I was inspired by Aaron Draplin to write this post. The one thing that struck me after listening to his talk (my post dated 3/2/17), was the amount of work he did for fun. Or in other words, for free. His simple motive for doing these projects was that it added more volume and depth to his portfolio. And these projects are now viewed as some of his most popular work.
The following is not intended to place my charity above others. Instead, it helps me reflect and appreciate how my work benefited a group of feisty, under-rated high school athletes. This post reinforces Draplin’s idea of fun, energetic projects that continue to evolve without any form of compensation.
Team building exercise.
In 2007, high school lacrosse in N.E. Ohio was gaining traction. The Ohio High School Athletic Association didn’t yet recognize lacrosse as a varsity sport because there simply weren’t enough active lacrosse programs statewide to classify it as such. So, club teams like the Brecksville Bees, were springing up annually with the hopes of one day meeting the OHSAA requirements.
It was during this time that several off-season hockey players banded together and organized a fledgling venture. Naturally, hockey players gravitate to lacrosse because it involves sticks and physicality. A young track and field enthusiast, Owen Rasmussen, was enlisted as the acting head coach. I never was quite sure how he became acquainted with this position since his lacrosse background was limited. Owen was not your typical screaming, cursing high school coach. In fact, he was a youth paster at a local church. Regardless, he was willing to donate his time and knowledge to help instruct lacrosse fundamentals and aspire to become the club’s spiritual counselor.
The inaugural team photo presented to one of Bees Lax first corporate supporters.
The Bees Lacrosse Club, or better known as “Bees Lax,” was not viewed in the same manner as other varsity programs. First, the high school Athletic Director didn’t understand the sport, or where it fit in the curriculum. Second, the Bees Lax coaches were volunteers opposed to school staffers (who had an advantage in dealing with system politics). This resulted in very little respect for this new organization. Practices in the gym – or on the turf, were limited and purposely scheduled late in the day so they wouldn’t conflict with baseball practice. There were ongoing battles in early Spring with trying to keep the stadium lights turned on after 6:00 p.m. And transportation to games and scrimmages was to relegated to players or their parents due to the costs for school system busing. What Bees Lax did have was an excited, gutsy group of team mates, and a meager budget for marketing. This is how an upstart program captured the attention of a community like no other local high school sports program in its day.
Let the fun begin.
My eldest son, Alex, was a member of the 2007 inaugural club team. It was during the first parent / team meeting that I volunteered to help with any graphic design and team related promotions. This all happened well before my knowledge of Aaron Draplin and his ideologies.
The first assigned project was branding. Designing an icon was somewhat limiting since it needed to incorporate a 1960-ish, cartoon style insect. Mr. B. shaking a simplified lacrosse stick just wasn’t doing it for me. A bolder background element was needed along with a typeface that tied it all together. Possibly, this would help bring it into the 21st century.
It was well received by the players and administration. Now, let the frenzy of applications begin – spirit wear, uniforms, and sellable trinkets. Seasoned graphic designers usually beg the question; What happens to my design after it’s released into the free world? How will a screen printer interpret color and positioning? Will the letterhead be properly formatted? The solution is to construct a “brand manual.” This simple document kept the identity intact no matter how, or what the logo was applied to.
Click to view the .pdf brand manual
OK, now what? There’s a team, a coach, and a brand. How do you get students and the community to attend games? What will attract local businesses to support this program? How do you gain credibility in the eyes of the Athletic Director? From mid-2007 through Senior Night of 2008, this was my focus and execution of Bees Lax marketing.
Introduce the team and the sport.
Few people in Brecksville knew what Lacrosse was. Essentially, the team had to learn the fundamentals, and the community had to understand the game.
The initial introduction of Bees Lax involved some manipulation to the boring “official” team photo. The contracted photographer was gracious enough to loan me the high-res file. From there it was re-worked into a more dynamic, 24 x 30 inch poster, with the new identity and 2008 team schedule.
I produced dozens of full color posters on my Epson large format inkjet printer. They were distributed and placed in the storefronts of local businesses who were willing to support the team. The curiosity of the community grew week by week, and thanking these purveyors for the free exposure was vital for future marketing endeavors.
The cost of the group photo did not include individual player photos. Since the entire team was assembled that day in their snappy new embroidered windbreakers, I photographed each player with variety of facial expressions. Usually the one with the intimidating scowl was favored. These shots were later used in the Bees Lax Program displaying name and jersey number.
