As I’m sure you may relate, I sometimes find it hard to separate my own sports fandom from the realities and justifications of modern sports business. I’m invested personally and professionally, yet the yin and yang doesn’t manifest as neatly as I’d always like.
Sports branding is one prime example. As a fan, I’m a curmudgeon. You want to change my team’s logo? Get off my lawn you damn kids! So why is it that I, and many just like me, hold these icons so dear? It comes down to the way we align ourselves with the things we love and admire. The more hardcore our support, the stronger association we carry with these brand marks. It’s why, for example, I can pretty objectively examine the Sporting KC rebrand from 2010 but have a harder time speaking about the Premier League rebrand from 2016 without emotion. Don’t even get me started talking about Chelsea’s rebrand from 2003, I’m still coming to terms with this one. A 2011 study from Penn State University calls this “the Starbucks effect” using the coffee behemoth’s rebrand to detail a correlation between brand association and negative reaction to logo redesigns. Whether consciously or unconsciously, I can absolutely relate to these themes through a sports lens.
The way we consume brands is complex and emotional, something this Entrepreneur magazine post from 2014, and corresponding infographic, set up nicely:
An article today from The Drum titled “What Makes an Iconic Football Brand” made me stop and think about this a bit more today. Interestingly, the duality in my actions and reactions is something I’m living right now as I watch my two favorite national teams progress through their respective summer tournaments.
Firstly, the English National Team. They’ve played under the same mark since 1872 (possibly even longer). It’s the mark of Champions in 1966, of dentist chair celebrations in Euro 1996, of a Beckham red card in 1998 and Beckham redemption in 2002. Most importantly for me, it’s a mark I closely associate with my first trip to England in 1997 and the start of my love affair with soccer. The tradition, the pomp, the highs and the lows all happened while wearing those iconic Three Lions. History, or as many remind me ‘50 years of hurt‘, is a big part of what I respect about the team and why I follow them as I do. I proudly wear the current jersey and hope for the best in Euro 2016.
Next, the US Men’s National Team. We’ve played under a series of marks, each representing an era of competition and an era of evolution for the sport’s importance Stateside. There’s the crest Joe Gaetjens wore during that famed ‘Miracle on Grass’ in 1950, the crest Earnie Stewart wore when he scored in 1994, the crest Brian McBride wore when he put us on top 3-0 in 2002 and the crest Landon Donovan wore when he lifted a nation in 2010. As my fandom for US Soccer has grown, so has my appreciation for the way in which their branding has evolved. Enter the newest incarnation, a 2016 rebrand that’s recently pushed into the forefront with the Copa America Centenario. My initial reaction, if I’m honest, was a bit mixed. I totally respected the need to move forward and the opportunity at hand. I wasn’t sure the new design spoke to me as a soccer crest, but I liked the intentional nod to well revered crests of the past. Fast forward to 13 days ago as Michael Bradley led our team out against Colombia. Regardless of the result, it’s the first time I saw this new crest ‘in action’ for a meaningful match. It’s funny how quickly I’ve found myself attached to this current mark, respecting its aspiration on the field and all the ambition it represents off the field. I proudly wear the current jersey and hope for the best in tonight’s Copa America clash.
So maybe I’m less like Grampa Simpson than I thought. Maybe I’m part old school and part new school. Maybe the marketer in me takes things as simple as sports logos and turns them into complex topics for endless thought (hey, it’s an illness but I love it, so what else can I do).
Maybe, as my wife and Jay-Z constantly remind me, I shouldn’t be wearing sports jerseys as a 43-year old dude? I’ll leave that topic for another day and another blog post.