Behind the design: creating the TNT Sports Fandents.

We sat down with Design Director Tassia Swulinska to talk about the task of representing the breadth of cultures within sport, and how the team captured the spirit of fans one hectic game day at a time.

As part of the brand we created for TNT Sports, we dove deep into all the different parts that make up the vibrant tapestry of sports fan culture. The result was a set of idents that championed the spontaneity, energy and passion of the fans that make the game. Tassia, our Design Director, talks us through the process of how the team did it.

How did the strategy of ‘right by fans’ inspire the creative direction for the shoot and brand?

Our strategy for TNT Sports being ‘right by the fans’ worked in a couple of ways; firstly that we needed to stand alongside them, so much so that we had to become one. Secondly, we needed to do right by them, which meant listening to and representing who they truly are. This approach combatted the pervasive, one-dimensional portrayal of sports fans, seeking to spotlight their individuality, fervour and devotion. It was crucial to find out what drives them to travel the length and breadth of the country, to follow their tribe and dedicate their lives and time to a team.

Can you describe the process of creating the fanzine that captures the energy, voice, and spirit of the TNT Sports brand?

The zine came together in a spontaneous, instinctive way, driven by the desire to honour the subcultures in sport. I wanted to create something alive, capable of reflecting the energy of these niches. I delved into the underlying connections that bind us together—the poets who rap about their teams, the fusion of wearable tech with street style, and the diverse collections that proudly display allegiance, from tattoos to stacks of vintage football shirts. Even the choice of sneakers or the way one carries themselves can speak volumes about their loyalty. The fanzine was constructed in a kind of accordion style which meant the pages could be remixed, creating little moments of surprise and randomness.

What were some initial ideas or concepts for the idents, and how did they evolve from the fanzine creation stage to the production phase?

We uncovered a clever device within our logo that allowed us to play with language in a manner directly inspired by fans themselves. The 'N' in TNT transformed into our ampersand, serving as the link between disparate concepts. Then the team began crafting narratives that merged two words, calling it ‘This ‘N’ That’ and tapping into a vast world of fandom. For instance, the emotions of fans in packed stadiums gave birth to ‘Tears 'N' Tiers,’ while the grassroots rugby culture and the passion it embodies became ‘Clubs 'N' Hearts’. Much like our zine's approach, we embraced these juxtapositions, blending seemingly unrelated elements to create something fresh and engaging. The ‘Now ’N’ Then’ story is a portrait of how football unites generations, capturing the energy of football culture from how it started to what it is now.

How did you develop the stories for the Fandents and what role did the fanzine content play in shaping these narratives?

The Fandents, our portmanteau for ‘fan idents’ (which serve as brand moments that punctuate the live game as it transitions in and out of ad breaks), were basically a representation of the attitude and spirit bound up in the zine. It gave us a rich well to tap into, these clusters of obsession and dedication all fused together in a melting pot of moments. We sketched out stories that captured the essence of fandom for each sport that TNT covers. From UFC to Rugby, Moto GP and Football, each sport has its own set of behaviours and subcultures that are unique to them. Creating links between them using our ‘This ‘N’ That’ structure helped bring disparate things together.

Can you walk us through the process of scouting locations and filming football fans and rituals across the country? 

We set up an intense schedule of sports and locations to cover within a two-week window. Researching local training academies, dedicated coaches, clubs that run events, plus the bigger games that were unfolding around us. The TNT Sports in-house team helped get us access to some of the biggest games happening from the Champions League semifinals with Real Madrid and Man City, to the women’s premiership rugby at Twickenham Stoop.

It was important for us not just to cover headline games, but also to seek out the grassroots stories. Going to meet the Bloomsbury girls football team, who are rising stars in the women’s game and have come into the spotlight for their skills and dedication. Spending the day at the Barking Rugby Football Clubhouse was also incredibly inspiring. We saw the years of history plastered over the wood-panelled walls and got to literally touch the unique pride the team takes in its heritage. It was a feeling we wanted to harness for the brand.

We scouted the known haunts of the ultras, the stomping grounds of the regulars and gave ourselves time to join the trickle and flow of fans emerging from all corners of the UK to watch their teams. What were they wearing, eating, debating or arguing about? Who were they with, how often do they come? Of course, we had to plan the shoot days scrupulously, with style frames and shot lists to capture. But there was also an unpredictability to the characters we spotted in the crowd, the ones with the swag, the ones with their clan, the ones flexing individuality.

