Grid: Building ‘n Branding a Whole New Sport
As you slip into your favorite jersey and casually eye the bigger TV screens at your local department store this football season, you might ask yourself “would I have what it takes to brand a whole new sport?” That’s not what you do professionally, you say? It isn’t what San Francisco’s Theory Associates does either, but that didn’t stop them from creating the name, identity, and even the field of play for the all new televised sport Grid.
- Field of Play
“We’re a technology branding agency,” says Theory Associates President Jamie Capozzi. “Nobody here even works out.”
Tony Budding spent more than nine years at super-fitness company CrossFit as media director, as well as co-director and executive producer of the CrossFit Games: an event designed to determine the fittest athletes on earth.
“While he was at CrossFit, he was always batting around this idea of making this spectator sport out of what they were doing,” says Capozzi. But “the top brass wasn’t interested.”
Last November Budding quit his job, determined to make it work. He had no financing, and no clear idea of how to transform fitness feats such as weightlifting and rope climbing into a competitive sport. He came to Theory Associates the following month, referred to them by sports marketing powerhouse GMR.
“Everything told us bad fit, run away from this,” Capozzi recalls. “But it seemed if anybody could do it, this guy could do it.”
He did it.
Standing out in a Crowded Field
Actually, Budding did bring something else to the table: intense interest in the broadcasting rights from NBC and Fox; NBC ultimately won out. Now all they had to do was create the sport.
Budding “had this modified playing field he was trying to explain, all of these games he was formulating in his head, and you could see the wheels turning,” says Capozzi. “He would come to our studio with a whiteboard and outline these matches and races. He had a firm grasp of how the races would work in his head, but when it came to him explaining it…We’d go back and forth until we basically understood a few.”
What Budding did know up front was that this would be the first professional spectator sport with co-ed teams, each boasting two members – a man and a woman – over 40. The challenge, however, had nothing to do with the team makeup, Capozzi says.
“The whole idea is that you’re gonna be launching a new sport to a society of people that are over sported. We’ve got basketball and baseball and hockey – we’ve got the big four and then we’ve got golf and the Tough Mudder and American Ninja Warrior – we have so many athletic competitions, how are we ever going to figure out a way to sell this? We thought the best way would probably be to use a visual language that everyone’s already familiar with.”
Surprisingly, Theory Associates named the sport before they came up with the grid-like field of play.
“If [Budding’s] vision came to life you would have a team in every major city from here to New York, and north and south,” says Capozzi. “You figure there’s 30 teams in Major League Baseball. Let’s say he ends up making 30 teams. Each team would have their home “box” (CrossFitters call their gyms “boxes”). So 30 collected squares in a formation is a grid – that’s where the name ‘Grid’ came from.” It was, he says, a matter of “Let’s envision this thing totally taking over the world and what does that look like?”
When it came to designing the logo, they wanted something that could be emblazoned inside the arena and easily read from both sides of the field: an ambigram.
Next came the actual field. “We had to make it really easy for spectators to figure out who was ahead, who was behind, and where they were in the stage of the action,” he explains. “So we decided to steal something from football and use their grid hash marks. Having the name Grid, let’s full-on go for it and make this field kind of look like this grid: there are four quadrants, there are other small increments in between the quadrants.”
Theory Associates created a mockup of players on a court inside of a packed arena, and unveiled it to Budding and co. saying, “‘this is what we think it could be,’” Capozzi says. “And I remember putting the field of play up on the presentation board and they were all quiet; one of the guys had his hands over his mouth. All of the sudden it became real to them what they were going to be doing.”
And the guy with his hands over his mouth? That was Craig Howard, who became so excited by the project he started his own Grid team: the San Francisco Fire.
Bringing Grid to Life
In just eight months, Budding and Theory Associates transformed some vague ideas into an exciting new sport that kicked off at Madison Square Garden on Aug. 19th between the LA Reign and the NY Rhinos.
Now, while Theory Associates are designing the game’s version of football’s Vince Lombardi Trophy – the Pinnacle award – they realize their biggest challenge may be going back to ensure that everyone is using their logo consistently across various websites, television and the media. Between the various websites involved (none actually designed by Theory Associates) and the teams branding themselves, that hasn’t been easy.
“I think that’s one of the things that, when something grows fast, it’s natural that’s going to happen,” Capozzi says. “I think that’s going to be our major push over the next six months, to make sure we can reinforce that style guide.”
While he’s excited to watch the sport grow, he’s probably not going to be hitting his local CrossFit gym again any time soon.
During the Grid planning stages, he found himself at one contemplating “a garage door that was rolled up, and it looked like a bunch of Navy SEALS in there… It was really loud and almost like this physical energy coming out of this garage, and I wouldn’t go in. I took a couple of videos… Then one of the guys comes over, yanks on this chain, and the garage door comes slamming down right in my face.” He laughs. “That was my first and last CrossFit experience.”