SUNRISE, Fla. – The Florida Panthers are coming off a season in which they not only captured the Atlantic Division title, but also set franchise records for both wins (47) and points (103). A new era of optimism has swept over the franchise and the winning attitude ushered in by the team’s passionate ownership group continues to inspire a burgeoning fan base.
With the unveiling of their new logo and uniforms today, the Panthers are simply taking another step forward in that evolution.
“The idea when we came into Florida and took responsibility for the stewardship of the franchise, was to start anew and create traditions that were unique to this new start,” Panthers Chairman, Owner & Governor Vincent Viola said. “I think the logo harkens to the vanguard of courage; the idea that you put a shield on the hockey uniform. It’s something to protect, but you also protect it. We wanted something that began a new tradition of winning and demonstrated courage and selfless dedication to a team pursuit of victory.”
“We wanted to really put a bold emphasis on the idea that this was a new era for the franchise,” added Viola’s son, John, who took the lead for his family in working with Reebok to bring the new uniforms to life. “It’s not necessarily a new direction, but a new evolution, a new maturity for the franchise.”
In creating this new look, ownership wanted to make sure that the new mentality and identity they were crafting for the franchise extended far beyond the cosmetic appeal of a color scheme or logo. In their collective eyes, the meaning behind these changes was equally as important. Their new crest had to be more than a shape and their new logo had to represent more than a mascot.
“What we really wanted to say to the people of South Florida was that we are here to stay,” Panthers Vice Chairman, Partner & Alternate Governor Doug Cifu said. “We wanted to bring stability to this franchise and wanted to imprint on the franchise our own ideas about what a Florida panther meant and what the Florida Panthers mean to this community. Vinnie and his son, John, and myself spent a lot of time with the designers going through every detail.”
In order to fully understand the meaning behind the core values that inspired the Panthers’ new look, you will need to go all the way back to the Battle of the Bulge, which took place from Dec. 16, 1944 until Jan. 25, 1945 in the densely forested Ardennes region of Wallonia in Belgium, France, and Luxembourg on the Western Front toward the end of World War II.
A turning point in the war, this last-ditch effort by the Germans to turn the tides of the battle was met with unrelenting courage and sacrifice from the United States, which incurred its greatest causalities of the war during that particular campaign. As a former member of the 101st Airborne Division, Vinnie Viola wanted to pay homage to the selfless actions of those soldiers, choosing a crest inspired by the division’s “Screaming Eagle” patch as the centerpiece of the Panthers’ new uniform. Although the battle has long since ended, the actions of those involved exemplified the lasting idea of what it means to truly give everything for a cause you believe in.
“The 101st Airborne Division, particularly its experience in the Ardennes Forest during the Battle of the Bulge, represents, to me, everything that is worthy of our great nation,” said Vinnie Viola, who graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1977, and later graduated from the U.S. Army Airborne, Infantry and Ranger Schools. “It’s the idea that we will not relent, we will dedicate ourselves to each other, and we will never surrender. When I was at the 101st, just shortly after the end of the Vietnam War, it was apparent to me that that spirit from World War II, from the fight for survival in around and Bastogne and before that with the airborne combat drops around the Battle of the Bulge, that spirit was still alive. It carried the unit through its combat in Vietnam and it was still alive when I got there in 1978.
“For something to be so powerful, a set of values that create a dedication from an individual around events that happened 30, 40, 50 years before. That means the impact of that patch and the sacrifice it represents, every soldier that came before you, many giving their lives, was honored to wear that screaming eagle patch. I want that same feeling on a young player or a veteran player that comes to our team.”
With the ideology behind the design in place, the next step for the Panthers was to incorporate their new ideas into the numerous longstanding traditions that had already become fixtures within the franchise. They had decided on three primary colors for their new look – Panthers Red, Panthers Blue and Panthers Flat Gold – but still needed a proper backdrop in which to paint upon.
“We really wanted to establish our own identity,” Cifu said. “We’re going to win multiple championships and this is the logo and the brand that’s going to do it.”
The process began with updating the look of the primary panther logo, which had remained fairly untouched since the team’s inaugural season in 1993. It was a logo born in an era of sharp images and bright colors, featuring a wild panther leaping off the page, its sharp teeth and eyes full of anger. In the time since that logo’s initial unveiling, however, the organization has done quite a bit of growing up, and it was decided that it was time for the team’s once feisty feline to mature.
“The big focus for us was trying to, first and foremost, tie together what does the old look say about the identity of the team and what are we trying to evolve.” John Viola said. “I think, in 1993, to be a new franchise in an era of colorful and maybe overly detailed artwork, the idea that you had this leaping cat showing its teeth made sense because you have to leap onto the scene and you are the new kid on the block and you’ve got to sort of fight on the playground to make your bones and let ever body know that you’re here and you’re ready to go.
