The 1990’s were a glorious time for expansion in North American professional sports. Unconventional colors, cutting-edge logos and wacky marketing campaigns gained increasing prominence in the booming American sports economy. Since I appreciate and admire the aesthetics of this iconic decade in major sports, the brief backgrounds of the most intriguing examples of these teams deserve recognition.
The tamest of our examples, Denver was granted a Major League Baseball (MLB) expansion team alongside Miami in 1992. Purple was adopted as the team’s primary color, the only team in the league to use it. Their debut season in 1993 was a watershed moment in MLB history. The Rockies finished 67-95, the most for a National League expansion team. They also achieved the all-time record for inaugural season attendance, with an impressive 4,483,350 people showing up at the infamously noisy Mile High Stadium.
Compared to the other three major leagues, National Football League (NFL) expansion was quiet through the ’90s. Jacksonville was unexpectedly granted a team in Florida’s northwestern swamplands in 1993, with their expansion bid beating out Baltimore and St. Louis (both cities eventually got teams by means of relocation). Jacksonville’s edge? The Gator Bowl, a completed stadium that held over 80,000 which most larger competitors didn’t have. The city’s bid almost fell apart when the ownership group realized they needed a massive renovation to the 60-year-old structure to make it suitable for a new team. Through the early tribulations that included a brief withdrawal of their bid in early 1993, the new stadium was completed in time and the Jaguars finally took to the gridiron in 1995 wearing the then-trendy color of teal with gold and black accents.
MIGHTY DUCKS OF ANAHEIM
Without a doubt, the Ducks were the most recognizable of the National Hockey League’s (NHL) ’90s expansion teams. Inspired by their classic 1992 family hockey movie “The Mighty Ducks,” Disney’s Chief Executive Officer Michael Eisner capitalized on his company’s rapidly growing popularity and convinced the NHL of the amazing marketing benefits Disney could provide a team. The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim took to the ice in 1993 wearing uniforms of eggplant and jade, topped off with a duck bill-shaped hockey mask logo with two hockey sticks crossed behind it. Their first home game at the aptly-named “Pond” included an extravagant pre-game laser light show and figure skating performance. Eisner was soon proven right about his conglomerate’s marketing, as Ducks merchandise briefly accounted for an insane 80% of the league’s merchandise sales.
The National Basketball Association’s (NBA) lone Canadian franchise wasn’t always known for being Drake’s favorite team as well as the underdogs that won the 2019 NBA Championship. The Raptors were one of Canada’s two new NBA teams in the mid-’90s along with the now-relocated Vancouver Grizzlies. I know what you’re thinking: how does a long-extinct animal have anything to do with Toronto? The name actually stemmed from a “Name Game” contest held in 1994 throughout Canada to determine the team’s identity. Amongst the finalists which included “Dragons,” “Hogs” and “Tarantulas,” “Raptors” was chosen partially due to the popularity of Jurassic Park at the time. Their uniforms of purple, red and black and their logo of a dinosaur dribbling a basketball rocketed them to seventh in the NBA for merchandise sales before they even played their first game on Nov. 3, 1995.
Take one glimpse at each of these team’s first uniforms and you’ll know all about American fashion trends in the ’90s. Sure, not all of these teams have had substantial success, but without them, their respective sports wouldn’t have the same widespread nationwide following that they do now. Expansion is still a hot topic across the “Big Four” leagues in the country. Will this new era of growth produce similar success stories about a team’s visual and cultural identity? There’s nothing to do but wait and hope for the best.