Eagles. Titans. Steelers. Patriots. Broncos. These are just a few names that we associate with brands of professional football teams in the NFL. Branding, not only in the NFL but in all of sports, has become incredibly important. Some franchises have built their brand so well that when the average American citizen hears the term “America’s Team” they automatically associate it with the Star of the Dallas Cowboys. Not every franchise is so lucky and many are forced into re-thinking their current brand, or whether they would be better off rebranding all together. So why does a rebrand happen in sports, what does rebranding in sports mean and why does a successful rebrand require time?
“Strong brands command customer loyalty and premium prices, constituting valuable assets that drive company revenue and growth.” – World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)
Why does a rebrand happen in sports?
The world of professional sports may not always seem like it, but more than anything it is a business.
Every part of a rebrand comes down to the fan. Sports are businesses that need to drive revenue. Occasionally a franchise can become so isolated from their target fan base that the connection is nearly non-existent, prompting ownership to look for a way to revitalize the brand. In July of 2013 the Charlotte Bobcats franchise announced that they would be changing their name back to the Charlotte Hornets, the name the franchise originally went by from 1988 until 2002. Almost immediately after the announcement was made season tickets sales went up 59% from the previous year. The Purple and Teal colors the team used before seemed to certainly connect with fans, as the release of the new apparel line helped propel the team arena store to a 25% sales gain in 2013! One way or another, fans have a direct approach on the way teams market themselves, and if a rebrand is handled correctly, it can strike a deeper chord with not only sales but the community as well.
What does rebranding in sports mean?
While talking about re-branding in sports there are two ways this can take place: a brand update or a full re-brand. A brand update is pretty common in sports as most organizations find ways to refresh their logo and alter their colors without doing a complete overhaul. Take the Miami Dolphins football team for example. Since 1966 they have updated their logo 4 different times! In doing so they managed to maintain several key elements, such as the Aqua colored dolphin with the orange Sun in the background. The biggest change came in 2013 when they changed the actual look of the Dolphin – CREATE GRAPHIC FROM LINK. These changes help the organization feel more in-touch with the times, without radically changing things and losing touch with the community.
While a brand update is great and allows a franchise to build off of its history, occasionally a franchise will choose to go with a full re-brand. Later we will cover reasons why some choose to go with a full rebrand, but for now let’s explore what exactly this will mean. Sports franchises are often a very visible and active part of a local community. This means that everything from the court/field design to the stickers that are placed in local restaurants and businesses are affected when undergoing a rebrand. When a full re-brand is taking place more often than not the name of the organization will be changing as well.
Columbus Crew SC is the MLS franchise based out of Columbus, Ohio. Now I am a local product of Columbus and have had season tickets to Columbus Crew SC games since their inception in 1996, so needless to say I had a great personal interest in this re-brand. For the first 19 years of the franchise’s existence they were known as The Columbus Crew, and were a founding member of Major League Soccer back in 1996. While re-branding in 2015 they chose to make the change to Columbus Crew SC (Soccer Club). They also decided that along with the new name should come a new logo.
While re-designing the logo Columbus Crew SC organization focused on the history of the team as well as the culture of the supporters groups of Crew SC.
Owner Anthony Precourt said in a club statement “Our new badge and word-mark truly reflect who we are as a club, from our origins and historical accomplishments to our connection with Columbus and our unique fan culture”. The new logo and rebrand have been received incredibly well by fans thus far, and helped Columbus Crew SC celebrate a great year as the not only made it to the MLS Cup Final, but ended up hosting the event as well. The organization certainly understood the benefits of doing a rebrand correctly, something that a lot of franchises do not fully understand.
A successful rebrand requires time.
When considering everything that goes into creating a successful brand, there is one thing that is often overlooked. Time. Like many other major projects a business undertakes, time is needed in order to successfully re-brand a franchise. As noted with the Charlotte Hornets earlier, their re-brand cost at least $3 million. Charlotte went through a thorough process and took nearly two years to fully implement their new brand, and the results show that their re-brand has been successful.
So what happens when a re-brand is not afforded the necessary time and instead is rushed? Just look at the Los Angeles Clippers, and the re-brand that they introduced earlier this year. Gillian Zucker, the current Clippers’ President of Business Operations, decided late in 2014 that she wanted a rebrand for the team. The catch here was that she wanted the rebrand done in seven to eight months in order to be introduced earlier in the summer of 2015. Upon hearing this, the Clippers internal design team informed her it simply wouldn’t be possible. Not content with that answer, Zucker reportedly decided to outsource the design of the new logo to the Miami Heat.
The re-brand has since received scathing reviews, not only for the logo, but for the new jerseys, court and mascot design as well.
The new Clippers mid court logo might singlehandedly keep them from making the Finals.
— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) October 30, 2015
I hope whoever designed the clippers logo/court did so ironically. Or at least was punished by death
— Sir Gregory (@Gregulator123) December 1, 2015
I still can't get over how ugly the clippers logo is pic.twitter.com/MhQTy53uks
— Bring Back The Buzz (@BringBackTheBuz) December 30, 2015
The #Clippers new logo looks like it took less than 5 minutes to design
— ramon (@supermonoish) December 19, 2015
Steve Ballmer can I please redesign the Clippers mascot
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) March 13, 2016
For a franchise that has to share a building with the storied and iconic Lakers Franchise, negative PR such as this truly is detrimental to the Clippers’ franchise.
Sports franchises will always depend heavily on branding. Their bottom line depends on being able to sell merchandise and putting fans in the stands. If that isn’t happening it may be time for a rebrand. My advice to any franchise who is looking to rebrand?
- Reach out to the fans who engage with the current brand and find out what they feel are the positives and negatives.
- Come up with a detailed strategy to improve on the current brand while increasing the connection to the community.
- Stick to the plan, even if it means delaying parts of the rebrand, cutting corners will only do damage in the long run (looking at you LA Clippers).
What it all comes down to is that the world of professional sports is a business and like so many other choices an organization makes, rebranding is a business decision and should be treated as such.