LAS VEGAS – It was July 2016. The NHL had announced that Las Vegas would be getting an expansion franchise for the 2017-18 season.
It was a flight to Whitefish, Montana, where the franchise’s new owner, Bill Foley, would be waiting. He paid $500 million to the NHL for the Vegas team, and countless more in marketing and outreach leading up to the League’s decision to approve him. Now came the fun part: Working with the League’s marketing department and their new gear partners from Adidas to figure out a name, a logo and the team colors.
On this flight were Jeff Eagles, design director for Adidas; Dominique Fillion, senior apparel director for Adidas; Brian Jennings, NHL chief brand officer and executive vice president; Keith Leach, the senior director of NHL for Adidas, among others. They knew the task at hand was a formidable one: Attempting to create a brand for a team that doesn’t exist, and with a small window of time to accomplish it before Vegas hit the ice in 2017.
“It was a hurry up offense,” said Eagles, “but what an incredible opportunity.”
The team met with Foley for the first time at his office in Montana. There had been discussions for years about what he wanted from a team name and logo if granted an expansion franchise: Something militaristic in honor of his background in the U.S. Army, specifically wanting to call the team the Black Knights, the name the Army uses for its athletic teams.
“I love the name Black Knights because I was a West Point guy, went to Army, it’s close to my heart,” he told Sportsnet in 2014. “And the black knight, many people don’t know this, is actually the good knight. And I think that Black Knights would be a great name.”
And so there was that moment of hesitation any time the marketing people meet the new, opinionated client.
“I heard he had some very strong feelings about what he wanted the team named, stuff like that,” said Jennings.
But it dissipated quickly, thanks to Foley.
“He looks at us and he goes, ‘You guys know what I want the name to be. You know a lot more about branding than I do, so take me on this journey,’” recalled Jennings.
Thus, the journey began. From Whitefish, Montana, to Las Vegas, Nevada, on Tuesday night, where the Vegas Golden Knights’ jerseys were revealed for the first time at an Adidas event.
The team had two tasks: Working with Foley on concepts surrounding the nicknames he was partial to, as the Black Knights was looking like a longshot due to trademark issues; and attempting to come up with colors and a design scheme that married his desire to honor military service with the razzle dazzle of Las Vegas.
Which is easier said than designed.
But Foley was open to any and all ideas. “He wanted his brand to resonate with the people of Las Vegas. He wanted the ideas of sacrifice and valor. That’s why we circled back to the concept of Knights as the name,” said Eagles.
The colors were established rather early. The idea of a dark gray jersey appealed to all involved, as the NHL and Adidas pushed the notion that it would immediately make the team distinct. The other colors – which have drawn comparison’s to those of the Belgium flag – were meant to evoke Vegas and valor.
“We wanted to give them something unique in the profile of the League. Vegas is about nightlife, and dark colors allow the other colors to pop,” said Eagles.
Other design details began to emerge. The patterns on the arms and on the black part of the shield. The glittery gold fabric used on the sweater.
“We were saying, ‘wow, we actually haven’t seen this in an NHL jersey before,’” said Dan Near, head of hockey for Adidas. “To their credit, they wanted to be different. They wanted to do something new and distinct.”
One of the loudest voices in this discussion?
General manager George McPhee.
He had taken an active role in the design of the Washington Capitals jersey redesigns while he was their general manager.
“I remember the ones that are being worn in Washington now, it took us two years to get those right. Because you sit down with people, you tell them what you like, what you don’t like, they try to create something. They come back three months later, and you either like it or don’t like it and they go away and then they come back,” he said on Monday, at the Vegas team offices.
McPhee’s input on the jerseys surprised Jennings.
“He was unrelenting. There aren’t a lot of general managers that would lean in with that kind of input,” he said, recalling McPhee being partially obsessed with the fonts the team used, for example.
For McPhee, getting the sweater right was essential.
“We’ve talked a number of times about the importance of your culture and everything else, and sometimes that gets to be cliché, people really don’t understand what it is. But, your culture really is important in performance and in winning and our colors stand for something. Bill Foley is a West Point guy, sort of using those colors. You know his history at West Point, you know about the classmates he had that he lost serving this country. So, those colors mean a lot to us, and will mean a lot to our players.”
As does the logo.
Eventually, the name Golden Knights won out and was revealed by Foley as the nickname of the franchise. With it came an impressive new logo: a knight’s helmet with a large ‘V’ on its front.
It was a logo that Foley had created in his mind, and was brought to life by the NHL and Adidas.
“It would have taken a really strong option ‘B’ to overcome that,” said Eagles.
McPhee said the right logo was essential for capturing what the team is in their eyes.
“We’re really proud of the logo. It’s clean, it’s symmetrical, it’s kind of bold, and again it stands for something. Bill has mentioned a number of times what the Knights stood for: protecting their realm, never retreating, and always attacking. That was one of the things that we had to accomplish when we were putting this franchise together,” he said. “We suddenly had to come up with uniforms and a logo and those things take awhile. We did this in a couple of months, I think, and it turned out really nicely. It’s one of the many things that we’re proud of on this journey.”
It was quite the process, and an expedited one, but the Golden Knights have now gone from concept to reality in both their jerseys and their franchise.
The reviews for the jerseys were strong to mixed. The logo was universally loved. The colors and striping had some critics on social media.
“It’s amusing. I’ve been in this industry a long time, and everything you do there are going to be lovers and haters,” said Eagles. “The good thing is that there is always passionate feedback. In so many occupations, you don’t get that.”
In some ways, the Knights had an advantage in creating something that didn’t have an existing design, so that it couldn’t be judged against something.
Is it easier to create a new look without an old one for comparison?
“I don’t think it’s any easier,” said Near, with a laugh, “but it was a privilege to undertake this.”
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