Unlike fashion brands who drop new collections every season (or week, if you’re an Instagram-brand shopper 🤳 🛍👀), it’s rare to see professional sports teams switching up their signature game-day styles.
In April 2021, the Nike and MLB City Connect partnership announcement had fans and players anticipating one of the greatest modern sports fashion collaborations of all time: That for-ev-er kind of memorabilia you save up to buy or enter a contest to win.
The seven inaugural MLB teams that were chosen to release the impeccably detailed designs were: the Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, Miami Marlins, San Francisco Giants, and the Boston Red Sox—who shared their campaign’s visual storytelling strategy and workflow best practices with us during the Innovation Summit five months after their City Connect campaign launched.
Then in June 2022, we sat down with two of The Colorado Rockies’ creative marketing geniuses three weeks after they debuted their City Connect jerseys during a game for an Inside Look at their visual storytelling process.
Read through the webinar takeaways below to learn how Kyle Cooper, The Rockies’ Team Photographer, and Erin Hodges, The Rockies’ Digital Communications Manager tackled relatable challenges and developed impressive short and long-term creative content marketing strategies to engage existing and soon-to-be Rockies fans, proud Coloradans, and general lovers of the outdoors and baseball!
The First Pitch: Square Up To The Challenge
Knowing you’re expected to make magic after receiving a creative brief too close to a deliverable deadline is a nightmarishly real scenario that probably hits too close to home for many creatives. So naturally, that’s exactly where this tale of resilient rebranding begins!
One seemingly ordinary day in early April 2022, Kyle Cooper, The Rockies’ Team Photographer, and Erin Hodges, The Rockies’ Digital Communications Manager, were called into a meeting and suddenly, the Colorado Rockies City Connect full uniform was revealed to them…and so was their deadline for a full uniform reveal photoshoot: They had just one month to produce the campaign of a lifetime…well, nearly a quarter-century. 🥵⌛️
For almost two years the campaign was kept top secret as the Nike team worked behind the scenes with The Rockies’ design and PR team to develop an iconic, yet unique final product that would weave together the history of the team and their state pride.
When the highly anticipated uniform was finally in their hands, it became their joint responsibility to turn it into much more than the sum of its parts.
The partnership symbolizes so much more than what a uniform alone can convey, so they needed to develop an impactful storytelling campaign that expressed that depth to existing and potential fans.
The first and most immediate challenge Erin and Kyle tackled was producing a creative photo shoot to showcase team players in the new jerseys. Sure—sounds fun…but this important deliverable represented its own set of challenges.
With only a month to produce an epic photo shoot, what additional obstacles did they face gracefully?
- Convincing professional athletes to participate in a photo shoot on a day off. Of course, team players want to help represent and promote their brand, but committing to hiking to work on a day off? That’s a tough ask. Luckily they developed a solid interpersonal relationship with Cory Little, Director of Communications who helped smooth the idea over with the players. “These are four players that we all have great relationships with. We built a lot of trust with them over the past couple of years and in the end, we just want to make sure that we don’t lose that trust and that we get them [all photos and videos!] done in an hour. We get them in and out. We get them the assets that they ask for. To prove to them that this was all worth it, was really our goal and I think we did that in the end,” said Erin.
- Finding an iconically mountainous location one hour (or less) away from Denver. The new jerseys prominently featured The Rockies’ signature peaks, so they needed to feature an iconic vista. The destination distance basically ensured the players would actually be okay with traveling on their day off.
- Keeping the uniforms a secret! Duh.
- Hoping the weather cooperates on the day of the photo shoot 🤞 There’s only so much professional light rigs and reflectors can do to disguise bad weather when you’re having a photo shoot in a natural outdoor setting. Thank goodness this team of pros had great humor and equal drive to produce this visual story on a severely windy day—40-50 mile-per-hour winds to be exact!
Curious how they got the images from the photo shoot to the team players, their Nike partners, and the media to make headlines with this historical launch?
Listen to Kyle break down their camera-to-PhotoShelter Library workflow in this quick clip:
What was the reaction once the jerseys hit the field?
“Everyone seems to like the jerseys! Even when we did our new headshots in them, they put them on and were like, ‘Man, these feel really great!’ I think it took a little getting used to the green for them, but for the most part, they look good on the field and we wear them on Sundays and then whenever a player wants to wear them. With good afternoon light, they really are punchy, and then with the good, dramatic light that we get here at Coors Field, we always look forward to a really nice night game if one of the pitchers wants to wear them.”
Take A Time-Out: Develop A Creative Concept
After the photo shoot was complete, the team needed to take a step back to conceptualize a long-term visual content strategy for sharing the Nike City Connect campaign with their fans and their world.
Erin said, “The most important thing was getting out the fact that we have all these new jerseys and where you can buy them, but most importantly, throughout the conversations we had with Nike about City Connect, it was all about: how does this relate to your city—or in our case, state because we’re the Colorado Rockies, not the Denver Rockies.”
The content marketing approach stemmed from the team asking themselves a few poignant questions, “Who are we as Coloradans and how is that represented in this jersey? In terms of when we’re communicating to fans: How does that sound in our voice? What is our tone? What is the actual brand look and feel? And, how are we going to bring this to life—and how do we share this ‘Colorado brand’ with the world? How do we get people to not only buy the actual product but actually buy into the story and buy into our state and our city?” Erin said.
Again, with a lean team of nearly five core marketing team members, their social assistant Madison flexed her design-thinking skill set and effectively stepped up as the creative director for this project, developing a guidebook of visual elements to help their extended team of creative collaborators create original, on-brand content for this brand within a brand.
The Last Inning: Celebrating State Pride Through Content
After the concept was set, then came the fun part — creating and promoting content to amplify this campaign and brand.
“I really wanted to let the creative do the talking here,” Erin said.
“From a social perspective, in terms of strategy, we knew that we had to utilize every single platform to make sure that we were hitting all of our different audiences that we have, but I also wanted to make sure that we were embracing what was best for each platform. We might be a small team, and we might be under a tight deadline, but for us, in a smaller market, in order to get the reach you want, you really have to be specific with your content and make sure that it’s done right for each platform. So, we took our look and feel and we made things for every single platform in order to tell that story. The best example I have is our uniform guide and this is only half of it…”
Here’s a pro tip: Create and curate different content experiences for each platform your brand is present on. Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook users all want and expect different content experiences. Iterate and get creative!
Another essential tip for ensuring content campaign success: Keep your brand look and feel consistent. It’s okay to post a video, or a photo, or a carousel slideshow of images and text across different accounts—or even to the same ‘feed,’ but whatever you do—you must keep the brand elements the same. The colors, the font type, the filter, the motion graphics—whatever branded elements are included in your campaign must be present across every asset.
Erin said, “I wanted to make sure that the social graphics matched with our website, our in-stadium elements. It’s something that we’re continuously working on—making sure we do a really great job of branding everywhere so that it feels very consistent, so this [project] was a great step for our marketing team.”
Along with static images and graphic guides breaking down the uniform details, they also created incredible video content and used a similar strategy of varying the format across platforms.
To learn more about how The Rockies’ marketing team collaborates to create exclusive content for social in real-time on game day—and much more—watch the hour-long, insight-packed session here:
Inside Look: The Colorado Rockies’ Nike City Connect Campaign Visual Storytelling Strategy Playbook is written by Larissa D Green for stories.photoshelter.com