The New Orleans Pelicans were established in 1988 as the Charlotte Hornets. While the city of Charlotte fell in love with the team, and its unique teal-and-purple color scheme drove national merchandise sales, the city’s love affair ended following a sexual assault scandal involving owner George Shinn. Attendance dropped and after losing a referendum to finance a new arena, Shinn won approval from the league to relocate to New Orleans. In 2002 the team began to play as the New Orleans Hornets, largely maintaining their visual identity, albeit with the notable addition of yellow to the color scheme.
The team struggled to recreate the popularity it had known in Charlotte. In August 2005, New Orleans was hit by Hurricane Katrina and the resulting damage to the team’s arena meant they would not be able to play their home games in New Orleans. A deal was reached with The Ford Center in Oklahoma City and the team temporarily moved their base of operations becoming the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets for two seasons. The Hornets returned to New Orleans full-time in 2007.
When George Shinn decided to sell the team due to personal financial problems, he was unable to find a buyer and so the NBA took ownership of the franchise from 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, adopting a midnight blue-gold-and-red color scheme.
Following the announcement that New Orleans was abandoning the ‘Hornets’ nickname, a movement in Charlotte to return the moniker to that city gained momentum and in late 2013 Michael Jordan, the owner of Charlotte’s second team, the Bobcats, announced that the franchise would rebrand and play as the Hornets starting with the 2014-15 season. The deal approved by the league returned the rights to the visual identity as well as the records from the original Hornets’ days in Charlotte, while the Hornets’ records in New Orleans would stay with the Pelicans.
New Orleans introduced five different logos upon rebranding as the Pelicans in 2012.
The primary logo consists of a forward-facing pelican with gold and midnight blue wings spread in an attack position, with ‘New Orleans’ written above in white and ‘Pelicans’ written below in a mostly obscured red circle. The central basketball has a crescent-shaped highlight and the very top of the logo features a red fleur-de-lis. The design is well-balanced both in terms of shape and color. The partial primary logo takes the pelican and basketball and redraws the gold outline, filling in some of the space around the head. Unlike most other teams, the Pelicans logo works far better intact as the partial primary is less well-balanced on its own.
The team has three secondary logos. The ‘NOLA’ logo uses the same typeface from the primary logo to spell out the abbreviation for ‘New Orleans, Louisiana’ commonly used by residents of the city. The bottom portion of the basketball as well as the red circle from the primary logo are used here along with the red fleur-de-lis. The Crescent City logo features the city of New Orleans’ nickname at the top of a midnight blue roundel, with ‘basketball’ written below, separated by a red fleur-de-lis on both sides. The inside features the crescent-highlighted basketball from the primary logo and the red background forms yet another crescent. The ‘Bird-de-lis’ logo affixes the pelican head and crescent basketball from the primary logo to an expanded red fleur-de-lis and adds some midnight blue shading.
The alternate logo is a basketball with spokes, reminiscent of a ship’s steering wheel, with the letter N in the middle, and the letter O forming the outside, representing New Orleans’ initials.
Certain elements of the Pelican’s visual identity, most notably the custom typeface, have been designed to evoke the wrought iron architecture found throughout the French quarter. The look rooted in the early-to-mid-1800’s, while subtle, somewhat detracts from the otherwise modern look of the branding.
The Pelicans’ home and road uniforms were introduced in 2013 and the alternate uniform followed in 2014.
Both the white home uniform and the midnight blue road uniform have an arced ‘New Orleans’ wordmark on the chest with the player number centered below. Both uniforms feature gold V-neck collars and large gold side elements, outlined in red which abut the partial primary logo at the bottom sides of the shorts. The red alternate uniform has an arched ‘Pelicans’ wordmark in white with a midnight blue collar and the midnight blue side element outlined gold.
The side elements, which are reminiscent of the middle portion of a fleur-de-lis, are the most standout feature of the uniforms and together with the arced wordmark of the home and road uniforms, create a nicely balanced look. However, the small size of the letters makes the wordmark somewhat difficult to read at a distance. The sizing of the ‘Pelicans’ wordmark is easier to read, but does not fit as well with the uniform template. The Pelicans’ uniforms are an improvement over the much busier Hornets uniforms worn from 2008-2013.
The purple, green and gold Mardi Gras pride uniform, which was introduced for the 2015-16 season, revives the Mardi Gras uniform worn by the team during their last years as the Hornets. The shirt features the ‘NOLA’ wordmark (a popular local acronym which stands for New Orleans, Louisiana) and player number in yellow with an abbreviated purple, yellow and green collar leaving space for a yellow version of the steering wheel alternate logo. The bands connecting the sleeves are green with yellow stitching and the shorts follow the template as the other uniforms with the addition of a yellow Bird-de-Lis logo on the waistband. The design is generally well-balanced in terms of color and layout, however the differently-colored bands connecting the sleeves create the appearance that the player is wearing a backpack.
While the ‘Jazz’ nickname and the purple, green and yellow Mardi Grass color scheme of New Orleans’ original NBA franchise were were among the most meaningful branding elements in the history of the league, the ‘Pelicans’ nickname is an upgrade over the current franchise’s former ‘Hornets’ branding which was more representative of its birthplace in Charlotte. Pelicans are not only commonly found flying around the Mississippi riverbanks in New Orleans, but the bird also appears on the Louisiana state flag and the brown pelican is the official state bird. The team’s color scheme uses the midnight blue, red and gold from city of New Orleans flag. While New Orleans is frequently called ‘The Big Easy’, its other nickname is ‘The Crescent City’ and the branding incorporates a crescent shaped highlight in nearly every logo.
The fleur-de-lis (French for ‘flower of the lily’) has long been a symbol for the city, dating back to its French colonial era. The shape appears in most of the logos, and is the basis for the ‘Bird-de-lis’ logo, a Pelicanized version of the former Hornets’ ‘Fleur-de-bee’ logo used from 2007-2013.
The alternate logo’s resemblance to a ship’s steering wheel is meant to evoke the old-timey paddle boats commonly found on the Mississippi River. While still relevant to the city’s history and culture, it is the weakest in terms of relevance, since it bears no immediate connection to the ‘Pelicans’ nickname.
The custom typeface is based on the architectural found in The French Quarter.
The team’s Mardi Gras themed pride uniform not only employs the traditional Mardi Gras colors, but also hearkens back to the old New Orleans Jazz uniforms.
The Pelicans are one of 13 teams whose primary road uniform is blue, and one of four teams (along with the Pacers, Jazz and Grizzlies) whose primary color is dark blue. The Pelicans are also one of five teams to wear a red alternate uniform. However, the Pelicans are the only team to wear a combination of midnight blue, red and gold.
The Pelicans use a custom typeface for their logo and uniform wordmarks.
The Pelicans get high marks for consistency. The use of team colors is consistent with midnight blue dominating the logo and road uniform with gold followed by red as accent colors. The only exception is the purple, green and yellow Mardi Gras pride uniform, which is acceptable because of its relevance and limited, season-specific use. The typeface from the logo is used on all of the jerseys and the fleur-de-lis and crescent imagery are used throughout nearly all aspects of the visual identity.
Points to Improve
- Modernize the typeface.
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.