Business development / Marketing / Roundups / Sports

So, you want to brand a hockey team?

The Delaware Thunder will launch its first season in Harrington this fall, complete with branding from The Barn — and the creative agency's founder, Nick Matarese, recently wrote a book for those looking to get into the biz.

Delaware Thunder's logo. (Screenshot via Instagram)
Update: This story has been updated to reflect that The Barn worked on graphic design elements of It's Time Wilmington, not the entire branding project. (6/10/19, 2:06 p.m.)
If it weren’t for an offhand comment, The Barn Creative’s Nick Matarese may have missed out on designing the logo for Delaware’s new Federal Hockey League team, Delaware Thunder.

And once the opportunity showed itself, it was crunch time: Matarese got it done in about 72 hours — an unheard-of turnaround, but for a Delaware-proud hockey fan it was worth the work.

“It’s actually kind of a funny story,” said Matarese, in an interview with “We did the branding for the Patriot Ice Center — one of the owners, who I’ve known essentially my whole life, was like, ‘Hey, this guy runs some hockey clinics during the summer, he wants to switch web platforms, do you think you could help him out?’ Not some big contract, just a friend-of-a-friend thing.

“We’re about halfway through moving the site, and it’s taking a little bit longer to get feedback from him,” he said. “He apologizes, saying, ‘We’re really busy with all these projects going on,’ and they kind of let it slip that they were trying to get this professional hockey team in Delaware.”

They had no idea that the company moving their website was, in fact, a sports branding agency.

“I stopped the conversation like, ‘Wait, you’re bringing [an FHL] team to Delaware?’ And everything just stops. I’m like, ‘Who’s doing your branding?'” Matarese said. “The lightbulb went off. That’s why the turnaround was so fast.”

Sports branding has been Matarese’s thing since he founded the company as Matarese Designs at the Coin Loft in 2010. Since landing its first big sports branding contract (Arena Football League), The Barn went on to do branding for The Columbus (Georgia) Cottonmouths, The Conrad Red Wolves and the Patriot Ice Center, and the team designed the Delaware Blue Coats mural the the Delaware Children’s Museum. A fan engagement campaign with an official partner of the Jacksonville Jaguars was seen, briefly, nationwide. One of The Barn’s major clients, NBC Sports, has contracted them for branding that’s both digital and physical, much of it for Premier League Soccer.

“We made custom tap handles for NBC, but we made them at Nextfab,” Matarese said. “NBC has a couple of events every year. This year’s was at Cask’n Flagon up in Boston, literally across the street from Fenway [Park]. We’re also doing a bunch of stuff for them for the Stanley Cup Finals right now on top of Premier League Soccer. They keep us busy.”

(Other non-sports places you may have seen The Barn’s work includes The Mill’s branding and in graphic design elements of the It’s Time Wilmington campaign.)

There was also a somewhat unplanned project: A book — with an eye-catching cover, of course — entitled “How to Create a Memorable Sports Brand: & how it can make you money.”

“It was meant to be a four-page lead generator,” he said. “We’re trying to become a better business. We made a lead funnel, and you know, the first thing you do when you’re making a lead generation funnel is to give people something they want for free to get them into the door.

“And I just kept writing,” he said. “About 40 pages later, my business coach was like, ‘Just publish this on the Kindle store.'”

The book is for the “little guys,” Matarese said: “It’s geared toward teams like the Delaware Thunder, D3 colleges, a marketing manager who might not really know the process. It’s just the tip of the iceberg of sports branding.”

The Delaware Thunder (the state’s second FHL team after a travel-only team called the Delaware Federals that played 19 games in 2011-2012, but the first to actually play in Delaware) will launch its first season at the Delaware State Fairgrounds in Harrington this coming fall.

And the Thunder isn’t the only professional sports team coming with Barn branding.

“I can’t say much, but it’s very cool,” said Matarese. “That [announcement] should be coming out in the summer.”

You can keep up with The Barn on its Instagram page.

Companies: The Barn

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