How much does a logo really matter?
I’ve walked through the streets of three dozen cities in the United States, Spain, Costa Rica, and Mexico wearing a Cleveland Indians shirt over the past three decades. Every time a fellow Cleveland fan recognizes my attire, they passionately shout, “Go Tribe”…and I smile ear to ear and respond the same. Whether my red and blue shirt says “Cleveland” or “Indians” or “Tribe”—and whether it has Chief Wahoo or not—the reaction from people is always, “GO TRIBE!”
Die hard Cleveland Sports Fans—or die hard fans of any team—share the common love for their team, the passion for the sport, the love of the team’s history and its players, and the desire to see a championship and feel the utter joy of winning it all. A team’s logo may be recognizable and even iconic, but it does not epitomize the passion of a fan base for a team, nor does it embody what it means to be a fan. The Chief Wahoo Logo is unquestionably iconic, but it does not fully characterize what it means to be a Cleveland Indians fan.
Cleveland fell one run short of a World Series Title in 2016. The team won 102 games amidst a record-breaking, thrilling 22-game win streak in 2017. The Indians have assembled a team of likeable players, ownership has opened their pocketbooks, and they head into the 2018 season with the best starting rotation in baseball in hopes of another World Series run.
So, I ask again, how much does a logo really matter?
In a tremendously difficult decision, the Cleveland Indians organization and its ownership—with the support of Major League Baseball—made the choice to remove Chief Wahoo from uniforms in 2019. Their intentions are positive and I hope fans and the Native American population alike respect the decision. Fans can still wear the logo if they wish: Freedom of speech, freedom of expression. Many Tribe fans love the traditions and the logo, as it serves as one of the most iconic logos in all of sports.
While much the passionate fan base is upset, the removal of logo is the correct decision. Chief Wahoo is offensive to many people and not offensive to others; but, the logo is most offensive to a strong portion of the Native American population who feel that it is a mockery of their race, their ancestors, their traditions, and their image. While Cleveland Indians fans can absolutely be saddened and disappointed about Wahoo’s removal, the complete phase out of the logo should have zero impact on being passionate fans and maintaining an ardent love of their team.
While news of Chief Wahoo’s removal is polarizing and impactful, let’s take a look at what the Tribe organization did well and did not do well in how they handled the decision they made.
What the Cleveland Indians Did Correctly:
*Cleveland management slowly phased out the Wahoo Logo over the course of several seasons. The logo gradually disappeared from the Indians’ uniforms more and more in recent seasons, while Wahoo become less and less a part of the Tribe’s marketing approach. Any presence of the logo may still be displeasing to the Native American population and others who find it offensive, but the Cleveland organization was gradual in knowing how many much fans truly adore Wahoo and its rich history with the team and City of Cleveland.
*The Indians were adamant in broadcasting the mutual partnership with Major League Baseball in their seemingly joint decision to retire the Wahoo Logo. In doing so, they scored major points with Commissioner Rob Manfred and MLB, while helping MLB to share much of the criticism from many fans who are disappointed with Wahoo’s disappearance.
*Did the Indians’ removal of Wahoo play a role in helping Cleveland to earn the 2019 All-Star Game by scoring rapport points with MLB? Quite possibly. Cleveland last hosted the All-Star Game in 1997, meaning they will host it again before 10 other MLB Teams have the opportunity to do so. Progressive Field is by no means a new ballpark “on display” anymore, so earning the 2019 All-Star Game was a huge win for the organization and for Cleveland.
What the Cleveland Indians Did Poorly:
*While Cleveland Management made the polarizing announcement that Wahoo would be completely removed from the Indians’ uniforms in 2019, the Team—and MLB royalties—will still look to sell millions of dollars in merchandise featuring the logo despite the fact it will be removed from all uniforms.
*By removing the logo from uniforms, Indians management is sending a message—whether they want to or not—that Wahoo is offensive to many and we need to remove it from our uniforms and marketing materials…BUT, it’s still okay for us to sell merchandise and manipulate the logo’s popularity economically. This strategy should come as a surprise to no one, but still merits considerable criticism.
*In the Progressive (Jacob’s) Field era, the Cleveland Indians have built statues in memory of franchise greats, constructed the spacious heritage park, and built massive bars and social areas throughout the ballpark. If the sensitivity to the Native American population is great enough to remove the Wahoo Logo, then why not do something in the ballpark to commemorate the Cleveland “Indians” team name by detailing the rich history of Native Americans in Northeast Ohio and the significance of it becoming the name of the baseball team in Cleveland!
*The Indians answered the greatness of Omar Vizquel at shortstop with the brilliance of Francisco Lindor. The transition of Chief Wahoo to the “Block C” logo has not been successful. While some like the simplicity of the Block C, most fans find it boring, plain, and a poor successor to Wahoo. It will be interesting to see if Indians Management looks to revamp the logo again to please the fans.
I will miss the Chief Wahoo logo. I grew up with the logo and our city watched with pride as Wahoo took us through the glory years of the 1990s and the excitement of many great teams. While Cleveland still covets its first World Series Championship since 1948, Chief Wahoo has been there through thick and thin. Nonetheless, I believe the Cleveland Indians made the politically correct move and it should be embraced, not bashed.
Tribe fans have experienced some incredible baseball in the past several years, yet the team continues to sport attendance numbers which consistently rank in the bottom tier of MLB Teams over the past decade. Nonetheless, the fan base remains passionate and wants to see a winner more than anything. When the Cleveland Indians do win it all, it will be an exhilarating, once-in-a-lifetime experience for thousands of fans—we will cherish it forever—for sure…with or without Chief Wahoo on the players’ uniforms.
So, I ask again, how much does a logo really matter?