The Oklahoma City Thunder logo

What Clay Bennett has done for Oklahoma is very exciting. Realizing the potential of Oklahomans to support a major league team as evidenced by the enthusiastic support for the displaced New Orleans Hornets (now the Pelicans), he bought a team that he suspected would be fairly easy to move to Oklahoma. Seattle had issues between its team's desire for a new arena and the citizens and the city not wanting to pay for it. So, Clay Bennett and a group of investors bought the Seattle Supersonics. After some hassles with the city of Seattle, the NBA, and the former owners of the Sonics, the team was on its way southeast. The new name and branding identity for the Oklahoma City NBA team was introduced on September 3, 2008.

The team owners and the NBA have created a huge opportunity to raise the perceived stature of Oklahoma City, but with huge opportunity comes huge responsibility. The graphics for the OKC team present a somewhat negative perception of Oklahoma City. The way a city presents itself to the nation through design is a key part of being seen as a Major League city.

The new logo is a poor identity for the Oklahoma City Thunder OKC
• There is no distinct relation to Oklahoma - every NBA city has sunsets, suns, and basketballs.
• There is no relation to thunder - no dark cloud, no lightning, no rain, no thundering herd.
• The typography is poor - the typeface doesn’t relate to the image, the fonts do not respect each other, the skinny, weak, fragile, and unstable Thunder font does not convey power, motion, action, or energy. The letterspacing is inconsistent in Thunder.
• There is a poor integration of elements - the Thunder type doesn't relate well to the shield, the stripes don't relate to any other element.
• The colors are inappropriate - they are not powerful, bold, or competitive (baby blue, yellow) - light blue is from the state flag of Oklahoma, red-orange represents the sunset and the yellow, the sun (but its usually tough to see the sun or a sunset when there is a thunderstorm).
• It is neither unique nor distinctive - any team name can be paired with the logo and it will be just as effective.
• It doesn’t convey professionalism, aggressiveness, dynamic athletics.
• There is no intrigue or cleverness for the viewer to mentally grasp to aid memorability.

The frustration
1. Many in Oklahoma were excited that a major league team was coming to town. We could now show the world the great things going on in Oklahoma City. This would be our chance to raise the stature of Oklahoma to a world-class level. But then the logo was unveiled and we realized the opportunity to convey excellence was lost. A major league team helps enhance the PR and marketing efforts of a city and state.
2. Unfortunately, the more bad design the public sees, the more numb the public gets to bad design. The average person doesn't understand nor discriminate enough without the guidance of corporations, cities, and the design community. If the corporate and design communities accept work such as the Thunder logo, then, heck, anyone can become a designer. One doesn't even need much training or a design sense. Due to repeated exposure, we have accepted the weak logo as the team's identity. It is no longer an issue of good or bad design. Accepting mediocrity (as we have done) weakens the impact that design should make and confirms that Oklahoma is not at the forefront of design. Example: some fans state that since the team does well and the souvenirs sell well, that the logo can't be bad. To use that same shallow nonsense reasoning, it seems clear that if the Thunder had a better logo, they would be national champs every year; and even more souvenirs would be sold.
3. More Oklahomans, designers and non-designers, need to be courageous enough to demand quality work - to be activists in order to prevent the continued erosion of quality design. When questioned, almost all Oklahoma designers agreed that its an awful logo but were unwilling to do anything about it. Mantras in Oklahoma include If it ain't broke, don't fix it, Let sleeping dogs lie, Don't rock the boat, Don't make waves, Its good enough. All of these attitudes result in low standards of design. Maybe we got exactly what we deserved.

Parties responsible for the weak logo
A logo, good or bad, is often a result of collaboration among many people. The Thunder logo is not the fault of any single entity; each of these played a part:
• The frustrated designer for not being more assertive in presenting the original strong solution and persuasive rationale.
• The advertising agency for not aggressively supporting the designer and the original concept.
• The team owners for meddling with the designer and the agency.
• The NBA for not demanding higher standards of effective branding.
• The Oklahoma public for tolerating and embracing a low standard of design.

