A River Runs Through It: Introducing the Missoula PaddleHeads

After two decades as the Missoula Osprey, the Rookie-level affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks announced today that they are rebranding as the Missoula PaddleHeads. Their logo, created by Brandiose, features a moose character that is living it up in the great Montana outdoors, particularly along the Clark Fork River.

With this brand, the team is paying tribute to the what makes their home state special.

“It is Montana,” Klein said. “When you put your foot on the ground you’re immersed in the wildlife and the scale of everything. It just completely captures your imagination.”

“It really lent itself to what our overall goal was, and that was to capture the spirit of Missoula and Montana in our logos,” said the team’s vice president Matt Ellis, whose family owned the team until last year.

“We always say that our biggest competition to drawing people to our game isn’t one thing in particular, it’s the environment that we live in,” said Taylor Rush, the team’s director of marketing and public relations. “Missoula is our competition. Within a half hour, you can go on a world-class hike, you can go camping, you can go fishing, you can float the river, and that’s something we really wanted to pay tribute to with this logo.”

The PaddleHeads are one of three teams in the state, along with the Great Falls Voyagers and the Billings Mustangs, but Klein said that initial conversations with the team revealed lofty goals: “They wanted to be Montana’s minor league baseball team.”

While the brand centers around a grimacing moose with a baseball in his antler (which looks a lot like a baseball glove if you ask me), it should be noted that the as-of-yet unnamed moose spends a lot of time in or on the river.

“The river is an essential part of our culture here in Missoula,” Ellis said, “and baseball is part of the river, because our stadium is on the riverfront.”

“It’s a tribute to the outdoor culture that Montana has—stand-up paddleboarding on the river, or kayaking, or going out to fish,” Rush said. “Lots of paddling happening in western Montana.”

Rush mentioned also that his father has been working on carving a baseball bat-paddle like the one the moose is using above. (No word on when baseball bat-paddle giveaway day is.)

Most people have a positive association with moose, probably because they just look round and goofy (though they are quite aggressive and can be dangerous), but Klein said Brandiose confronted a unique challenge in making the character accessible.

“Moose are pretty ugly animals,” he said. “Surprisingly, there was a lot of work going back and forth. With most animals you have to balance what people think in their heads—they’ve constructed what they think the animal looks like—and then what it actually looks like.”

If you’re in to Easter eggs, a closer look at the moose reveals another important geographical feature. Missoula sits at the base of five mountain ranges, and a mountain landscape is reflected in the moose’s eye.

One reason that the team rebranded was obvious: The existing logos had been around for a while, and they were feeling dated.

“We originally started the conversation as a redo of our current logos—they were old and tired,” Ellis said. “They were great logos, they’ve lasted a long time, but they had not been updated since 1999.”

Another reason for the rebrand was to create an identity that had an appeal beyond the local community. Osprey, a fish-eating hawk, are well known in the community, but outside of Montana recognition was lacking.

“We realized there was an opportunity here to really include our community in the process and make it even bigger,” Ellis said.

To that end, the team set about creating a brand that celebrates the distinctive lifestyle of Missoula. Elements of the suite of logos incorporate the antlers, fishing line, and of course, a baseball.

“We met with community leaders and fans and season ticket holders and elders of the community,” Klein said. “We spent a lot of time in Missoula uncovering what makes this great American town special.”

One of those things that makes Missoula special is that it’s something of a hippie town, as Klein described it. For that reason, one logo evokes a peace symbol made of paddles and an inner tube.

“The peace symbol has been an iconic symbol of Missoula for a lot years,” Ellis said. “For many years we had an actual peace symbol on the mountain range overlooking the city. “

“We kind of stand alone in the state of Montana as a relatively liberal community,” Rush said. “It’s a university town, lots of outdoor activities, lots of organic lifestyles.”

The color palette features the greens and browns that you’d expect in Montana, along with a first-ever appearance of what Klein calls “Hunter Orange” in a minor league baseball brand.

As for the custom script, it’s meant to walk some fine lines.

“The lettering, it’s a little bit hippie, but it’s also very Big Sky Country,” Klein said. “Whenever we do a script, we’re trying to put one foot in your classic Major League Baseball style lettering and another foot in the setting, or the thematic elements of the brand.”

That script will be featured on an alternate jersey, which will be unveiled in March, that includes Missoula’s nickname, Zootown.

When the PaddleHeads take the field next season, the very fact that their identity is based on a moose at all may be the result of divine intervention. Ellis described the scene as the team met to go over options for their name last spring:

“We’re looking over these finalists of names, and I actually say out loud, ‘My only issue with PaddleHeads is that people don’t necessarily equate a moose with Missoula proper.’ There’s a lot of moose 10 miles out of town, but it’s not something you equate with the city. Then somebody says, ‘Go to The Missoulian, go to to The Missoulian’—that’s our local newspaper. We go to the website and there’s a news alert flashing, ‘Moose walking through downtown Missoula.’ Somebody else gets on and sees that it’s a block away from our office. So we said, ‘That’s our sign. PaddleHeads it is.’”

(Here’s the link to that story, if you’re curious.)

Eventually, all logos merge into one, and a river runs through them. These logos were cut by the world’s great flood and run over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless baseball bat-paddles. Under the baseball bat-paddles are the words, and some of the words are PaddleHeads. I am haunted by moose.