The Charlotte / Hornets history is complicated. The city of Charlotte was first awarded an NBA franchise called the Charlotte Hornets in 1988. The Hornets were immediately popular in Charlotte, leading the league in attendance for seven straight years. The team’s unique teal-and-purple color scheme plus popular players like Larry Johnson, Alonzo Mourning and Muggsy Bogues, helped drive national merchandise sales as well. However, the city’s love affair with the Hornets changed in the wake of a scandal involving owner George Shinn who was accused of sexual assault. Attendance dropped and, after losing a bid for a new arena, Shinn petitioned to relocate the team.
After the Hornets moved to New Orleans in 2002, the league awarded a new Charlotte NBA franchise to a group led by BET founder Bob Johnson, who was widely ridiculed for naming the team after himself: the Charlotte Bobcats. The city’s reception to the new team was far less enthusiastic and after many years of poor records both on and off the court, Johnson eventually sold the team in 2010 to North Carolina native and NBA legend Michael Jordan, who had become a minority owner in 2006.
Meanwhile, George Shinn’s financial situation deteriorated and he decided to sell the New Orleans Hornets, but being unable to find a buyer, the NBA took ownership of the franchise in 2010 until it was sold to New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson in 2012. Benson immediately ordered a name change and in 2013 the team rebranded as the New Orleans Pelicans. Following the announcement that New Orleans was abandoning the ‘Hornets’ nickname, a movement in Charlotte to reclaim the moniker gained momentum and, after market research indicated the benefits of doing so, Michael Jordan announced that the Bobcats would rebrand and play as the Charlotte Hornets starting with the 2014-15 season. The deal approved by the league offices required the team to create a new logo, but gave the franchise the rights to the visual identity as well as the records from the original Hornets’ days in Charlotte. The mascot, Hugo the Hornet, also returned to Charlotte.
When the Charlotte franchise unveiled its new Hornets visual identity at the end of 2013 they surprised many observers by releasing a pyramid of nine different logos.
At the top of the pyramid is the primary logo—a fierce-looking, front facing teal hornet with expansive wings and the ‘Charlotte Hornets’ wordmark front and center. The main alternate logo is the same hornet as seen from the side, but without any legs. Interestingly the same wing design from the primary logo is used, creating a swooped back effect as if the hornet is about to sting. Both designs are sleek and modern, judiciously using portions of the purple outline to create the illusion of depth and shadow.
The Hornets updated the original Charlotte Hornets dribbling Hugo logo, giving him a more kid-friendly appearance (not to mention a pair of Jordan 11s). Looking at the top three logos in the pyramid, we see the most bizarre design element of the logo set—that the thorax of the hornet is a basketball. It is as if the original Hugo swallowed a basketball and it got lodged inside. This was likely done not only to satisfy the NBA’s current rule that at least one logo feature a basketball, but to balance the layout in the primary logo.
That being said, as we see below, the New Orleans Hornets managed to include a basketball in a forward-facing hornet design without inserting it into the hornet or disrupting the symmetry (albeit in a secondary logo without a wordmark).
Two other alternate logos include a partial primary logo without the wordmark and a monochromatic silhouette of the forward-facing hornet. The final two are hexagonal in shape, one encapsulating the team’s self-appointed nickname ‘Buzz City’ and the other alluding to the city of Charlotte’s nickname—the Queen City—with a crown emerging from the top.
The Hornets’ custom typeface is clean and modern with some glyph variations. The standard typeface has small stinger-like serifs at the top left corner of most letters, while the H and S variants used in the primary wordmark have side-serifs that add an edge to the overall logo design. The numbering uses the same blocky design with selectively rounded-off edges, mostly on the top right and bottom left corners.
The current uniforms use teal and purple like the original Hornets’ uniforms, however the primary and alternate colors have been reversed.
The white home uniform has an arced ‘Hornets’ wordmark in teal with the player number centered below it in purple and teal with purple trim. The purple road uniform has the ‘Hornets’ wordmark in white with the player number in teal, also with teal and purple trim. The teal alternate flex uniform, which can be used both at home and on the road, has ‘Charlotte’ in white with the player number in purple and purple and teal trim.