The new name of the team
Oklahoma had an opportunity to unify and raise the stature of the state by naming the team 'Oklahoma' rather than 'Oklahoma City'. Although the voters of Oklahoma City passed the temporary tax vote, season ticket holders and fans will be from Moore, Norman, Edmond, Yukon, even Tulsa (OKC will reap the benefits of the penny tax through the increased hotel, restaurant, and parking revenues). Including the Tulsa market would have raised the national ranking of the Oklahoma NBA television market. For broadcasters, fans, and logo graphics, 'Oklahoma Thunder' would have been easier to say and write than 'Oklahoma City Thunder'.

Pro sports teams named after their state or region
States with two major nearby cities, similar to Oklahoma (Oklahoma City and Tulsa), use their state or area name: Arizona (Phoenix and Tucson), Colorado (Denver and Colorado Springs), Minnesota (Minneapolis and St. Paul), and Tampa Bay (Tampa and St. Petersburg). A list of examples (excluding teams such as the Dallas Cowboys who haven't played, trained, nor officed in Dallas in several decades):
   NBA Basketball
       • Golden State Warriors
       • Indiana Pacers
       • Minnesota Timberwolves
       • New Jersey (now Brooklyn) Nets
       • New York Knicks
       • Utah Jazz
   NFL Football
       • Arizona Cardinals
       • Carolina Panthers
       • Minnesota Vikings
       • New England Patriots
       • New York Giants
       • New York Jets
       • Tampa Bay Buccaneers
       • Tennessee Titans
   MLB Baseball
       • Arizona Diamondbacks
       • Colorado Rockies
       • Florida Marlins
       • Minnesota Twins
       • New York Mets
       • New York Yankees
       • Tampa Bay Rays
       • Texas Rangers
   NHL Hockey
       • Carolina Hurricanes
       • Colorado Avalanche
       • Florida Panthers
       • Minnesota Wild
       • New Jersey Devils
       • New York Islanders
       • New York Rangers
       • Tampa Bay Lightning
   MLS Soccer
       • Colorado Rapids
       • New England Revolution
       • New York Red Bulls

Comments from Clay Bennett, owner of the Oklahoma City Thunder
“We just felt it [Thunder] connected. We liked the name. We felt it reflected the identity we hope to establish for the team. And [we] thought the word connected to Oklahoma in an effective way, a word of power and strength and clarity. It was a favorite early on. Thunder was the leader for a long time.”
“We think the logo is classic in its style. We think it's powerful in its design. We think it evokes energy. We think the word Thunder is displayed with simplicity and dignity. And the colors represent much about Oklahoma.”
“Our primary color blue is the color of our state flag. This is very much an Oklahoma organization. The sunset is red and orange. Not too red. Not too orange. And the beautiful sun is reflected by yellow.”
“We are thrilled with the creative design. We're very proud.”

Responses from the nation

December 2008 issue of Maxim magazine, a story on the Highs and Lows in sport, OKC's mention - "the sorriest logo in the NBA".

Left: A survey on Yahoo Sports - note that 27,000 people took the survey.
Right: A survey from OKC Channel 5 television - the Thunder's own target market graded it overwhelming as an F.
If a design firm designed a logo that was the sorriest in the league, received a 19% approval rating, and an 'F' from its own audience; wouldn't it be likely to revise the mark? Wouldn't the client ask for a new solution?

Some of the many sites that have blog comments - hundreds of them from all over the country, almost all of them disparaging the Thunder logo. I got weary of reading all the bad ones and a bit disgusted, but my favorite is still: "I figured out how to make the design scheme work. It comes down to the name. If they renamed themselves The Oklahoma City Meaningless Poo, then the design and concept totally work together."

The brilliant assessment and notes above came from someone in Denver.

