In the summer of 2015, creative leaders at ESPN got together to begin discussing a graphics rebrand for their NBA game telecasts, including pregame and postgame shows. Their previous package had been on the air for about five years and it was time for a reboot.
The league itself was changing. While the NFL still reigns supreme among American sports, the NBA has become something of its sleek, meme-generating, cooler cousin. ESPN wanted a new look that would match up with the league’s cultural relevance.
The Worldwide Leader reached out to Big Block Design Group, which had recently wrapped up an extensive NFL rebrand for ESPN.
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Working with an ESPN team that included art director Daniel Ben-Kiki, Big Block started a process that took about five months, reconfiguring graphics for players, teams and NBA and ESPN logos. The two companies spoke frequently about the overall philosophy behind the new look.
“The guiding principles behind this were the energy of the game, the personality of the players and the vibrancy of the teams,” says Big Block Creative Director Curtis Doss. “What we loosely based our motion theory on was sort of the unboxing of a very premium element or item. Almost like a Jordan shoe.”
“If you think of Apple of Beats or Bose, they make really cool packaging,” says Ben-Kiki. “When you look at it, it looks really high-end and pristine. It’s almost as cool as the product itself.”
With that in mind, Big Block tried to create a graphics package and a motion environment (the way the images come on and off the screen) that reflects a premium product.
Doss and Ben-Kiki both mention how many graphic sports packages are represented by broad, sweeping looks—warehouses, landscapes, a militant gridiron environment where robots have overtaken humans. For the NBA rebrand, ESPN and Big Block went in the opposite direction.
“You’re never looking at a box from far away,” Ben-Kiki says. “You’re always super tight on it and you’re focused on the major labels which are the logos, the teams themselves, the players and ESPN.”
In addition to Ben-Kiki and his team, ESPN’s NBA Senior Coordinating Producer Tim Corrigan checked in on the group’s progress monthly and was responsible for the final sign off.
The new package rolled out during the preseason, allowing ESPN to make tweaks ahead of regular season play. In addition to handing off all of the program files and templates to ESPN, Big Block also created mini-packages for ABC’s Saturday Primetime and Sunday Showcase games that began airing late last month on the broadcast network. A variation of the current look will be rolled out for this year’s NBA Finals.
Creatives from both companies say the ability to speak honestly to each other was crucial to the collaborative environment and the project’s success.
“We have a very tight relationship with many teams at ESPN,” says Doss. “We’ve developed a workflow that not only challenges them and the way they’ve produced things on-air, but [we’ve] allowed them to challenge us back.”
Earlier in the process, Ben-Kiki says he felt himself holding back on giving feedback about early design ideas, but that hesitation didn’t last long.
“It was sort of evident on our first call that we were holding back and Curtis was like, ‘If you don’t like it, just say so!’ That was really kind of the beginning of our relationship,” he says. “He completely respected that and appreciated the feedback.”
The collaboration has largely been a positive one. While Big Block isn’t on any kind of retainer with ESPN, Doss says they’ve had some kind of project with ESPN in their office for the last three years. ESPN hopes to get good mileage out of the new package. Doss says his team created it thinking it could be used for six to eight years.
“A lot of people have said ‘This feels like the NBA,’” says Ben-Kiki. “It feels right.”
Senior Coordinating Producer for the NBA on ESPN: Tim Corrigan
ESPN Creative Services:
Sr Managing Producer: Mark R. Groeschner
Art Director: Dan Ben-Kiki
Producer: Matthew Bernabeo
Senior Designer: Deb McGuffey
Senior Animator: Mark Rohrer
Managing Director: Kenny Solomon
Creative Director: Curtis Doss
Senior Art Director: Phil Bichsel
Senior Producer: Sabrina Mance-Weinstein
CTO: Albert Soto
Business Development Coordinator: Esther Romero
Associate Producer: Tiffany Dickerson
Lead Designer/Animators: Fabian Garzon, Aaron Evans, Neng Tea
Grant Hoki, Bryan Coleman, Maziar Majd, David Kerman,
Noha Khashoggi, Kasey Allen, Sisa Quadros, Theo Alexopoulos,
Christian Shenouda, Ricky Elizondo
Editor: James Boger
Writer: Michael Perkins