It all started with a San Diego inspired Westside Love hat.
One spring day in 2010, two guys in a South San Diego garage wondered if there were other people who wished the San Diego Padres were brown again. Those two guys were Tony Martinez, and me, Jordan Stark. The following story details the audacious 10 year campaign that resulted from that conversation; a war of attrition that galvanized San Diegans to pressure the $1B San Diego Padres to change their uniforms back to brown.
The conversation started because we were making a San Diego inspired brown Westside Love hat, which was just one of our brands at the time. A blue and white hat occurred to us, but it wouldn’t identify as a San Diego hat on first look. Being 80's kids, we knew a hat in brown was the only way to go.
We then joked about what would happen if we made a petition for the Padres to bring back brown. Would people sign it? How many other people wished the Padres were brown? Then we speculated if we could create a campaign that would rally enough support to actually make it happen. How long would something like that take? We figured AT LEAST 10 years… were we that committed to this idea? How could we actively campaign for 10 years??
It was exciting, profound, ridiculous, and insane all at the same time. We were asking some of the right questions and decided to revisit the idea after marinating on it for a couple weeks. We didn’t realize it at the time, but that was when the seed of Bring Back The Brown was planted.
The people of San Diego deserve to have a say in our brand.
For the nineteen years before 2010, the San Diego Padres wore variations of blue with white and only pulled out brown garb for “retro nights.” The reason for the change to blue and white in 1991 was because the ownership changed, and they most likely didn’t prefer the brown.
Publicly the ownership attached their reason for the color change because of the red, white, and blue Pacific Coast League Padres. The PCL Padres were the minor league pre-MLB 1969 Padres, who few in San Diego know to this day existed.
We figured that despite fickle and individual color preferences, like how a jersey and hat matches one’s blue jeans, brown makes absolutely perfect sense for the first colonial California city established by a Spanish friar (Padre Junipero Serra) and named after Catholic Saint Didacus of Alcalá.
The Padres are not just our team’s name, it’s city history. The people of San Diego own that, and deserve to have a say in our brand.
My only gateway into being a Padres fan again was petitioning for the return of brown.
Beyond the colors, the Padres were so distant from the team we grew up cheering for in the 80’s. We had no clear franchise players, our mascot was different, our uniforms were completely different, our stadiums were different, the team ownership was constantly changing, and there was no end in sight to losing seasons.
After chatting about this laundry list, it was even more apparent why few San Diegans, let alone transplants, really cared about the Pads. After all, we live in a place with plenty of other things to do besides watch bad baseball. Matter of fact, I didn’t care anymore either.
While living in LA and San Bernardino for the previous 7 years, I got back into following baseball and was now watching the LA Dodgers for the last two or three seasons. That was an easy transition for me. For starters, the Padres hadn’t been playing good baseball, and I’ll never forget the 1992 Padres Fire Sale. For years my older brother and Dad incessantly railed the Padres for dismantling the team we grew up watching in the late 80’s. We’ve never been to another game as a whole family ever since.
But don’t get it twisted, I loved San Diego and it’s why I moved back to start a branding and graphic design business with Tony in his garage. There was zero doubt we were 1000% committed to supporting and building in SD moving forward, and I realized around this time the conflict in continuing to reject the Padres.
It became clear that my only gateway into being a Padres fan again included petitioning for the return of brown, wearing only brown Padres gear, and nostalgically revisiting my childhood Padres fanaticism. We knew we wanted to claim our slice of responsibility in San Diego moving forward; and I knew in my bones San Diego was a city with still a lot to build, with many more stories to write, but only with a full heart and full commitment.
Where the Bring Back The Brown campaign was born. Tony Martinez's Chula Vista garage and Product Etc's first office - Circa 2010
We needed a massive community to ever accomplish the mission of #bringbackthebrown, starting with diehard fans and local businesses.
Of course taking ownership and responsibility of a $1B private franchise in San Diego is a completely different endeavor. However, the thing about a private sporting club is that they make money by persuading fans to support the team, partly by attaching themselves to the city as a sort of proxy.
From asses in stadium seats, TV deals, merchandise sales, sport tourism, public transit to and from games, to hashtags on twitter, there’s a whole economy of metrics not just on how the team is performing on the field but how engaged the people and fans are with the brand of that club.
We strategized that if we could not only create enough noise and support for #bringbackthebrown but also slowly tilt those metrics and dollars toward support for the brown, it would be clear that it’s a good business decision for the Padres to be brown again. When money talks C-Suites will lend an ear.
Sounds awesome! Yes, but let’s keep in mind it’s still just two dudes talking bullshit in a garage. We needed a small community to consider seriously moving forward, and we needed a massive community to ever accomplish the mission of #bringbackthebrown. We needed to test this idea with two key demographics in order to start building a base: diehard fans and local businesses.
The first of many Bring Back The Brown community events and collaborative product releases - 5&A Dime 2010
To the diehards, the soul of the Padres were in the quirky logos and the Hall of Fame players that rotated through San Diego sporting afros and wearing an array of color combinations.