1. From a website in OKC. 2. Yahoo Sports, not sure where it came from. 3 & 4. Two revisions by Jim Watson.

Proposed alternatives
Years after the Thunder introduced their logo, designers are still commenting on it and proposing other solutions:

Above: Two proposals from a designer. Right: "The concept is simple, following the league-standard choice of including a basketball. Wrapping around the ball is lightning, most famous for its role as the atmospheric electrostatic discharge preceding thunder."

From Chicago, 2011: The Thunder's current logo means nothing, signifies nothing and doesn't come close to evoking Oklahoma or thunder. It is a complete and utter failure.
The current logo is a random basketball, a buttload of colors, two bizarre streaks and an 'OKC' that is so oddly placed it's a surprise it's actually a part of the logo. None of that works, none of that screams Oklahoma City and none of that epitomizes or even symbolizes thunder.
I thought about the thundering herds of bison that used to roam Oklahoma and the west. Herds so large, they would kick up clouds of dust. I kept the Thunder font and three out of the four colors they currently use (sorry yellow, there were just too many colors). The buffalo head incorporates the theme of lightening bolts and the eyes are the orange/red of the team colors.

Left: another mark incorporating a thundering bison.
Right: From South Texas, 2012 (4 years after the initial introduction): "It's an abstract concept - a native American theme, dreamcatcher/Oklahoma state flag, and the sun gives it a Midwestern feel." Online responses to this proposal:
• I thought a blank space was superior to what they currently have.
• Not exactly the greatest of concepts, but, it's STILL 1000 times better than the crap they have now.
• While it's tough to depict 'Thunder', this deviates so much that you lose the identity of the team (which is not saying much considering the current logo). At least with the current logo, it's abstract enough that it doesn't really mean anything, therefore it doesn't compete with the name. Kind of like having an orange as the logo for the Florida Gators.

Left: A proposal incorporating the lightning bolt. Right: Reworking of the fonts and lettering styles.

Other teams named Thunder and their logos

Which one of the logos above better conveys a dynamic team and better meets the objectives of a strong sports identity?
Below: even this clip art style Thunder logo with Thor's hammer would be better.

The NBA logos
Many are poor identities, but that's no excuse for a new team to add one more bad one.
Sources of the Oklahoma City Thunder OKC logo elements
• Thunder typeface: Hornets, TrailBlazers, and Rockets
• Shield: Nets and Mavericks
• OKC type: Jazz and Warriors
• Angled strokes: Wizards
• Basketball: Pacers, Lakers, Heat, Nets, Knicks, Magic, 76ers, Suns, Cavaliers, Mavericks, Pistons, and Warriors.


The mark on the left was in The Oklahoman on Sunday, November 23, 2008. This one incorporates some of the revisions suggested by several people nationwide. If the word THUNDER was where LOUD CITY is and OKLAHOMA CITY replaced BRING THE THUNDER, it would be a better identity - thunder over the city, better typography, and no silly slash marks. The other two marks show adaptations that give the mark some depth and movement with the added dimensionality and gradation.

A Thunder inspired logo. But, it is more successful with a better layout and better elements.
Below: a version drawn by a naberhood child in sidewalk chalk. He's got some good ideas: extend the Thunder font letters, lessen the drastic perspective in the OKC letters, and curve the slashes a bit more.

Similar shape, colors, and movement to the WNBA NY Liberty logo. This NHU logo is used on teeshirts sold on a third-party website for the National Hispanic University in San Jose, California. It is clearly a blatant rip-off. Who would have thought that someone would deem the Thunder logo worthy of copying? (Or did the Thunder copy the University mark?) The NHU text, however, is set better than the OKC text. I saw the image in New York City on a teeshirt worn by someone who works with NHU and bought it in San Jose. I tracked it down to a MySpace page: Smashed Inc Clothing.

At a sporting goods store across from the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn, the jerseys had team logos on them - except for the Thunder, no logo. It seems that some retail stores see the poor marketability of the Thunder logo.