For five Saturdays this summer the Staten Island Yankees take on a fresh identity. And while changing their name—and design—to the Staten Island Pizza Rats may appear all fun and games, the effort to get the name, aesthetic and multi-faceted design on point was all business.
“As we sat down on the days we were there and people told us about what made Staten Island tick, it is an underdog,” says Jason Klein, co-founder of Brandiose, the firm behind so many of the fresh minor league identities. “As a borough, it doesn’t get a whole lot of attention.”
But just how does the Pizza Rats, unveiled in June, tell this attention-grabbing story?
“You want names that can’t be ignored,” Klein says. “These teams don’t have millions of dollars for an advertising budget. You have to find ways to get attention without spending a lot of money.”
That includes not just a one-off logo for a single-night event, but Brandiose creating an entire identity suite, with six different logos and three different word marks, a bigger project than many major league franchises take on when crafting new identities.
The new logo starts with the name. The Staten Island project kicked off with a fan submission contest where 1,013 names, everything from the Wild Turkeys to obvious identities such as the Sailors and Islanders, came in. After spending time visiting Staten Island and learning the history and culture of the region, Klein and the Brandiose team whittled the list to five names: Bridge Trolls, Killer Bees (a Wu-Tang reference), Heroes (to reference both the nearby Statue of Liberty and the sandwich), Rock Pigeons (Staten Island is known as the rock) and the Pizza Rats.
“For whatever reason animals do great in minor league baseball,” Klein says. “They are warm body things that have life to them.” Additionally, with about 80 percent of the fans coming to minor league games not for the baseball, but for the entertainment, Klein says the look needed to appeal to the community, kids and represent the underdog mentality of Staten Island.
As the team narrowed down its list of underdog animals that also represented a city, pigeons and rats led the New York theme. As rats surfaced to the top for their underdog mentality in a place known for rats, pizza was something that, when the team developed the idea, simply wasn’t owned by anyone. “We knew there was a temperature for pizza in New York,” Klein says. “We wanted something simple and Pizza Rats was the simplest way possible.”
With the name set—and all the technical work ongoing behind the scenes from trademark registrations and league deadlines and uniform manufacturing needs—the focus could shift. When it came to design, Klein says they always attempt to change the script on people at some point along the way. They did so this time with the rat.
“Fans expect us to go one way and we like to surprise them and take things in a different direction,” he says. From creepy possum-like tails and snarling buck teeth, Brandiose wanted to dispel the gross rat idea and move a different route in the artwork. Hey, if a mouse can be the most famous character on Earth, whey can’t Staten Island have a lovable rat?
The debate raged about how to handle the pizza slice, how to make it authentic. In the end, a clean, crisp cheese slice won the day to tell a simple story. Plus, embroidery was a key decider as every little detail can muddy a design.
With the friendly rat and simplistic cheese slice in play, the designs fell into place. There’s a running rat holding a folded slice—folding the slice was New York City necessity—there’s a rat on a slice and even a NYC logo with the Y turned into a slice of pizza. One design, Klein says, has maintained a low profile without folks noticing the detail: a sleeve patch featuring a slice of pizza in the exact shape of Staten Island.
The primary roundel logo includes a very pizza restaurant-esque script with the block script of Staten Island a gritty blue-collar font you’d expect to see on the New York harbour. The New York City skyline in the background plays to the Staten Island ballpark, which features views of the city skyline over right field and the Statue of Liberty over left field.
With 45 concept sketches and 12 rounds of revisions, not every idea made it to the final reveal. The idea of subway tokens, the slice as an NY for the Yankees logo, an “SI” for Staten Island on a wooden pizza peel and Statue of Liberty references all got weened out along the way.
What did survive, though, was a robust new design that has folks excited for this season and some looking forward to next season. “We really have no idea,” Klein says about the future of the Pizza Rats identity. “Let’s focus on these five nights. I don’t know what the future holds. Right now, everybody is loving it.”
Studio Stories is a monthly column from Tim Newcomb that explores the stories behind some of the designs dominating the sports landscape.