Paint by numbers? Not for Charlotte Hornets power forward Spencer Hawes. Wearing a wig spilling over with towering curls, Hawes does his best Bob Ross impression as part of a new video promoting a team T-shirt giveaway.
If you don’t recognize Ross’ name, you might remember him from his PBS show, The Joy of Painting. During the 1980s and into the early-1990s, Ross would stand before a blank canvas and start blotting colors with his brush before transforming them into artistic landscapes with a few precise adjustments and strokes.
What does all of this have to do with Hawes and the Hornets? They’re promoting a giveaway as part of Saturday night’s home game against New York. The first 10,000 fans to pass through the turnstiles at 19,000-seat Spectrum Center receive a free Hornets T-shirt that depicts each of the 15 players as cartoon avatars, thanks to an assist from graphic design firm Tykes.
In the video clip, Hawes stands before his canvas and paints blurry, purple-and-teal stick figures while dispensing Ross-style epiphanies on the soothing powers of nature and painting. Of his 7-2 teammate Roy Hibbert, Hawes, in character, keeps a fairly straight face while noting, “There’s nothing wrong with having a tree as a friend.”
Team executives hope to stir some social-media buzz with the Hawes clip, another example of how the Hornets and everyone else in sports is trying to cut through the endless entertainment clutter to win people’s attention.
Pete Guelli, Hornets chief sales and marketing officer, told me the response from fans has spurred interest, likely pushing the game toward a sellout. If that happens, it will be the first full house of the season. Charlotte sold out 13 of 41 home games last season, the most in a season here since the NBA returned in 2004.
Despite the lack of sellouts to date, home attendance is tracking 5% ahead of this time last year.
The Knicks game is one of the Hornets’ “Buzz City” theme nights. Charlotte will wear its alternate jerseys and give away the Tykes T-shirts. Future “Buzz City” games in December, January and February include bobblehead-type player replica giveaways.
As for those cheeky T-shirts? Thank Tykes, a locally based company that is rapidly becoming a rising star in sports graphics. Founder and CEO Jason Woullard first stumbled into sports as a hobby, assembling an IMDb-style database of African-American sports history. Several years ago, he hired a graphic artist to create some images — avatars — to help build interest and win attention.
One thing led to another, and athletes began embracing the online avatar icons Tykes designed for fun in tribute to various players. Woullard told me he kept waiting for teams and players to tell the company to stop making the avatars; instead, requests for more arrived. This year, Woullard and his colleagues scored a coup by convincing Under Armour to use a Tykes avatar of Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and his newborn son dabbing as the main image on Newton’s warm-up shirt, which the quarterback wore on the field before a playoff game.
“That Sunday, when Cam came out of the tunnel wearing our shirt, it was (trending) No. 1 on Twitter,” Woullard said. “I got calls from TMZ. I don’t know how they got my number.”
Since then, Tykes has done more work for Under Armour (NYSE: UA), including animated versions of Tom Brady, Newton and Stephen Curry at a recently opened Under Armour store in Boston. Other recent collaborations include work for Stance, the on-court sock company of the NBA; Red Bull; adidas and the Boston Red Sox.
Woullard promises more deals and announcements soon, but, as a North Carolina native and lifelong Hornets fan, he first wants to savor the sight of seeing his company’s design worn by 10,000 fans on Saturday night.
“To see that with my favorite team is a dream come true,” he said.
This article originally appeared in the Charlotte Business Journal here.