Hartwell Studio Works

Sports Branding Blog

Deep thoughts from the studio on all things sports, creative, and some other stuff in-between.

3 Sports Branding Tips from the King of Comics


August 28, 2017 is Jack “King” Kirby’s 100th birthday. You may not know his name, but trust me, you know his work. Jack Kirby is inarguably one of the greatest creative forces of the 20th century. Together with Stan Lee, he created the characters that built Marvel Comics. Captain America, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and so many others are the result of his endless creativity.

In 2009, Disney bought Marvel for $4 billion. That might sound absurd for a bunch of silly comic book characters, but when you consider that since 2000, movies featuring Kirby’s Marvel characters have generated over $15 billion in ticket sales alone, well, they may have been on to something.


Yep, you've seen a movie featuring one of these guys recently, haven't you?

Jack Kirby was an inexhaustible storyteller. He engaged fans and kept them hooked with a thrilling, bigger-than-life style. His uniquely powerful stories laid the foundation for the 21st century global entertainment juggernaut we know today.

In sports, your brand is your story. To turn that story into its own juggernaut, we can take some pointers from the King of Comics:


Kirby stories aren’t just about characters with symbols on their chests. They’re about real, recognizable people, beset by challenges to be heroically overcome. Fans root for the characters to prevail, thus identifying with the symbol on the chest.

Likewise, your sports brand is more than a logo on a jersey. Your brand should tell a story your fans can embrace. Do you speak to their sense of place? To their traditions, history, and sense of common purpose?

If the answer is “no,” then your logo is just another pretty face that ultimately means nothing. Without meaningful connections, fans are left with no good reason to care about your team. Your fans need a reason to root for you to prevail. Only then will they wear your logo on their chest.


One of the reasons Kirby’s Marvel work was so successful is because it was so different. The characters looked different and acted different. They were superheroes, but with a twist, standing out on the spinner rack with a different kind of story to tell.

In order to stand out in a crowded sports market, you must be different as well. That starts with your point of first contact, your logos. Do your marks bear a striking resemblance to an NFL team? Or that big college program? Or did you just do a Google search and grab whatever came up first?

You cannot tell your story using tools that belong to someone else. Without logos that are uniquely you, your brand gets lost, goes unnoticed, and becomes invisible. Invisibility can be a great superpower, but it’s a terrible way to attract new fans.


Jack Kirby’s work is not shy. It’s all about larger-than-life, pulse-pounding dynamic action that demands the reader’s attention.

Your brand deserves the same attitude, because competition for the attention of your fans is fierce. That competition may be other sports teams, but it might also be binge-watching Netflix. Can your fans be bothered to even get off the couch to support you?

If your brand gets snubbed like an Army 4F reject, it’s time to rethink your story. Whether it just needs a shot in the arm, or it needs to be rebuilt from the ground up, fortune favors the bold. And bold, like a one-ton hulking green monster, cannot be ignored.

Sidenote: Jack Kirby and pro sports intersected in 1973 when the NFL commissioned Kirby for an out-of-this-world Super Bowl. Click here to enjoy!