How did motion design and sound design enhance the storytelling in the idents? 

What we created with TNT Sports was a balance between raw fan spirit and the refined precision of sport. This fed into a motion language that captured both sides. The zine collage style of the Fandents was presented by the acute Viewfinder, which came from the two Ts of the TNT logo, creating a framework that could open up and reveal the pockets of fan culture. We played with the idea of symmetry. For example with ‘Pride ‘N’ Joy’, on one side we heroed fans who take pride in their apparel, and on the other side we balanced them with the untethered joy of fandom that brings them together.

Sound design plays a pivotal role in crafting an immersive experience. We wanted to transport the audience to specific moments, blending captured atmospheric sounds from the shoots with layered foley to enrich the narrative, all backed by a subtle background anthem that linked each Fandent together. Recognisable cues from the sports themselves, like the bell from UFC or the fervent chants of the crowd, were deftly incorporated to elevate the feeling of actually being there.

How did you collaborate with various teams, from the client to the director, during the production of the idents? 

This was definitely a huge team effort where everyone played a massive role, from Eliot in production planning our schedule, to collaborating with Johny Mourgue, a skilled director with a knack for getting the most out of the people and finding unique moments to capture. We worked with photographers Brian Walker and Tom Ringsby, who both had the style and range we wanted to achieve. Harry, our Creative Director, supplied us with his seemingly endless knowledge of the game, the nuances, details on rivalries and moments to look out for. The whole process was like a huge investigation to get deeper under the skin to find the real moments that make fandom so special.

How did feedback from the client and other stakeholders influence the direction and execution of the idents? 

We worked hard on the proof of concept and stories prior to the shoot, taking the client with us on this journey so that we had a really strong plan to base our shoots around. We absorbed the client's input to make sure the sporting nuances properly shone through. During the feedback process we evolved the styling from a very textural, almost nostalgic approach, to something that felt more vibrant and fresh. Once we had our narratives and style frames locked down we went out and shot them and then got down to creating the Fandents themselves. 

Crafting the collage style stories between motion and design was an organic process until we had a batch of idents for each story. Some felt very close to the initial style frames and others more experimental. We shared these with the client on a couple of occasions to get their essential input. In some ways it was a brutal editing process, considering the wealth of incredible shots captured during the shoot, with only a few making the final cut.

What were some of the most memorable experiences or key learnings gained during the process of creating the shoot and idents for TNT Sports? 

The shoot schedules were planned down to the minute details of weather and meal times. However, no amount of planning could prepare me for the natural pandemonium on the days of the shoots. From following the crowd through chaotic streets around the Emirates, to getting swept away in the hype as the Man City players arrived outside the Etihad, and rushing across the stadium as the police escort guided unruly chanting ultras into the stadium. Every moment was spiked with anticipation.

The sensory overload from the atmosphere was staggering; spotting a character in the crowd would trigger a flurry of actions–alerting the photographer, making sure the producer was ready with model release forms, collaborating with the director to capture the shot. It all happens in a matter of seconds; your adrenaline starts surging, your heart pounding as flares shoot up around you.

For me, my view of fandom was completely turned on its head. The genuine warmth and the keenness of fans to share their stories felt like it transcended the sport–it was a connection that lingered long after the moment. It showed me that in brand storytelling, you have to seek out where stories naturally unfold and be ready to notice the details that make each moment meaningful. 

How do you see the shoot and idents fitting into the overall TNT Sports brand experience?

The emotions from our shoots translated into the Fandents and the overall attitude of TNT Sports. Together, we developed a method to capture and amplify fan enthusiasm, which shines through in every aspect of the brand. The goal was always to make the audiences feel seen for who they are, not as generalisations of who they might be.  It truly felt like we were shaping the work through the people we met; the final brand was the culmination of all kinds of people coming together through their shared passion for the sport. This approach kept us on strategy of being ‘right by the fans’. Staying true to the essence of the original zine, we injected the brand with a rawness of spirit that connects with real fans across the nation. 

Now that the brand has had time to grow, it's awesome to see how the TNT team has embraced the zine approach across their broader identity, especially in the new promos and advertising campaigns. At DB, we're proud to witness our creation evolving while remaining true to the original concept—it’s a great feeling!