When I first met Steve Kaplan, it was clear to me that the man had a deep passion and conviction for the WAL, the acronym for his brainchild, the World Armwrestling League. I’ve been a diehard sports fan all my life. Being a native Philadelphian, it’s difficult not to be. But, arm-wrestling? I imagined it happening in basements, garages, bars and pool halls as a way to prove your bravado or to settle a bet. The thought never crossed my mind that it could be a serious sport.
But, after talking with Steve, he made me realize that there’s an entire culture of arm-wrestlers all over the world. He said there are other professional leagues, too, but none like the WAL. And he wanted Design Force to create the visual foundation for the World Armwrestling League, from its brand identity system to its consumer product licensing program style guide.
Like I said, I’m an avid sports fan, as is everyone on our design team. At that time, we had been around for 25 years, and had numerous opportunities to work with all four professional sports leagues and their licensees. So how could I turn down the chance to shape the visual aesthetic for this new league? We couldn’t wait to sink our creative teeth into this one. We immediately learned all we could about the WAL, its elite athletes, its loyal and rapidly growing fan base, and everything that makes this arm-wrestling league unique among all others around the globe.
What makes the World Armwrestling League so unique?
It’s no accident that the WAL is the largest and fastest-growing arm-wrestling league in the world, with some of the biggest payouts in the sport. Unlike other leagues, where arm-wrestlers compete on a stage and fans sit passively in the audience, far removed from the immediate action, the World Armwrestling League’s athletes compete in The Pit – a cluster of arm-wrestling tables on the event floor, surrounded by ravenous fans. The atmosphere there is electrified. It’s the most up-close audience engagement you can experience at a professional sporting event without actually competing in it. The fans become part of the action and, as a result, part of the story of each WAL event. How can it possibly get any cooler than that?
Here’s how: Anyone can compete at a WAL event. Thats right. Anyone who wants to try their hand at arm-wrestling just needs to sign up, pay a small fee and head into The Pit to test their abilities against other pullers in their weight class. But here’s the catch: All they need to do to get the prize money (which is handed to the champion right at the table, along with a massive silver hammer trophy) is beat everyone else, one by one, including the WAL’s elite athletes. Good luck with that!
WAL matches are intense, and the athletes take on one opponent after another in grueling, day-long tournaments. The high level of energy spawned by having the fans in such close proximity to the athletes is incredible. I witnessed it first-hand when I was invited to a WAL event in Atlantic City. At first, I was riveted by the fact that I was immediately thrust into the crowd, so close to the competition. Close enough to hear the trash talk and witness the visceral reality of each match. The elation of each victory is celebrated in the most guttural and primal way imaginable. And so is the disappointment of each defeat. I studied these reactions and, as the tournament progressed, I found myself totally involved in the action like I had been a fan forever. I started to identify my favorite athletes and realized that I was cheering them on during the finals with everything I had.
The mindset of the WAL athlete
Arm-wrestling is highly competitive and requires a relentless approach to training and mastery of technique. The athletes of the WAL come from all walks of life, from Main Street to Wall Street. Whether they work in warehouses, on shrimping docks, at engineering companies or in legal firms, they all share one thing in common: an unparalleled dedication and passion for the sport. As Steve explained: ”When you enter the Pit, there’s nowhere to hide. It doesn’t matter where you come from or how much you have – it’s about one thing and one thing only: what you’re made of.”
“How tough is arm-wrestling? It’s one-on-one. You’re challenging your opponent, like a gladiator, without all the blood and guts.” That from ”Mr. Intensity,” lightweight class champion Allen Fisher. When I met him, he had been an icon of the sport for 35 years, held 26 World Championship titles, 1 International and 40 National titles. I also spoke to Travis Bagent, aka ”The Beast,” who was a 25 time National Champion and 13 time World Champion in the super heavyweight class at that time. He grew up arm-wrestling thanks to his dad, a former Marine and arm-wrestler himself. Travis, known for his swagger, has this to say: “I dont care what guys think about my attitude. It comes from confidence based on relentless training and honing technique. I invite all comers to step up to the table and well see who has what it takes.”
