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Top the League by Avoiding an Identity Crisis



What matters?

A football rebrand is a hot topic.  There’s no doubt that a club’s identity is an important part of modern-day football.  Football fans in the UK feel a strong sense of pride and ownership with the badges or strips of their clubs and a club’s values and traditions are at the forefront of most supporter’s minds. However, the last two decades have seen high profile examples of fan backlashes to a football rebrand at their clubs.

In 2014, an English Championship football club announced they were rebranding to become more internationally marketable, including a significant change to the way the club was referred to and the reflection of this via a new crest.

We looked back to what fans were saying to help understand where and why it went wrong.

This chart summarises the split in sentiment from fans during this time.  Despite the largest emotion being that of Joy, 69% of the comments were of a negative nature.

Pie chart showing football fans emotions

Chart Source: Brandwatch

The new design didn’t go down well. Fans felt the changes were too significant a move away from the traditional badge – and they were not for letting it go.

Positive sentiment pie chart

Football fans are nothing if not passionate about their club. In this case, the relentless pressure on the club led to the management team eventually making a U-turn on their decision.

As we can see from this chart, after listening to fans and taking action, supporters happiness (and pride and ownership) was restored.

Listen Up

Decisions of this magnitude are required to live up to the expectations of club sponsors, partners, media and supporters, and because of this they cannot be rushed. In the past, some Chief Executives have disregarded the sentiment of supporters and haven’t fully understood fans’ allegiances to traditional symbolism. Club history can be lost in the design process if too much focus is placed on the ‘new’ of a ‘new image’.

Conversely, supporters don’t always see the link between international marketability and their team gaining promotion or winning a league.  They don’t want to believe that success has anything to do with a new crest design.

As such, crest rebranding projects require clubs to strike a very fine balance between their marketability and their fan’s profound attachment.

Get Your Tactics Right

Not all clubs can win leagues and cups – but the fans still want to see progress.  A status quo can lead to a disconnect with fans. New or refreshed branding can breathe new life into a club and a reconnection with its fan base. And, in turn, perhaps even increase merchandise and ticket sales.

Here’s our advice if you’re thinking of refreshing your club’s brand.

  1. Be Clear About Why – Are you trying to improve marketability of the club, reconnect with disconnected fans? Refreshing your brand can be powerful, but tread carefully.
  2. Listen – Do the fans want it? Have you consulted fan groups? Have you truly listened to their opinions?
  3. Take Your Time – Fans need to be consulted and all avenues considered before any decisions are made.  Don’t rush, and pick the right time.

Sometimes a rebrand isn’t about the crest. Wolverhampton Wanderers is a great example of this. The football rebrand was modern, iconic and flexible. It covered all collateral associated with the club with a design which adapted seamlessly across all digital platforms. That should be the goal for all.

Rebranding for Success

At Material, we have tackled football rebrands and refreshed brands for some of the biggest clubs and associations in Scottish football including the Scottish FA, Scotland National Team and SPFL to name but a few. We have also created brands for Scotland Women’s team and produced Celtic’s recent ‘Treble Treble’.

Each of these were extremely successful because the clubs were clear about their objectives, because we listened to the fans, and the process was not rushed.

SFA badge and logo

Insights can be an important first step to a brand refresh or a rebrand. We know how to listen to fans, and we know the importance of being sensitive to history and tradition.

Our award-winning design team works collaboratively with our in-house insight team. Together we have almost 20 years experience of working with football clubs.

To take the next step to revitalising your club contact for more details.


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