks. Meh.
  • Enlarged city wordmark. Could have really worked with the “we play for the name on the front” type marketing/motivational stuff.
  • Custom block letter font. It’s no Tampa Bay digital clock font. But what is?
  • Helmet stripe texture. Seriously, even with HD cameras broadcasting individual blades of grass, can you tell the stripe has a texture?

But the negative is so pronounced…

Let’s start with the pants. An absolute case of “what should have been”. What it should have been was three colors, simple stripes down the leg set to a width that matches the helmet and shoulders. Instead they got too clever, and decided the look wasn’t wordy enough with the oversized wordmark on the jersey. Thus we were presented the word BROWNS down the leg. So I did a Google image search of “wordmark on football pants leg” and three of the top twelve results were team sweatpants.8 Nothing states professional and energy like sweatpants! ((That’s why bloggers are known for their professionalism and energy, right? Aww.))

Nothing screams “I’m a professional” quite like showing up in your best sweatpants!

On the jerseys, I’m going to start with the brown jersey because traditionally, it has been by far my favorite. If you’re updating a recognizable brand,9 why not just add the new bells and whistles — new stripe pattern, flywire, thread colors(!!!), whatever. — and keep the stuff your customers know the same? Heck even the drop shadow is a subtle enough innovation it can be argued that it falls safely into “do no harm.”  Ultimately, that’s several sentences to simply say, the Brown jersey should have had white numbers and letters. I’d be willing to entertain alt color (oversized!) wordmark, but the matching white-with-white on the orange looks so good, I prefer consistency.

Home opener uniform

More like “trash” emoji

On the white jerseys, let’s stay with that consistency theme. WHY ARE THE NUMBERS AND WORDMARK IN DIFFERENT COLORS???? You went orange/orange on the brown. And white/white on the orange. But you go orange/brown on the white? No. No. No. No. NO! It’s a professional football, keyword professional, football uniform, not a Geocities webpage!

Going back to my being ok with the large jersey wordmark, the shoulder stripes create a problem. Because the stripes encroach into the jersey the top becomes too busy and simply looks awkward. The solution is simple, more traditional shoulder stripes or a less pronounced wordmark. Either, or, or both.

Alternative brown jersey

See how much better this looks?

So ultimately, with four simple tweaks, the Browns could have successfully slapped a fresh coat of paint on their classic car.

Instead they swapped out the tires for spinners and added a lift kit.10

The end result is the new threads are a laughingstock. Many fans hate them.11 The manner in which everything was released was an abomination. And thanks to adventures in marketing, an already corroding brand is stuck with these clown outfits for at least 5 years. At least we didn’t end up with embarassing two-tone helmets.

  1. I use the term singularly because in my experience, marketing people tend to all think alike. Like pink shirt Thursdays with no prior coordination alike. [back]
  2. See the craft beer revolution that has AB-Inbev buying craft breweries like it’s iPhone release day. [back]
  3. The stadium changes before the 2014 season were far closer akin to a rebuild. And the team somehow mostly got it right. Yes, some fans were relocated and unhappy, but overall, the updates were a net positive.  Except for the public financing scheme. [back]
  4. I’m implying Packers, Raiders, Bears, and Steelers along with the Browns here. [back]
  5. Link to Charlie Weis’s resume. [back]
  6. That this has to be said might be the biggest indictment of the entire process. [back]
  7. Personal point of bias, hate orange jerseys, love orange pants. [back]
  8. Two were the Browns new unis, two were football pants with a star design and no wordmark, two were of SEC uniforms sans wordmark, one was Army’s “Duty, Honor, Country” alt jerseys, one was a low level FBS school with no wordmark, and the last was James Franklin talking to Joe Girardi. [back]
  9. See Steelers, Pittsburgh above. [back]
  10. Editor note:  and also the black lights in the under carriage to make it look like a hover craft. [back]
  11. Including the proprietor of this website. As for me, these new threads are doing the exact opposite of growing on me. I think they are worse today than I did when they were revealed. [back]
  • Great post, Cap.

  • bupalos

    I hate the uniforms mostly because they remind me of a mentality. They changed them and made a bunch of options so they could boost sales. Period. And that worked. The (arguably) worst franchise in the league continues to be the worst franchise in the league and has the highest jersey sales this year. Well done, guys.

    They are trying to minimize the damage to the brand, but the reality is they’re trying to extract money from the brand first and foremost. It’s a small thing that suggests a bigger problem, and this would be true even if somehow they had managed to improve the unis, which of course they didn’t.

  • zarathustra

    Well done. I was perfectly fine with the idea of changing the uniform and even when they were unveiled I wasn’t thrilled with them, but ultimately was pretty ambivalent. Every time I see them now my hatred grows. They are so, so awful. I think they are quite useful though in that they provide insight into the way that the current guys think about things. Doesn’t provide much solace that they will ever figure the football side of things either. In related news, Kyle Shannahan is running one of the best offenses in football and with an offense that will probably lead the league in team rushing yards with an offensive line inferior to the Browns.

  • jpftribe

    Thanks for the write up. Good post.

    Taking into account their basic blocking and tackling, neon pink would have been my choice of color change.

  • Tron

    I don’t mind the new uni’s. I think they look good except for the wording on the pants and the brighter orange. I’d rather they not have changed them at all but I think they did a good job overall of sticking to tradition and coming with something new.

    I’m more concerned about a last place defense vs the run…pathetic.

    • Not a zero sum thing: we can be concerned about both the state of the team and the ownership team’s fixation on window dressing.

