Early 2015 brought forward one of our favorite projects: working with the Mississippi RiverKings of the Southern Professional Hockey League to help create a new identity for the team. One of the oldest minor league hockey teams in the southeastern United States entering their 24th season of operations, the RiverKings are the oldest current sports franchise operating in the Memphis, Tennessee area.
During our very first conversation with the RiverKings organization, it quickly became clear that the biggest challenge of the project would be answering the question, “What is a RiverKing?” In fact, even the team itself was unsure of the name’s origin or the symbolism it was supposed to represent; regardless, the name stuck and connected with their fanbase incredibly well.
It was up to us to find an answer to the question, once and for all.
When we started the process of rebranding the RiverKings, we made an effort to keep all of our options open in terms of imagery, colors, and direction. We investigated rivers, kings, turtles, otters, steamboats, Poseidon-like mermen, and even the legend Elvis Presley himself while in the process of searching out possible directions to take the brand.
But as we continued to brainstorm, sketch, and revise, the foundations of the RiverKings’ identity began to take shape and the brand’s direction became clear.
The most difficult decision made in the rebranding process was the choice to move on from the RiverKings’ most recent mascot, Sheldon the Turtle. However, the decision to abandon “Sheldon” was a strategic one; by leaving the turtle behind, it freed the franchise from being forced to use a shade of green and allowing the team to return to the franchise’s original colors of gold, black, and white. Another factor for us in choosing a different direction was that one of the RiverKings’ chief rivals uses a reptile as a mascot and the color green extensively, while there are no exclusively gold teams in the SPHL.
Because Sheldon had operated as the center of the RiverKings’ identity for the past 15 years, a new cornerstone of the brand needed to be set in place. Rather than simply refill Sheldon’s shoes with a new character and put the new identity into direct conflict with the old, a simple and different approach was developed. The new brand features the letter “M” displayed with a regal crown, set over a crest with a ribbon proudly proclaiming the “RiverKings” moniker. With this new direction comes a shift into more of a “professional” look and leaves the question of “What is a RiverKing?” up to the imagination of the individual.
Another important decision involved the main imagery of the identity. Because the franchise operated as the “Memphis RiverKings” from 1992-2007 and the “Mississippi RiverKings” from 2007 onwards, they did not want to alienate a portion of their fanbase. The solution to this issue was to focus on a brand that put the emphasis on the letter “M” and on the “RiverKings” brand over the location of the team.