Pirates ditch pirate as main logo

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The scowling, one-eyed buccaneer with a red bandana and a gold earring is no longer the face of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The team has decided the gold "P" on its cap will become its primary logo, replacing the pirate logo, the Pirates announced Wednesday. It is the first time since the 1930s that a cartoon pirate will not serve as the team's primary logo.

Fans will have a hard time telling the difference, though.

The Major League Baseball team will continue to feature the pirate logo on uniform sleeves for the immediate future. The pirate logo is also still part of the team's official style guide, although the gold, black and red "PIRATES" script that was once a part of the logo has been retired.

And fans can still exclaim, "Raise the Jolly Roger!" when a black-and-white flag sporting a skull and crossed bats is sent up a flagpole at PNC Park -- that is, assuming the Pirates win.

But most of the team's retail apparel now will feature the gold "P" and not the grumpy pirate. It is a change that has been in the works for several years as merchandise has increasingly emphasized that logo.

"While the 'P' was not designated as our primary logo, it has been a part of our brand for more than 100 years and, more recently, the focus of our branding efforts," team spokesman Brian Warecki said in an email. "This change will continue to strengthen that brand identity."

The current version of the pirate that the team refers to as "Jolly Roger" has been around since 1997, but the original dates to 1936. His face has changed through the years -- some years leaner and others meaner, with facial hair in various stages of growth and grooming.

Initially, the team planned to replace the most recent incarnation with another pirate. After consulting focus groups of fans, however, the Pirates decided on the "P".

There is some risk in de-emphasizing the pirate logo, said Antonio Williams, a sport and fitness brand researcher and assistant professor at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind., because the Pirates have built that brand for several decades.

"The team had to ask, 'How much equity is in that Pirates logo, and can we stand to lose it?'" Mr. Williams said. "Evidently, the answer for that logo was 'yes.' "

By emphasizing the "P" logo more prominently in recent years, the Pirates made the transition easier because fans already identify the new logo with the team. The new logo also got a boost from the hip-hop community, where Pittsburgh rapper Wiz Khalifa and others have made the Pirates cap popular in streetwear.

The current version of the logo has represented the team for 17 years -- 16 of them losing seasons. That may be why the team explored rebranding in the first place, Mr. Williams said.

"It's definitely an attempt to re-energize the brand," he said. With the team winning again, "this is a perfect time to capitalize."

Though the team's regular season attire will remain unchanged, the Pirates also unveiled new batting practice jerseys Wednesday. The new jerseys are predominantly black, featuring black letters and numbers with gold bordering. They replace yellow jerseys the team has worn for several years.

The all-black tops are a nod to the popularity of the team's black alternate jerseys, which the players wore often last season, including exclusively during the playoffs. They also inspired PNC Park "blackouts" during home playoff games.

Michael Sanserino: msanserino@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1969 and Twitter @msanserino.

Michael Sanserino: msanserino@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1969. Twitter: @msanserino. First Published January 8, 2014 3:25 PM

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