You might mistake me for a diehard, but comparatively I’m not. The diehards at least double or triple my enthusiasm. The diehards follow not only the Padres and their offseason, but they drive and fly out to Arizona for Spring Training, follow their minor league teams, write about the Padres, and enjoy studying and debating baseball statistics. They do this for a club that currently has the worst winning percentage throughout their history as a team in Major League Baseball.
Padres diehards are another breed, and it’s no surprise why #Padrestwitter is now an ironclad band of brothers and sisters to be reckoned with. We figured if the Padres diehards were supportive of Bring Back The Brown, then this could actually have legs. For a potentially long campaign of attrition, they could make Bring Back The Brown their own, and we could simply provide a platform and home to focus on this singular Padres topic. If the diehards didn’t care, then this idea was simply dead in the water.
Turns out the diehards did care — A LOT. They were not just supportive, they were genuinely wide-eyed about the idea and possibility of Bring Back The Brown. To them the soul of the Padres were in the quirky logos, garb, and colors of the past.
Hall of fame players that rotated through San Diego sporting afros and wearing an array of color combinations, and the original 1969 funny looking, pointy-headed Swingin’ Friar in brown was what they wanted; not this sweet, cherub looking Friar now unexplainably in blue. Throw in what has been referred to as "the shampoo logos" on the contemporary Padres sleeves, and the diehards were hungry for something more reflective of a time and culture they could identity with.
Tony Gwynn in Padres Signature Brown and Yellow - Photo by: Baseball Hall of Fame
Some people didn’t really get it and thought ‘Bring Back The Brown’ was excessive or child’s play. The brown was ridiculed everywhere we went — until it wasn’t.
The businesses were just as critical throughout the campaign because they provided immediate opportunities to engage the broader community, establish legitimacy, opportunities for more exposure, resources to spread the news, creative fuel when the campaign and/or the Padres were stalling, and also opportunities for them to do business and make Bring Back the Brown their own as well.
While some of these business owners grew up in San Diego and were big baseball fans, all of them now had deep roots in San Diego, and they all were down with the brown. Since we were new business owners ourselves, we immediately reached out to friends, clients, and sought out new relationships through BBTB.
Some people didn’t really get it and thought this was an excessive approach or child’s play. Some thought the idea of “community building” was overrated and didn’t help their business. Some started as partners and fizzled out after a year or two.
In hindsight, all of those conversations were great because those people and businesses definitely were not the right fit. It was better not to force something that wasn’t going to work for the duration of the campaign. We correctly presumed that the fate of this campaign was in how well we could structure a slow 10-year marathon, not a half season or 2-year sprint.
We had helped cultivate a fun, resilient, and vibrant community of likeminded people and it was a beautiful thing.
By early 2011 the Bring Back The Brown “roster” was set, and it was off to the races! We kicked off the season by putting up sponsored BBTB posters around downtown (huge shout out to Blend Printing www.blendsd.com for those beautiful posters). Partnering businesses had them in their windows. We put them on trash cans, walls, and construction sites around the stadium. If people ordered a burrito from Lolitas or pizza from Bar Basic and mentioned Bring Back The Brown, they’d get 20% off their order. Huzzah!
Posters were placed around downtown, particularly around Petco Park in 2010
In April 2011, we released our first Bring Back The Brown products with our good friends at 5&A Dime, who are 4 or 5 blocks away from Petco Park- A limited edition brown and orange Westside Love fitted hat, and a brown and orange 5&A Dime t-shirt. We already had a website with the petition, but we also had clipboards where people could sign and leave a comment. We had music, drinks, and a full crowd of fans all in brown. We’d then all head to the stadium to watch some Padres baseball as a section of 50+ people. We were hard to miss, especially when we started bringing posters to games.
For the first season we threw an event almost once a month, usually at a different venue and with a different partner until interest in Padres baseball died-off with playoff hopes. But in that first season, we managed to get local news coverage the first couple events, managed to get a couple ads on TV saying “Bring Back The Brown” during games, and managed to meet a lot of wonderful people not just in person but through Twitter.
It wasn’t conflict free though. The brown was ridiculed everywhere we went — until it wasn’t. You wouldn’t imagine how many fully grown adults have a fixation for automatically associating brown with “shit” and “poop”. It’s laughable and in many cases a cause for concern, but that’s another story.
For the next eight years we’d throw a maximum of 2 events a year, and went several years with no events. No events were fine by that point, as the roots of Bring Back The Brown were now sown into San Diego. It was far beyond just two dudes in a garage preaching the BBTB gospel, we had helped cultivate a fun, resilient, and vibrant community of likeminded people and it was a beautiful thing.
In 2010/2011 we hosted 'Crowd In Brown' events, where we would walk to the park together, and maintain a 'brown presence' inside Petco Park during games
Bring Back the Brown was being mentioned by sportswriters outside of San Diego. NESN, Yahoo Sports, CBS Sports, etc, we kind of lost track. Then in 2014 we were interviewed for an article in Sports Illustrated. BOOM.
