(*Varsity Partners is a proud partner of Front Office Sports)
Professional and college sports have been a staple of global culture for well over a century. Some of the most popular brands and teams in the world have been around for just as long. As a result, fans and other constituents grow attached to the colors, logos, and wordmarks associated with their favorite entity. So when that entity goes through a visual rebrand, it can be a tricky situation.
For designers and marketers, the first step in a visual rebrand should be to make sure they understand the cultural and brand equity of the subject. Tim Rebich and Nick Irwin of Varsity Partners describe the key aspects of this first step.
“The first step is defining where the equity lies in the brand—is it the brandmark? The jerseys? The people? The office dog? The colors? This question helps answer what is at the foundation of this brand. In sports, specifically, a lot of this could center around the fan base and how they emotionally connect to the brand.”
A prime recent example within the sports world can be seen in Major League Soccer club FC Cincinnati. When the club made the jump from the USL to MLS, they changed their crest to incorporate several elements meant to represent different parts of the city.
FC Cincinnati’s new crest for MLS vs. its USL crest. pic.twitter.com/7PUNu8pyJd
— Charlie Hatch (@charliehatch_) November 12, 2018
The attention to detail demonstrated that FC Cincinnati understood a big part of what makes the club unique is the fans and the way the city has embraced the club amidst their rapid rise.
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“We knew we wanted an evolutionary change, not a revolutionary change,” FC Cincinnati General Manager and President Jeff Berding said of the new crest. “We wanted to make the city of Cincinnati much more prominent, and we knew we wanted to keep the lion, since it pertains to the king of the jungle. But, overall, we already knew most aspects of our branding worked. It wouldn’t make sense to completely start over on our marks.”
FC Cincinnati’s new branding guide now highlights the different meanings behind the new elements as well as the reason for retaining aspects of the old crest. This pertains to the second principle of a successful visual rebrand: always having a clear and concise strategy.
“Providing rhyme, reason and relevance for all design decisions while being honest with your audience goes a long way in establishing authenticity in a rebrand,” say Rebich and Irwin. “We’re not talking about the over-explanation of logos, but the decisions that are true to the spirit of the organization. A design strategy rooted in purpose and intention will always yield a well-designed identity.”
With any identity project, all design decisions should have purpose and intention without being over-explained. In the long run, this over-explanation trend in sports branding could potentially cloud decision-making for the design team and expectations from the client.
One good example of this can be found in the design of Juventus’ new logo. A step removed from a traditional soccer crest, the new logo nevertheless incorporates classic elements of the club’s aesthetic that ardent fans will instantly recognize while delivering a modern look that helps Juventus stand out among Serie A and other European clubs. The design also does not get over-complicated or overly intricate to the point of excess.
"Every image tells its own incredible story"
— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) June 29, 2017
Another good example of this concept comes from Varsity Partners’ work with the Jay Bilas Skills Camp. Varsity Partners designed a new logo to be used for merchandise and other activations pertaining to the camp to help define an overall brand direction and construct an identity that would become the brand’s foundation.
Varsity Partners thoroughly thought out each element of the logo and why it makes sense for the organization. This goes one step further to cultivate a deeper connection between a brand and those connect to it.
Ultimately, when it comes to finalizing a visual rebrand, the identity design is only as successful as the rollout and integration into the organization. Marketers must design with the whole picture of the brand in mind.
“Simply getting to know the internal team on a human level benefits the entire rebrand and de-corporatizes the ‘buy-in’ buzzword,” Rebich and Irwin say. “Proper identity usage, standardization and management is just as important as the initial design process and has just as much impact on the continued success of the new or updated identity.”
To find an example of this, look to the rebrand of Front Office Sports in 2018, roughly three years after our launch. Rebich and Irwin explain the process of successfully building out the new visual identity.
— Front Office Sports (@frntofficesport) January 19, 2018
“Working with the leadership team at FOS, we were able to create a successful identity that aligned with the business moving forward. We all discussed and understood the current brand equity, developed a strategy based on business-success metrics and created an identity that can be extended and clearly implemented via various tactics, events and other brand touch points.”
Some visual rebrands are rather dramatic. Others are simpler. But in order for one of either scale to be successful, a high level of care and attention to detail needs to present.