Sport Graphics diversifies with WFYI project: Former print shop looking to expand downtown

When WFYI-TV Channel 20 officials were looking for a company to help with their rebranding, they didn’t turn to an ad agency. Instead, they hired locally based Sport Graphics, a company known more as a print shop and sign maker with a sports focus.

These days, though, Sport Graphics is becoming better known for its creative work and relying less on putting ink on paper to bring in business.

“Printing is a commodity, and there are people-regardless of relationships-who will take their print projects elsewhere to save $8 on a $100,000 project,” said Noah Sarff, Sport Graphics’ vice president of creative services. “Creative services are much more commodity-proof and offer an opportunity to achieve much higher margins.”

Sport Graphics had $23.8 million in printing sales last year, making it the city’s fifth-largest commercial printer. Of its 140 employees, 22 work on the company’s creative team.

Soon, they’ll move, along with Sport Graphics’ sales staff, from the company’s east-side headquarters to a downtown office. The company is looking for up to 20,000 square feet of space for the office, which will raise the creative team’s profile and open space in the east-side headquarters for the company’s signage and fulfillment divisions. Sport Graphics founder Frank Hancock hopes to have the downtown office open by early next year.

While not technically spinning off the creative division, Hancock said it will get its own name and brand, later this year.

When Sarff, 34, was hired two years ago, he was one of eight on the creative team. By the end of 2009, Sarff thinks, the creative staff will hit 40. The former employee of ad agency Bradley and Montgomery said most of the hires have come from area ad agencies and graphic design firms.

“Sport Graphics started out in this sector as a pure design shop,” Sarff said. “Now, we’re more like a full-service ad agency minus the media buying.”

The reason for the growth is simple.

“The pace of business is changing, and there’s a great demand for a very nimble design agency that can run on a compressed timetable,” Sarff said. “We’re used to dealing with that in the sports sector.”

Sport Graphics, founded in 1986, made a name for itself printing sports programs, media guides and rule books for organizations ranging from the Indiana Pacers to the NCAA. The company also began developing signage for venues such as Conseco Fieldhouse and events such as the NCAA Final Four.

Clients began asking for help designing printed materials and signage and creating a thematic identification for events and organizations.

Those efforts led Sport Graphics last year to sign a deal to provide creative design services for the 2009 Super Bowl. But Sport Graphics also expanded beyond sports with clients such as the Indiana Historical Society, Angie’s List, Clarian Health and the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.

Thirty percent of Sport Graphics’ 400 clients are now non-sports-related.

For WFYI, Sport Graphics helped the public broadcaster define its rebranding objectives and develop a new logo that can be used in print, video, the Web and in signage. Sport Graphics helped redesign business cards, letterhead, WFYI’s Web page and other collateral materials.

WFYI hadn’t had a logo change in 20 years, so when Sport Graphics rolled out a look with the broadcaster’s moniker in lowercase, it was quite a shock.

“Sport Graphics showed us that lowercase represented something that is more friendly, open and approachable,” said WFYI Director of On-air Promotions and Branding Myke Perrey. “Since we are trying to reach out to a wider demographic, it worked out perfectly.”

Sport Graphics worked with WFYI for more than nine months on the campaign, and though the total price tag is not yet known, WFYI officials expect it to cost in the high five figures. The project also includes numerous interior and exterior signs at the company’s new headquarters at 1630 N. Meridian St.-even a 25-foottall sign incorporating Big Bird that is on the building’s interior but designed to be visible from the street.

“In our logo and signage, we wanted something that was instantly recognizable, like NBC’s peacock, and Sport Graphics helped us achieve that,” said Rena Barraclough, WFYI vice president of communications.

WFYI knew little about Sport Graphics until Dennis Cryder, the NCAA’s senior vice president for branding and communication, introduced the two sides.

“At the NCAA, we’ve watched Sport Graphics’ business evolve, and I thought they were a great fit for the WFYI project,” said Cryder, also a WFYI board member.

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