On the Road: Brandiose visions in San Diego

Design duo White and Klein explain approach to team names, logos

Casey White (left) and Jason Klein, Brandiose co-founders, have helped dozens of Minor League teams create new, attention-getting identities.

By Benjamin Hill / MiLB.com | June 19, 2017 10:00 AM ET

"We have a very resourceful duck who wants to play so badly he made his own bat." --Wade Howell, Down East Wood Ducks general manager.

"I want them to look at the logo and see the baby busting out -- a determined look, swinging a bat, ready to play ball." --Cookie Rojas, New Orleans Baby Cakes senior vice president.

"It's a gritty, tough, hard-working shrimp." --Ken Babby, Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp owner.

What do the above quotes, uttered this past offseason with perfect sincerity by Minor League club executives, all have in common? They were in the immediate wake of new team name and logo unveilings, all of which were done in conjunction with Brandiose.

Brandiose, originally known as Plan B Branding, is comprised of childhood friends Casey White and Jason Klein. Over the past decade, the duo has had an outsized influence on Minor League Baseball's visual landscape, moving the industry away from traditional identities (often modeled after the parent Major League club) and toward a more independent, creative and often downright weird aesthetic.

In doing the work they do, White and Klein have seen nearly the entirety of the continental United States. They've worked with teams from Spokane to El Paso to Akron to Pensacola to Pawtucket. But it all began in their hometown of San Diego, and San Diego is where they remain.

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Brandiose is based within the city's Naval Training Center (NTC), which closed in 1997 and has since been transformed into a cultural and commercial hub. It's a quintessentially idyllic Southern California environment -- save for the ever-present drone of planes flying in an out of nearby San Diego International Airport -- featuring beige, Spanish colonial-style buildings set amid large swaths of impeccably cut grass. One such building -- Barracks 15, within the NTC's Arts District -- is where the Brandiose studio is located.

The most striking aspect of Klein and White's workspace is the hat display, consisting of 105 fitted caps spread out over 15 wall-mounted shelves. Each one features a logo they've created. White, who draws each logo by hand, keeps a large stash of his sketchbooks in the studio and maintains a diverse selection of art and design books. These books provide inspiration as he goes about his work and include some unlikely subjects: Russian prison tattoos, record covers, package design and a compendium of the work of mid-20th century American artist Charley Harper (whom White cites as an all-time favorite).

It is within this studio setting that I spoke with Klein and White about the work they do and how they go about it. They spoke as longtime best friends often do -- finishing each other's sentences, elaborating on one another's opinions and, often, exchanging knowing glances while determining just what, and what not, to say.

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The 2016-2017 offseason was particularly fertile for Brandiose as five team identities they helped to create were unveiled: the Florida Fire Frogs, Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, Down East Wood Ducks, Binghamton Rumble Ponies and New Orleans Baby Cakes. In most cases, this was the culmination of a process that began during the 2015 Baseball Winter Meetings.

"Teams usually come to us by the Winter Meetings of two seasons before [the unveiling]," said Klein. "And they come for a variety of reasons -- new stadium, new ownership, retail sales have plateaued, new city. So we find out and in the summer we pack our bags and fly. We really want to immerse ourselves in the town. We want to eat at the greasy spoons. We want to meet with fans and season ticket holders and community leaders and uncover what that town is all about."

"We really go in with a blank slate, too," said White. "I think people think that's not true, but we really do. Almost every preconception is wrong."

2017 Road Trip

"You have an idea, like 'Oh, this would be great for that town!'" continued Klein. "Then you go there and, no. Every time. Terrible. Horrible. But [teams] have taken us on some crazy adventures. A mile deep in a coal mine in West Virginia. We've been on a Boeing Factory tour of the largest single structure building in North America. The Corvette Museum in Bowling Green…. So it's a lot of uncovering of these stories, and then we sit down with the staff. What is the story we want to tell? What do we want to play up? What opportunities do they see that they haven't capitalized on?"

Upon their return to San Diego, White gets to work. He creates dozens upon dozens of preliminary sketches, sharing them with the team and getting feedback as he goes.

From the Brandiose sketchbooks, a look at early iterations of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs' logo. 

"I think our process is messier than most creative processes, and I think there's a couple reasons for that," said White. "One is that we never worked for another company before. We started this in college. Jason's job before this was Shamu [Sea World mascot] and my job was loading construction trucks full of lumber. So the process was made up, by us.

He continued, "I think a lot of firms will just present a final thing. Like, 'This is what you should have.' And then justify it and really fight for it. We've never done that. Well, we tried to do it and failed. Maybe we're just bad at selling it. Our process is very collaborative, and I think the people who work with us feel like they co-created it. Because they did."

Here, Klein jumped in again.

"We're going down this journey together, this path. We don't know where it's going to lead us. You don't know where it's going to lead us. But we know what story we're trying to tell, so let's just go down the path and see where it takes us. And that's where the surprising stuff comes up, and then it ends up in a place that's unique, that tells the story of the town, that has some things in it that maybe require a deeper introspection."

"Like, why are there feathers carved into the Delmarva Shorebirds logo?" said White. "Because we went to this beautiful, gorgeous museum of wood-carved birds."

