Clear Defendable Territory
Too far? Or not enough?
Image for illustration purposes only. This is not a new crest for Southampton Football Club. ©The Clearing

Now we all know logos are just the tip of the brand iceberg and most of the work goes on under the waterline. But like it or not, logo changes, no matter how big or small, attract the most attention and controversy, especially for sporting organisations. Why? Because it's personal.

The big (and daunting) question marketing and brand directors often face around the logo is: should we leave well alone, evolve it or start again?

So, why even consider logo development in the first place? A few years ago this would often be driven by pragmatic considerations – our crest works great on the side of a stadium, but looks like a illegible smudge on our website or social channels. Now the reasons for change are less practical and more commercial; brands want to connect with new, younger fans and reach international markets. And if you want to attract Gen Z and Gen Alpha, both domestically and globally, how far should you go with your logo or crest?

Ultimately, a logo update is a signal of change. But true change needs to start well before that point. It must begin under the waterline. Brand positioning, identity, architecture, retail strategy, ESG, hospitality, F&B and Foundations all need to be examined in some depth before any logo evolving, refining or overhaul can even be considered.

Inevitably, though, the time will come to question whether your logo is helping or hindering the change you need to signal.

To understand where to go, we must first understand where we've come from. More often than not, sporting organisations have been around for a long time, as have their logos and crests. They carry historical, religious and sometimes controversial meaning. Take the fighting cock in Tottenham Hotspurs crest, originally created over 100 years ago. Is a symbol of undeniable animal cruelty appropriate and fit for the next generation of Spurs fans? Or the Gunners’ cannon? While the motif reflects Arsenal’s foundations, is an old weapon of war relevant today? Let's face it, a badge with a tank wouldn't go down too well. While you can't deny heritage, often these symbols lose their original intention over time and just become recognised symbols. The lesson here is to draw on heritage but don’t be a slave to its past meaning.

To appeal to younger audiences, brands generally move away from complicated heraldic crests to simpler more iconic marks which are more flexible to apply across merchandise, physical, digital and social channels.

There's no magic formula, however. There are a number of approaches a brand can take.

 

Evolve by stealth

The simplest and least controversial is to evolve by stealth. Take Liverpool, Man United or Arsenal. Their original crests still adorn their stadiums, while their simpler emblems gain a foothold without announcing any change at all. Old fans are happy, new fans are happy. Best of both worlds. Pretty smart, right.

 

 

Build new meaning in old marks

Our work with MCC and Lords had the same audience challenge, but with the additional need to strengthen the ties between both brands. With a heritage dating back to 1787 and a membership of over 18,000, any change had to be carefully managed. Our logo evolution paid respect to the Club’s rich history, strengthened the ties between the ground and Club and put the iconic ‘egg and bacon’ colour palette at the heart of the brand.

 

 

Create a solid commercial rationale

Our work for Ascot was driven by the desire to appeal to a new younger audience, as well as the commercial need to attract crowds to the 26 Ascot race days - not just the five days of Royal Ascot. After developing the positioning, architecture, identity and engagement strategy, next up was the logo. The solution was to evolve both logos to create a closer alignment, suggesting a closer experience between Royal Ascot and Ascot race days.

 

 

Tear up the rule book

For those brave marketeers willing to shake things up, there’s always the ‘revolution’ option. If you want to say ‘we’re not like the rest of those guys’ a radical departure might be the way to go. The bold Juventus logo change in 2017 and Formula 1 in the same year raised the appetite for change, triggering a number of sporting organisations to reconsider their logos. Unfortunately, the fire of ambition was swiftly put out by the Leeds crest catastrophe and recently the Aston Villa logo U-turn, seeding doubt and terror in the whole process. For those ambitious enough to put their heads above the parapet, we salute you.

 

 

We know any change is daunting and fraught with obstacles, but what's the alternative? Stand still and watch everyone else pass you by? The answer isn’t solely the logo, but get it wrong and it could be your undoing. Get it right and it can be a halo effect for all the good work you've been doing, and act as a guiding light to lead you confidently into the future.