Not long after Jim Crane and his ownership group took control of the Astros nearly a year ago, the club decided it was going to make some drastic changes when it came to the look of the 51-year-old franchise's colors, logo and even the mascot.
What followed was months of research, focus groups and fan input to find the perfect look -- something that kept the fans in touch with the team's past while being fashion forward. Five months after deciding on the new colors and uniforms, the team unveiled its new identity before thousands of fans at a launch party Friday night at Minute Maid Park.
"We made it a priority early on to just engage as many fans and season-ticket holders as possible, and the more we talked to people, the more we got the idea there was probably an opportunity to make a change in a way that resonated with the fans," Astros president and CEO George Postolos said. "The two big things were, we needed a fresh start and some of the colors and images from the past resonated more with fans, so there was an opportunity to do something they would respond strongly to and that would tie better to the kind of images and colors that meant the most to them and said 'Astros.'"
The orange-and-blue color scheme and block H and star on the cap are right out of the 1970s and '80s, during the decades many consider the Astros' golden era. The goal was to make sure longtime fans would envision the Colt .45s, the Astrodome and rainbow jerseys, while looking at uniforms that were fashionable in this era.
"We wanted to respect the fans, what the Astros stand for, the fans who have been here for 50 years, and we believe we were making a multigenerational change," Astros vice president of marketing and strategy Kathleen Clark said. "We don't intend to change this. It's something the fans in the city of Houston and the state of Texas can feel good about so they can gather around and say, 'That's our team.'"
The new ownership has engaged fans in many of its major off-field decisions, but it put the brakes on changing the team's nickname when the fan base made it known it wanted the Astros to move to the AL as, well, the Astros. So when it was time to begin researching new uniforms and colors, the Astros reached out to the fans, too.
The club did a qualitative survey in February, asking fans what the Astros brand meant to them and what colors they felt best exemplified the team. From there, the team worked with designers at Major League Baseball to incorporate a first version of the uniforms.
"We took the design out to focus groups, very small focus groups," Clark said.
The focus groups were made up of season-ticket holders, all of whom had to sign non-disclosure agreements. They went through three different rounds of designs before they settled on what they wanted. The deadline to submit the new design and logo to MLB was May 31.
"There was a lot of work that goes into it," Clark said. "Once you have it, you have to determine how it's going to work in different ways. You have the uniforms, obviously, and that's the biggest exemplification of the brand. But the work goes into how does it look in the ballpark, on business materials, business cards. A lot of design and execution work goes into that. There was a lot of work that needed to be done over the summer to get ready."
The Astros turned to a fan forum of season-ticket holders on an ongoing basis, using an online survey tool to gather responses and input. In fact, the Astros were so thorough in their research and data analysis, they believe they came within percentage points of finding something they can rely on.
"The response has been unanimous," Clark said. "People love it. They say, 'Yes!'"
Postolos said the club dedicated dozens of employees to the rebranding effort, and it even had a brand war room on the fourth floor at Minute Maid Park, where the Astros had pictures of every single thing that needed to be changed on one side of the room and concepts of what it was going to look like on the other side.
"We had people working full-time in that room every day," Clark said. "They would work right there, work on the board, introducing new mascots and also designing within that area, as well."
The club also hired an outside agency, Lowell Williams Design of Austin, to help with launch materials and how the team would unveil its new look.
"We considered, what is the campaign? How are we going to launch it? How do we bring it into next season? So we tied it all together, what we've done this year, and came up with a fresh start for the best young talent in baseball and moving into the American League," Clark said.
Now that the uniforms and logo have been revealed doesn't mean the work will stop. The team still has to change its color schemes and signage throughout the ballpark, which includes everything from the team store to carpeting in the clubhouse. The logos and colors will also have to be changed at the Astros' Spring Training facility in Kissimmee, Fla., the Houston Astros MLB Urban Youth Academy and the team's baseball academy in the Dominican Republic.
"We're really excited to reveal the new identity," Postolos said. "I think it's going to be well-received. Sometimes you get that feeling there's a clear place to go here, there is a right answer, and that's what makes these kinds of processes the most fun and exciting. We're very excited about this day, and the staff has worked so hard and is excited, and that's a recipe for success."