In 2011 and again in early 2013, one of our friends and partners from the jump, Knockaround Sunglasses, had collaborated with us on two sets of Bring Back The Brown sunglasses limited to 400 and 450 pairs respectively. In 2013 brown got a massive boost when Knockaround had become official sponsors of the Padres and were requesting ‘retro nights’ so they could do brown giveaway glasses once a year. First year it was 18,000 brown pairs, then up to 25,000 pairs every year after that. Word of the campaign and the affinity for the Padres in brown was now growing like a rolling snowball.
Knockaround & Product Etc Collaborative BBTB Glasses - 2013
Together with our partners we were demonstrating how brown could look modern and fashionable, and the idea of Bring Back The Brown was catching steam just through word of mouth and Twitter. We were getting into far less Twitter arguments with fans of the blue, and suddenly Bring Back the Brown was being mentioned by sportswriters outside of San Diego. NESN, Yahoo Sports, CBS Sports, etc, we kind of lost track. Then in 2014 we were interviewed for an article in Sports Illustrated. BOOM — The campaign had gone national, and was getting the nod from sportswriters, baseball fans, and uniform critics across the land.
Sports Illustrated interview and Bring Back The Brown feature - July 21, 2014 Issue
Bring Back the Brown interview and feature in San Diego Union Tribune - April 8, 2017
The community and fans were voraciously shelling out cash for these gloriously unique and fun San Diego uniforms, and they didn’t care who thought it was weird or ugly.
Year by year, more fans were buying brown, more fans were going to brown giveaway days, and more fans were sharing more and more mock-ups of what a modern Padres uniform could look like. The Padres were seeing the demand, and in 2015 they finally announced a modern brown jersey only to be worn on Friday home games. It wasn’t enough, and fans urged us not to be complacent with the gesture.
Padres first stab at a contemporary brown uniform, worn on Friday home games from 2016-19
By this point the Padres front office had acknowledge the growing calls to Bring Back the Brown, mostly from what they flippantly dubbed the “vocal minority.” They claimed to have data to support this nickname, and their determination to stick to blue and white, but would refuse to release the metrics or research.
In 2016 the money spoke up loud and clear. The MLB passed orders to the Padres that the 2016 All-Star game Home Run Derby uniforms would be a riff on the Padres 1984 designs. The uniforms and hats would be brown, gold, and white with orange accents. Those jerseys and hats would go on to break MLB All-Star merchandise sales records.
Jerseys and hats were not only selling out, they ran out of letters to customize the back of your Home Run Derby jersey! It was the perfect proving point and pivot in the whole BBTB conversation. The community and fans were voraciously shelling out cash for these gloriously unique and fun San Diego uniforms, and they didn’t care who thought it was weird or ugly. It was their version of San Diego, and it was their version of the Padres.
Man — it was like winning a World Series or Championship when news that the Padres were bringing back the brown came through.
Due credit to the Padres front-office. They were cautious and skeptical, but they also needed to be until they could see it was a prudent business decision to go through the major investment of changing the team colors.
We knew that, which is why we figured it wouldn’t be sooner than 10 years before it happened. To the fans and their credit, it took about 9 years! By 2018/19, the Padres announced they had gone through extensive focus groups tests, found the fans were far more enthusiastic about a return to brown, and had decided they were bringing back the brown full-time in 2020!
Man — it was like winning a World Series or championship when that news came through. That might sound like hyperbole, but visual identity holds a lot of weight. If you’re not a sports fan, imagine the colors of the US flag changing. Imagine the colors or logos of your favorite brands or institutions slowly becoming unrecognizable. What would that shift symbolize for you?
It’s very hard to articulate what the Pads back in brown means even now to be honest. It still has yet to fully sink in. It probably won’t until we get to watch games on TV, until we drive through downtown San Diego and see brown and gold banners lining the streets, until we walk through the stadium with family and friends on any given game day, until we watch a normal game on a Monday or Tuesday night and see them wearing brown and gold while playing the Dodgers at Chavez Ravine. I’ve forgotten what all that felt and looked like as a diehard 8-year old Bip Roberts fan.
San Diego brought back the brown and is hopefully better because of it.
As of July 9th, 2020, Opening Day has yet to grace baseball fans because of COVID-19 and yet all the authentic 2020 Padres home, away, and alternate brown jerseys are completely sold out online. They’ve actually been sold out for months! San Diego’s Padres are back, love is in the air, and it feels soooo right. Through mostly the power of commitment, patience, good intentions bigger than individuals, having some fun, and cultivating a stronger community, San Diego brought back the brown and is hopefully better because of it.
Let's go, Padres! GET DIRTY!!! 🤜🏿🤛
Left to Right: Eric Hosmer, Jordan Stark, Tori Stark, Manny Machado, Tony Martinez
We joined our friends at The Longhairs to chat Bring Back The Brown and the power of community in a live video podcast! CHECK THE FULL EPISODE HERE!