"So what if we could do that, with embroidery?" continued Klein. "Treat it like a sculpture. So we narrow it down, and realize that everybody's not going to love every logo. We have something for adults, for kids and for everyone in between. We work on the uniforms and the mascots. Sometimes we're doing theme park [style] maps. We're designing concession vessels. So, it really just keeps on going."

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Klein and White approach each job similarly, but it's the aforementioned total rebrandings -- the unveiling of both a new name and logo -- that generate the most attention.

"I think how the naming process works out is that from the very beginning we establish a certain set of criteria. The most successful Minor League team names, there are patterns they fall into," said Klein.

"So we juxtapose it against patterns that we know work, but the other thing is that we juxtapose it against the town's qualities," said White. "El Paso is the best example -- it's a small city that had a reputation for crime as Juarez's sister city. So it's the underdog, this lone island in the west of Texas."

"So people are feisty and fiercely loyal," added Klein.

"They're underdogs," concluded White. "That's how the Chihuahuas were born."

A similar process played out in Hartford, Connecticut, which ultimately led to the city's new Eastern League team being named the Yard Goats.

"People [in Hartford] said, 'We're small, we're tough, we're bold, we're quarrelsome, we're temperamental, we're territorial,'" said Klein. "So that's one of the lenses that you have to look through."

"That helps everyone get on the same page with the crazy names, because you need to justify it," said White. "You need to be like, 'We all agree that these are the qualities the name needs to have.'"

Nonetheless, there can be considerable front-office consternation regarding the potential fan reaction to names such as the Yard Goats. White and Klein both said a certain amount of nervousness should be part of the process, with Klein adding that "If you feel completely at peace with the name, that's a bad sign."

Brandiose-helmed rebrandings almost inevitably lead to a visceral public reaction. The names and logos are initially hated by a portion of the fan base, who often use words like "embarrassing" and "amateurish" while claiming that they will never again set foot within the team's ballpark.

"But these [names] aren't that crazy, when you think about it," said Klein. "Like, when Minor League Baseball first started, you had a team in Wheeling, West Virginia that became the Stogies. And they played the Furniture Makers. And then you have teams like the [Toledo] Mud Hens. We're carrying on a lineage of naming that's over 100 years old."

"I still think Red Sox is a crazier name than anything we've ever come up with," said White. "Like, you can't name a team after laundry. But the Red Sox don't represent laundry anymore. They represent a baseball team."

But Klein and White both know that, no matter how they justify their process, their work will be hated by some fans.

"We court criticism now. We want it. No response is the worst response," said White. "The more hate mail, the more merchandise sales. It's a direct correlation. We court [criticism] in the sense that we want to make a splash. We're not pot-stirrers at all. We're pleasers. But I think that some people have a limited imagination and, to be frank, we're surprised too by how well it all works. The craziness."

The craziness worked for Lehigh Valley in 2014, when the team unveiled bacon-centric alternate uniforms. 

Brandiose's work is often nontraditional, and baseball, more than any other sport, reveres tradition. Klein and White, as lifelong baseball fans, believe that their unorthodox approach will help the game continue to grow and evolve.

"I'm very optimistic on the future of baseball, and I think some of the best ideas are actually being incubated right now in Minor League Baseball," said White. "But my solution to making baseball relevant in the future is not to add a pitch clock. Don't touch the game. Instead of saying, 'Oh my God' a game is four hours,' how about saying, 'I wish a game was five hours. There wasn't enough time in the game to do all the stuff I wanted to do in the park.' So if it means naming your team after a tiny Paris Hilton dog [Chihuahuas] to get people in, then so be it."

He continued, "Jason and I grew up in Southern California, and we always say this: Our company is a child of Walt Disney. We idolize Disneyland, how they entertain people and create an experience and build a world. World building is what gets us most excited. We want Chihuahuas Land, ripped out of Disneyland and plopped into El Paso and then there's a baseball game in the middle of it. We think that's the future of baseball."

"No one's saying, 'Wow, I wish we could speed up our trip to Disneyland,'" added Klein.

"Right, exactly!" replied White, growing more animated. "You want to pack in everything you can. You get the map out. OK, what are we going to do? I mean, that's how a baseball game should be."

More and more, marketing ideas that began in Minor League Baseball are being adapted for use by Major League teams. Klein and White, both fans of the hometown Padres, cite the team's Star Wars Night, Throwback Fridays, wide array of alternate jerseys and emphasis on creative, local food as examples of innovations that have Minor League roots. That said, they believe Minor League Baseball should always have a look and feel that distinguishes it from the Majors.

"I think [Minor League Baseball] is on the precipice of a major cultural shift, and I personally have a vested interest in making sure that it retains its heart and that it doesn't become Major League Baseball," said White. "Not that there's anything wrong with Major League Baseball, just that it's a different thing. Minor League teams are selling for more, staffs are getting bigger and things are probably going to get more cautious. But if gets bigger and starts to move toward a more Major League way of doing things, then the heart's going to come out of it and it will look like a pale copy.

"I really think it's our job to preserve the essence and core of what makes Minor League Baseball great."

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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