      • Tron

        That’s true. However, we’re not the only team to be concerned with window dressing. Aesthetics are mostly subjective but I think most people could agree that the re-branding and new-age uniforms of New England and Denver are hideous and yet I doubt any of their fans care. Gee I wonder why?

    • bupalos

      let’s keep “brighter” in quotes please. It’s significantly redder, in fact it’s more than halfway towards pure red from the prior orange. But luminance is the same. And yeah, run defense is the same.

  • Dan

    Great article. It may be because I am relatively young and don’t know any other color, but I would argue change the color from the burnt orange was much more of disgrace than any uniform change.

    Also, Kanik , if you are looking for more guest posts, I recently wrote a reflection on the being a millenia Browns fan. I can send it if you would like

    • Tell you what: register as a user here and I’ll make you ‘contributor’ and you can submit the draft that way and we’ll go from there. I’m happy to run guest posts. So long as they’re superlatively awesome.

      • Dan

        Superlative seems like a tall order, but I registered nonetheless.

  • Sam Gold

    Spot on.

    When these were introduced on stage I thought, meh. As each week of the season passes I find my disgust for these abominations growing exponentially. When I think of some of the AWESOME internet mock ups I saw prior to the release I’m dumbstruck that Nike would put their name on this. I’m equally flummoxed that two years of design by Nike, NIKE, produced this. I just expected so much better/more.

    It is nearly indescribable how this organization finds ever new, increasingly spectacular ways to give the nation an everlasting gobstopper of buffoonery to suck on. We could go 19-0, win 10 Superbowls and people will still say, “Yeah, they’re dominant as hell, but those unis…eesh…Browns always gonna Browns”

    • Capitalgg

      The way this is going we need Robin Williams to give us all a hug and tell us it’s not our fault.

  • humboldt

    Good piece, although I’d argue the fundamental cause of the uniform mess is the very application of ‘marketing logic’ in the first place. This resulted in the uniforms becoming a mishmash of trendy ideas from the Nike corporate headquarters (e.g. monochromatic jerseys, drop shadows, leg graphics, etc), none of which work in concert, and none of which will age well.

    Also, major missed opportunity not to integrate the Brownie, or make any real attempt to evoke tradition. Turning “Dawg Pound” into an empty branding slogan is just so cynical and tone-deaf.

    All that said, I have noticed that these new jerseys, which look so alien to my eye, help me start to emotionally disconnect from the team a bit more. While they still wore the traditional jerseys post-1999 it was still possible to mistaken the expansion team for the one we grew up with. Now, thanks to Alec Scheiner’s magical marketing tour the illusion is gone.

    • Capitalgg

      But the cartoonish mascot Brownie dances in the stadium. /sarcasm

      Really can argue with no part of this. Spot on.

  • And ANOTHER THING. After anguishing over the fucking highlight thread color for the fucking jerseys, it’s “just do whatever you feel with your shoes and sock heights bros!”

    Why do uniforms stop at the calf? Is this an NFLPA thing? Asked differently: when is a uniform not a uniform?

    • Capitalgg

      I believe the “shoe rule” is that they must be of the same base color (white or black) selected by the team. But because of the proliferation of shoe deals and the safety/comfort factor of everyone having different feet, it’s allowed individualization to a point.

      • well that is bullshit. that’s all. it is no longer a uniform. why not just let them choose their own individualized helmets.

        and i see three or four basic colors here.

        • Capitalgg

          Dammit, Mike! Now I’m going to obsess over shoes this Sunday watching the game. 😧

          Looks like we might now be a base black team (kickers get special passes for some reason). But traditionally we’ve been a base white team. Did I miss the gala announcement when that changed?

          But you do see multiple different helmets. They are different brands and styles with individualized facemask designs. I think they at least decided to crack down on over built facemasks this season.

  • Uniforms were expensive, so tradition became athletic tape striped down blue helmets with no logos.

    And thus for Georgia Southern beating everyone became the focus and shit uniforms became the tradition.

  • HitTheHorns

    Thank you for writing this. I was appalled when I saw the uniforms for the first time. I just listened to Zac’s podcast, and he mentioned he has seen a lot of new jerseys, mostly Manziel. That is not my experience. I haven’t seen hardly any in my section at the stadium, and I don’t really see tshirts or hats that look new either. To be honest, I feel like I care less about what a mess things are now than I have in the past. I don’t recognize the team on the field. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe Alec Schneier watches Bar Rescue, and decdied why keep things the same for the 5 loyal drunks that show up every night. UniWatch did a Browns redesign post in 2013 that had some results I would have been happy with (#5 would have been amazing).

    • If *some* change was inevitable, it thought it’d be cool to go MORE minimalist. Do a Penn State, Bama, Georgia Southern thing. Want to change the color? Make the brown darker, almost black. The Jets pulled this off,,, didn’t change anything but made their green darker. It works.

      Anyway, of all the new designs, this one is still the one, maybe the only one, I liked.

      • humboldt

        I like the minimalist look/concept, and it fits thematically with the tradition/city. However, Alec Scheiner’s “energy and edge” geiger counter hardly registers a beep

      • Sam Gold

        Damnit. I feel worse than I just did.

    • Capitalgg

      I think I’ve seen far less of the new jerseys than i would have expected. You see a ton of new jerseys every year with the QB du jour that’s been brought in during the offseason. Doesn’t seen appreciably more despite the radical changes (or maybe because of).

      One of the guys we tailgate with bought one of the digital camo training camp jerseys. They are actually really cool and I kind of wish they were publicly available. Much better look than the new kit.

Skip to toolbar