“We’re 22 years old now. I think we see ourselves as a franchise on the rise and a franchise that is stable and moving towards a really strong future, so we wanted a logo that reflected that maturity and that gravity. I think this cat, when you look at him, he may not have his teeth showing and he may not look aggressive, but when you look at that eye and you look at that posture, you know that you don’t want to mess with this cat. That’s our franchise. We don’t have to go out and yell to make people fear us… We do that on the ice.”
With a new, stoic panther now in place, the next step was to incorporate Florida’s state flag into the uniforms as a way of representing the organization’s integral identification with the South Florida community. In the end, the decision was made to use the flag as a shoulder patch, which rests just below a sleek prowling panther.
“We’re very, very proud to play in South Florida,” Cifu said. “We’re very proud of the support of Broward County and from the other folks that have come out to see us over the years. We wanted to have an element of Florida on the jersey and something very important. When we hit on the state flag, it was like ‘Bingo! That’s the right thing to do.’”
Above this new shoulder patch, you will also find something else that is unique to the Panthers. In addition to the militaristic tabs above the prowling panther that will either read “Florida” or “Panthers” based on whether the team is home or away, a separate tab just for the team’s captains will be added on top of that.
“The Panther tabs above the flag are basically earned by the players,” Vinnie Viola said. “The idea is that they’ll come to training camp and they’ll only have the flag on their shoulder. Once they make the team, they earn that tab. And, of course, the captain’s tab sits above the panther. It speaks to the idea of earning a place. It heralds you making the team.”
In addition to these unique tabs, the Panthers also found one more way to sneak in a subtle salute to the state of Florida in their uniforms. Instead of using two crosses or simply forgoing the use of drawstrings, the Panthers jersey strings cross only once, creating somewhat of a miniature state flag below each player’s neck.
“I knew that (the designers) had it right when they pointed out that our drawstrings are the only ones in the league, I believe, that make just a cross. They did that so that the away jersey would reflect the state flag. I knew when we saw that that we were all on the same page and we were going in the right direction. Even in the subtlety was that we identify as Florida’s team.”
Although the majority of the jersey could certainly be described as both new and unique, the team also wanted to make sure that fans would feel a certain sense of history when they looked at the new uniforms before they could give their final stamp of approval. For this reason, the decision was made to utilize straightforward striping that travels horizontally across the jersey, harkening to earliest days of the NHL and its original six teams.
“We looked at some of the old jerseys of the Rangers and the Canadiens and the original six teams,” Cifu said. “We wanted to have the traditions of the original NHL blended with our new logo and patch.”
After dozens of tweaks and revisions, all of these unique ideas, values and traditions came together to form the logo and uniforms you see today. It’s a jersey that both players and fans can wear proudly at every game; It’s a logo that will inspire a sense of pride both in and beyond the South Florida community; It’s an ideology that will fuel the organization’s drive to its first Stanley Cup.
“When Vinnie shared one of the early designs with me I was really excited that we were creating a powerful statement to the league about what it now means to be a Florida Panther,” Panthers President of Hockey Operations Dale Tallon said. “The new traditions we will create under Vinnie’s leadership and the pride our guys will have in putting on the new sweater is fantastic.”
With a healthy mixture of budding superstars and future Hall of Famers, the Panthers have built a roster that is poised to succeed both in the present and the future. The foundation for success was built this past season, but there’s still plenty of work to be done in the coming weeks, months and years in order to achieve the ultimate goal.
And although they may look a little different than the team some fans grew up with, the Panthers are taking something from the team’s original uniforms with them to the promise land. The leaping panther has been given a bit of a polish and will serve as the team’s tertiary logo, primarily used as a helmet decal for both home and away contests.
“The tertiary mark holds sacred the great history that this franchise has,” John Viola said. “We really wanted to make sure that even as a tertiary logo that a new, mature version of that leaping cat was in our set and something that we could always go to as part of our identity.”
No longer the newcomer, these new-look Panthers are ready to prove that they have the talent and determination to become one of the NHL’s top franchises – and, as of today, they are now dressed properly for the occasion.
“We know there are people who don’t get who we are and haven’t had the opportunity to meet us yet,” John Viola said. “We hope when they meet us now, at least visually, they’ll understand that we see ourselves with the big boys now. We don’t see ourselves as the expansion franchise anymore that’s trying to build an identity and trying to build who they are. We are who are and we’re really proud of who we are.”