Canadian heavyweight, Devon Larratt, aka ”No Limits,” is very passionate about arm-wrestling. When we met, Larratt had recently held Open Weight World #1 rank and was Open Left World Champion. Doing hard work as a youth in his native Ontario, Larratt started competing early. After joining the Canadian military, he honed his skills during deployments in Afghanistan. ”Combat is fierce. Channeling that ferocity into arm-wrestling and facing down each opponent as the enemy is what I like about this sport. But at the end of a match, we can shake hands and respect every guy who competes because we know what it takes to step into that arena.” Larratt’s wife, Jody, cheers him on more loudly than anyone; it’s a feat to have one voice heard above the rabid crowd at these events! Jody loves the sport. She’s a competitor, too.
Translating the WAL into a visual language
Immersing ourselves into a brand allows us to identify the most important characteristics to translate into a unique visual language through design asset development. Creating the brand’s visual identity system and a style guide for its consumer product licensing program establishes incredible value. These assets power a unique aesthetic that gives the brand a competitive advantage, making a social and cultural impact that creates dedicated, loyal fans.
As we embarked on the development of a unique visual language for the WAL, we focused on embodying the spirit of the brand: its grittiness, intensity, passion and ”every man can participate” feel. We understood that, as a sport, physical conditioning and training are only part of the equation. Mental toughness and using psychology to intimidate one’s opponents are equally important factors.
The Brand Identity
To capture the uniqueness of the World Armwrestling League, we created a bold, custom typographic solution for the WAL acronym. The letterforms are red and held within a white shield-like framework. The shield’s two equal sides suggest the balance of battle between two arm-wrestlers. The WAL letterforms nest together perfectly and conform to the shape of the shield itself, with the letter ”A” rising above the others to emphasize the name of the sport. The words ”World Armwrestling League” appear above the shield in a bold, condensed font that aligns with the stylization of the custom WAL typography.
The Design Elements
To further convey the grittiness and attitude of the sport, and the WAL’s underground heritage, we wanted to give the consumer product licensing program’s design elements an urban appeal: a dark, spot-lit brick wall, distressed metal surfaces, a manhole cover and grimy, riveted steel plates in black and two distinctive values of grey serve as backdrops to a broad range of badge and pattern designs. Short, succinct editorial phrases, such as Victory is in Your Grasp, Armed and Dangerous and Your Fate is in Your Hands provide clever storytelling that resonate with WAL fans on an emotional level. When used in conjunction with the brand identity and the gritty, urban background textures on licensed consumer products in a variety of categories, these phrases make a definitive statement: This is the WAL!
All World Armwrestling League design elements share the same stylistic approach, color palette and fonts. This common visual language provides visual consistency that lead to immediate fan recognition at WAL events, in advertising and social media, at retail and on television.
Creating a powerful consumer product licensing program
Establishing a unique visual language and a library of design elements is important. But there’s no guarantee that licensees will successfully translate these assets to licensed consumer products in a way that properly represents the brand. To ensure that they’ll nail the visual aesthetic, we created a series of product concepts that touch on key categories such as training gear and equipment, smartphone cases and apparel for men and women. These concepts present a bold, yet sophisticated tone rather than an overly aggressive one. To convey this kind of subtlety, a little visual guidance goes a long way.
The common visual thread that defines the WAL must be consistent at every consumer touch point – including packaging. With the potential for WAL products to find their way into any conceivable consumer product category in both mass and specialty retail environments, we knew the packaging program needed to be visually powerful, yet simple and modular enough to accommodate any structural configuration. We created a lockup of the WAL shield and the World Armwrestling League typography turned vertically to serve as the primary package design architecture on a clean, black background with a subtle brick wall texture. The product name and descriptor reside in a grey band that wraps the entire package design. And the call-out burst is a dripping hit of grey spray paint. Templates were created for blister card, window box, closed box and hangtag configurations as visual guidelines for licensees to follow as they develop packaging for their WAL products.
”We’re excited about what Design Force created for the WAL! We were blown away by how well the new logo captured the essence of our league. The design is classic and bold, with just enough attitude to stand apart from every other league out there. It translates easily to 3D animation, and it fits seamlessly into social and digital media, and onto product and packaging. Their hard work gave us a solid visual base to build upon as the WAL continues to grow and dominate the sport of arm-wrestling!” ~ Steve Kaplan
We were proud and honored to have had the opportunity to bring the WAL to life for its fans through our design expertise. Expressing the energy and excitement of this growing league, its founder and its superb athletes through a strong visual foundation creates value for the WAL brand. This is the kind of challenge that we live for at Design Force.
Get a comprehensive look at the style guide work we’ve done for the World Armwrestling League, and let us know what you think!