Court Appearance

Ohio State is asking fans to help decide what the Buckeye basketball court will look like next season. A great idea in theory, but in this case achieving the best result isn’t necessarily going to be a slam dunk.

The process of asking the public to choose their favorites from a selection of design options is nothing new, especially when the process is carefully controlled. But in my experience, when that control isn’t exercised properly, the result can be frustrating and even downright counterproductive to the design process.

So when a founding supporter of Sports Brand Jury sent me this story, I was simultaneously excited and skeptical. And as it turns out my hesitation might be well founded.

The Ohio State Basketball Court Fan Vote is part of a growing trend in basketball sports branding to design not just the center court logo, but the entire court surface. The recent 2018 NCAA Final Four Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments are two impressive examples of this trend (see the 3.19.18 SBJ U Go Girls post). Both designs represent strong executions of their overall event branding.

Piggybacking on this momentum, enter The Ohio State University and their basketball court rebranding project. After filling out a fairly painless registration form, fans are asked to choose their three favorite designs from a total of ten different options (more on that later…).

Court #1

A quick scroll-through shows me that the best design option is presented right up front, with Court #1 being the clear choice in my mind. It includes awesome two-tone wood grain tastefully applied to highlight the three-point line and a large, easily recognizable graphic in the shape of Ohio (assuming you passed third-grade geography). The red, gray and black Ohio State logo is flanked by matching Big 10 logos in a perfect visual balance. The entire inbounds playing surface is surrounded by a bold colorful red border.

Courts 2,6,8,9,7 10 Comp

Unfortunately, from here the process throws up a brick. Each successive design option introduces busy and distracting shapes and color treatments, including the beloved but somewhat sickly leaf graphic that bears more resemblance to shriveled marijuana than the more elegant buckeye greenery. (I love OSU, but sorry Buckeye fans, the truth hurts sometimes!) Its use in designs #2, 6, 8, 9 and 10 make those options an instant thumbs down for me, some of the repeat patterns even posing a real danger of triggering queasy reactions from voters and potential fans in the arena!

Courts 5,7,8 Comp

Design options 5, 7 and 8 introduce a series of odd stripes and color blocking that should have ended up on the locker room floor instead of the ballot form. That left me with a clear winner in #1 (not accidentally placed in the primary position). Grasping for two other options, I reluctantly add #3 and 4 as distant runners-up to my ballot choices.

Having made my selections here’s why the process is likely to yield poor results…

At least half of the designs that are included on the ballot should never have made it past the preliminary weeding-out process (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun). With so many options to choose from, my guess is that the vote will be spread out pretty evenly across all ten choices. Barring a really strong tally for version #1, which is a possibility based on its front and center position, it’s probable that the three options selected will all receive just a small percentage of the popular vote. I’ll even go out on a limb and predict that two or possibly even all three of the designs selected will have received less than 20% of the fan votes. And that would not exactly be a resounding show of support.

SBJ Branding Rule Number 21– never give the client (or in this case the fans) too many options. You only increase the chances that they will select a design you won’t like. Designers should be experts in not only creating designs that raise the bar and boost the level of brand excellence, but also in guiding the process to ensure the best result (and yes, it’s okay to say selling the design).

Will this fan vote lead to the best possible design for the Buckeyes next year? The fans will be the judge. But in this case, probably only a small minority of them. That’s probably not what the designers intended, but they may end up having to live with it. And that will be a tough nut to swallow!


Special thanks to @slassy for tipping us off to this story. A collectible SBJ baseball cap will be headed your way!

Let us know what you think! Sports Brand Jury welcomes your opinions, comments, and suggestions for future cases. If we use your idea for a future post (if we haven’t already planned on it), we’ll send you some SBJ swag as a thank you.

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