I sensed a need for more mass communication – the same methods employed around general elections and school levies. I purchased a refurbished Xerox 11 x 17 (tabloid sized) color printer from a business associate, Harold Laube. He understood my purpose for buying this machine, and the need to keep costs down. Harold cut me a great deal, and the 7400 proved to be a workhorse that I still use today. Everything from posters hanging in high school hallways, to official Bees Lax forms and documents, were designed on my Mac and produced on this printer. One project included designing and printing over a thousand 4 x 5 inch postcards – which then were placed in shopping bags at several local grocery stores.
Another item that captured attention on and off the roadway was an oval-shaped decal, and clear static cling. Having a neighbor in the ad specialty business has its benefits. Ken Rook from Gooey Promotions enjoyed the sport of business bartering. Given the chance for free ad space in the official Lax program in return for a few hundred decals, peaked his interest. These were sold for a minimal amount during home games. I occasionally still see these in the area barely clinging on to pre-2009 auto glass.
Let’s get on with the program.
There are several motives behind a printed sports program. Introduce the team, introduce the game, and promote revenue from sponsored ads. The Official Bees Lax Program was like none other in N.E. Ohio high school sports. It was full color and printed on heavy stock. It educated attendees about the basic play and history of lacrosse. There were individual color photos of each player larger than traditional postage stamp size. And community businesses were eager to contribute to this start-up program. I designed and printed sponsor forms that made it attractive and simple to purchase ad space.
Click to view the .pdf sponsor form
After the first printing, Bees Lax received over $2000 in ad revenue. The trusty Xerox 7400 printed over 500 copies of this 16 page document. They were collated and manually stapled. Programs sold at the games for three dollars. I’m unaware how many were sold that season, but very few were left in the end. The cost of the printed program to Bees Lax was zero.
Click to view the complete .pdf program
Another player parent, John Kerezy, was the voice of Bees Lax and did the play-by-play for every home game. He had connections within the community and helped promote the team anyway he could. During mid-season, an event was held in Cleveland where NFL Hall of Famer, Jim Brown, was a guest speaker. John was in attendance and somehow finagled Brown to autograph three copies of the Lax program. These were raffled off at senior night and all proceeds went to Bees Lax.
The last home game of the season had to be memorable for the graduating class of 2008. Special posters were made inviting the community to this event. There were lacrosse skill games for younger kids, raffles, and a special presentation made to two of the largest supporters from that year – Novak Legal and Frank Fantozi Financial. A framed photo of the team with their respective business names were presented at the half.
But the real undertaking was producing a unique Senior Program for that evening. Amongst other things, I was also the official game-day photographer. I have thousands of digital images of both home and away games which were used primarily for the Bees Lax website. I shot several dozen action images of each player during that season. After sorting through files, I selected appropriate shots of the individual seniors. These personalized, enhanced images were used in the printed program, and then presented to each graduate as a high-quality framed photo.
The actual program was printed on 11 x 17 heavy stock and folded in half. It was distributed free to all attendees. I must say, it was a nice visual tribute to the team and seniors over the 2008 season…
Click to view the complete Senior Night .pdf program
Unfortunately, I have no screen captures of the single largest initiative from that year. The official Bees Lax website was “dismembered” after 2008. What I can say is that Todd Smith, another business associate, did a masterful job of developing this site long before there were free templates that offered drag-and-drop design. The site was enjoyed by players and parents alike because it was fun! After every game, I selected a couple dozen photos to be uploaded along with Coach Owen’s comments regarding the outcome. If it was a win, there was more levity in the content and the visuals.
www.beeslax.org was the core source of information for the team. Practice schedules, rosters, links to lacrosse outfitters, downloadable forms – all at one central location. This site additionally produced revenue through digital banners. For a nominal fee, these electronic ads would rotate across the site with contact information for the sponsors .
But it’s gone… all gone! No turkey! No turkey sandwiches! No turkey salad! No turkey gravy! Turkey hash! Turkey a la king! Or gallons of turkey soup! Gone! All gone! The next regime of Bees Lax administrators decided it was too expensive to renew the domain name, and for Todd to host the site through his personal account. He never invoiced a dime to the Bees Lax program for his development, hosting, domain registration, maintenance, or the many hours he spent teaching me how to manage the site. Aaron Draplin would be proud.
Here’s to you Todd!
I did all this in less than a year. I did it for fun. I did it for free. I’d do it again…?