All the uniforms have some combination of teal, purple, grey and ‘Carolina blue’ stripes running down the left side, ending at a ‘cell’ which contains one of the alternate logos. The stinging hornet logo works well in its position however the crown logo somewhat overcomplicates the the design. The bottom side of the right leg of the shorts features a subtle sublimated ‘Charlotte’ or ‘Hornets’ wordmark. The silhouette Hornet logo appears on front of the waistband. The uniforms are well-balanced in terms of color however the asymmetry of the striping does create a somewhat unbalanced look.
The black pride uniform was introduced in 2015 and features the ‘Buzz City’ nickname in white with the player number in teal with teal and white trim. The striping, which appears on both sides of the uniform, starts underneath the arm forming an elongated hexagon, but criss-crosses at the bottom and terminates at the bottom of the shorts. Inside the hexagon is the silhouette logo. The ‘Buzz City’ wordmark from the hexagonal alternate logo appears on the waistband of the shorts. While the hexagonal design works well for a side element, the overlapping stripes that keep on going overcomplicate the minimalist design.
The ‘Hornets’ nickname has a long history in Charlotte. During the American Revolutionary War, the British general Charles Cornwallis wrote to his superiors that Charlotte was “a hornet’s nest of rebellion” after he was forced out of the city by its residents. The ‘Hornets’ moniker was previously used by a minor league baseball team and later a World Football League team based in Charlotte.
The teal color scheme which is now synonymous with the Charlotte Hornets originally held no particular relevance however, when the Bobcats franchise adopted a purple-and-teal color scheme upon rebranding, it was to honor the original Charlotte Hornets, making the current color scheme historically significant. The overlapping V-neckline and the stripes also pay homage to the design of the original Charlotte Hornets jerseys.
The honeycomb pattern court as well as other hexagonal logo and uniform design elements allude to the construction design of a hornets’ nest.
Charlotte’s other nickname is the ‘Queen City’ because the city was named for Queen Charlotte. The crown logo featured on home and road shorts is an allusion to the city’s royal namesake.
The Hornets are one of four teams to use purple for their primary road uniform and the only team to use teal in its color scheme. The asymmetrical striping on the uniforms is also unique in the league. The Hornets use a custom typeface for their logo, wordmark and numbering which creates a distinct look. The team has the only court design featuring a two-two stained wood honeycomb pattern.
The Hornets get generally high marks for consistency. While the use of color is generally consistent, the team loses points for the pride uniform because black is not in the Hornets’ color palette and the uniform also lacks the purple as an accent color.
There is also a slight inconsistency is between the typeface used to render ‘Charlotte’ on the alternate uniform, which is not only noticeably thinner than the typeface used in the wordmark in the logo as well as the court apron at Time Warner Cable Arena. While the wordmark from the logo is used on the home and road jerseys the larger H and S have been made the same size as the other letters and the wordmark itself is rendered with a slight arc.
The inordinate number of logos dilutes the branding.
Points to Improve
- Increase overall brand consistency by eliminating unnecessary logos, keeping the primary logo, its silhouetted version and the sideway-facing version.
- Make the team more distinct by designating the teal uniform as the team’s primary road uniform.
- Balance out the uniform design by adding stripes to the right side as well. Reducing the width and increasing the number of stripes would create a simpler design and pay better homage to the Charlotte’s basketball heritage. Use the ‘Hornets’ wordmark from the logo without alteration.
- Add purple trim to the pride uniform and remove the criss-cross stripes, leaving an elongated hexagon in its place.
NBA Branding Assessment Ranking
All writings contained herein are copyright ©2015 Brian F. Sanford. All intellectual property including but not limited to names, logos and uniforms are properties of the National Basketball Association, its member teams, ownership groups and/or organizations. All images are used for noncommercial educational purposes. No copyright infringement is intended.