“I think anything which is about their club is going to get interest from the fans and be emotive,” said Richard Kenyon, whose marketing firm Kenyon Fraser worked on the second rebrand with Everton. He later became the club’s director of marketing and communications. “I think it’s very important that any process like this brings the fans along with it.”
For those recently tasked with reshaping Liverpool’s famous jersey crest and club badge, there were plenty of historic — and revered — elements to be considered: the liver bird, a mythical creature symbolic of the city; an image of twin flames, an early 1990s addition that pays tribute to the victims of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster that left 96 trampled or crushed to death at a Football Association Challenge cup game at Sheffield; and the Shankly Gates, a homage to Bill Shankly, widely considered the team’s greatest manager, on which are stamped the words to the club’s anthem, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Tampering with any of them, as at least one sponsor has done recently, can lead to a public relations disaster.
In the end, the new Liverpool design featured few changes: the team’s jerseys will continue to feature a golden liver bird with “125 Years” beneath it and the dates 1872 and 2017 on either side. The badge itself will not be altered, except to add type denoting the years and the 125th anniversary.
But Latin mottos and eternal flames are only two of the often decades-old elements that designers must consider in any rebranding. Many European clubs started out as just that, and so the features that adorned their crests — coats of arms and animals, weapons and tools, local landmarks and significant dates — often had little to do with concepts like revenue generation and marketing appeal.
“It used to be that badges got tweaked over the years because, say, a new owner or someone would come in and go, ‘My view is that we stand for these things, so let’s add something else here,’” said Matt House, the chief executive officer for SportQuake, a British sports marketing agency. “Today, the majority of badge changes are purely commercially driven.”
Wholesale changes are rarely popular. When the Malaysian businessman Vincent Tan took over Cardiff City in 2010, he pledged to invest tens of millions of dollars if the Bluebirds switched their primary color to red, Tan’s lucky color and one that might increase business opportunities in Asia, where it has symbolic value. The alterations went ahead in 2012, only for the team to revert to blue three years later after public protests.
In January, the Italian team Juventus raised eyebrows when it revealed a minimalist logo that the club said it hoped would extend beyond soccer and into a lifestyle brand. Design professionals loved it. Fans? Not so much.
A similar approach did not work for London’s Queen Park Rangers, whose previous owners were perceived to have fumbled a rebrand ahead of the 2008 season.
“They didn’t really understand the club and were trying to stamp their own feel on it,” said Daniel Norris, a graphic designer and Q.P.R. fan. He declared the first effort “a bit of a mess,” even to an amateur eye.
After the current chairman, Tony Fernandes, took over Q.P.R. in 2011, Norris and a fellow designer, Daniel Bowyer, used social media as a means of engaging fans to achieve the change they desired. They put out suggestions for possible new crests, worked closely with the club’s in-house designers, and pushed for a professional typographer to be hired, Norris said. A modernized version of the previous logo was released ahead of the current season.
That more transparent approach, Norris said, can lead to a positive outcome. It has allowed fans to understand Real Madrid’s decision to remove the Christian cross from its logo on clothing sold in the Middle East, and it eased the recent introduction of redrawn logos for the teams at Manchester City and West Ham.
House, the sports marketing executive, pointed to Arsenal’s rebranding in 2002 as a watershed that, despite initial questions, protected the club against counterfeit and copyright issues. Arsenal also modernized the team’s image for an age in which badges need to be clean, compact and able to work as well on huge banners as they did in tiny digital formats. So at Arsenal, out went the local Borough of Islington’s coat of arms and a highly detailed script and cannon, and in came a sleeker typeface and cannon — now facing in the other direction.
But there is no substitute for timing, either, as Aston Villa discovered last season.
Having chosen a straightforward cleanup of its logo — a move that saw the motto “Prepared” removed in order to make the main feature, a lion, more prominent — the redesign was released as Villa faced the devastating prospect of relegation from the Premier League.
Chris Wormell, a professional wood engraver who was asked to design a more fierce lion, said fans seemed to like his version. But the team’s troubles at the time and news media reports fueled fan anger at the idea the club was spending money on a rebranding as it fought for its Premier League life.
“There is always going to be a backlash,” said Paul Stafford, co-founder and chief executive officer of DesignStudio, the agency that led the Premier League’s rebranding last year. “People, they love brands. And when it comes to football, you can times that by 10.”
An earlier version of this article gave an incomplete translation of the Everton football club’s Latin motto. It is “Nothing but the best is good enough,” not “Nothing but the best.”
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