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Branding: Charlotte MLS

Considering the name, logo and colours of the newest franchise in MLS

MIAMI (29 July 2020) After the usual speculation and suggestions from fans and others, Charlotte’s MLS team has revealed its name, logo and colours. Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper will own the new Charlotte MLS team.

Although Charlotte will now join Major League Soccer a year later than originally planned, the league’s 28th club moved ahead with the unveiling of its identity last Wednesday morning. Twenty-four hours earlier, the team’s Twitter account began crossing off the possibilities: eight, seven, six, five. The five finalists were: Charlotte Town FC, Charlotte Athletic FC, Carolina Gliders FC, Charlotte Crown FC and Charlotte FC.

Reactions

If you thought you just heard a sigh, you are correct. Or maybe it was a yawn.

To be fair, there were a good number of favourable reactions on social media: people in Charlotte are familiar with the colour scheme unveiled as the team’s common ownership with the NFL’s Carolina Panthers lended itself to use of the same colours as their gridiron siblings.

While there was a degree of widespread acceptability, there was also widespread criticism and reactions that were less than positive. While Charlotte FC was trending on twitter, here are three tweets that are good examples of some of those less-than-favourable responses to the new team’s branding:

As was noted in social media, Charlotte FC’s new logo does resemble one of the unlicensed teams that come with Konami’s PES video game series. “Congrats. You look like a non licensed pes team.”

Originally tweeted by Jimmy Conley (@Jimmy_________C) on 22/07/2020.

Analysis

Naming a team is a unique opportunity, one that has the power to set the direction of the team on and off the field for generations. As we have just witnessed with the Edmonton CFL franchise and the Washington NFL franchise, a name which at the time it is given does not raise any concern can become a marketing and sponsorship nightmare with the passage of time and an awakening of moral considerations. On the other hand, names which are too trendy or tied to pop culture also do not withstand the passage of time well. An example of the latter would be the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, who sprang into existence during the time when the Jurassic Park movie was popular. Over the years, the team has had to redo its image, colours and branding in an effort to resonate with the next generation.

These are just two examples, but there are many considerations to take into account, something which people outside of the sports industry tend to miss.

Within MLS, there have been several re-brands. The Kansas City Wizards became the Wiz and eventually re-branded as Sporting Kansas City in perhaps the most successful example within the league. Others include the San Jose Clash changing to the traditional San Jose soccer team name, the Earthquakes, and the Dallas Burn changing to FC Dallas. Another re-brand which personally I am strongly opposed to is the New Jersey MLS team: The NY-NJ Metrostars became the New York Red Bulls after being bought by the corporate giant. There is no way a corporation should be allowed to have its name embedded in a team name. I also do not believe that a team playing in one state should pass itself off as a team in another state. The Red Bulls play in New Jersey and using Newark as their city name would be far more appropriate than New York. But I digress.

All of which brings us back to Charlotte MLS.

Name

On the positive side, Charlotte FC’s name is in the classic style of football nomenclature. It’s direct, simple, will withstand changes in culture and society, and will not hinder potential commercial opportunities. There are many fans of the beautiful game in this country who oppose using what is considered “European” style naming; they would rather have the team adopt conventional North American nicknames. While it’s a fair argument, they miss the beauty in not having an “official” nickname: the fans are in control of coming up with a name (or names) to unofficially call the team. In some cases, these given nicknames might even be used by the team as a marketing tool: think of the famous Premier League teams as examples.

The use of the word FC for “Football Club” has almost become ubiquitous in MLS. This presents a bit of an oxymoron, since the league is “Major League Soccer.” Many say teams in this country should always use the initials SC. Or maybe the league should be “Major League Football?” It’s a debate that never goes away and cannot really be one by either side. In fact, many fans don’t even realise that the word “soccer” is British to begin with.

Summing it up, the name Charlotte FC works. It’s not exciting, truth be told it’s pretty boring, and there were a couple of potential names that would have also worked from a classic football naming protocol, but it will suffice.

Colours

The team has chosen the same colour palette as the Carolina Panthers of the NFL. Given the common ownership of the two franchises, this cannot be viewed as a surprise. Two other MLS franchises with owners who also own NFL franchises already use the same colours: New England and Atlanta.

The Charlotte FC colours are thus:

One glaring critique of the chosen colours is the fact that they are extremely overused in MLS. Black and Blue are already the colours of both the Impact de Montréal and the San Jose Earthquakes, and the former uses all three of these colours. Moreover, Black is in the colours of ten out of the 27 existing teams, while some shade of blue is used by a whopping 17 teams. With Charlotte FC, make that 11 and 18 out of 28.

It would make sense for any new team to be mindful of what colours are already in use in order to maximize opportunities to create a uniquely identifiable colour palette. Take, for example, Orlando City and purple, and the promise of Inter Miami and pink (though thus far they have completely failed to capitalize on pink). Given the overabundance of blue paired with black and/or silver, the Charlotte brand would might have done better had it avoided these colours.

It appears that there was a contingency of supporters that were hoping for a mint green colour to be part of the team’s colours, which it is believed is due to the fact that Charlotte is one of the cities where the US Mint has money producing operations.

Some cities have sports teams that always use the same colours, and those colours begin to be identified with that city. The best example I can offer is Pittsburgh and black and gold (yellow). Every professional team in the city sports those colours. Charlotte is not, however, in this category, as the NBA Charlotte Hornets use teal and purple.

Logo

The Charlotte logo is in the form of a circle, joining other circular logos in MLS such as New York City FC, Atlanta United and the Philadelphia Union. While it’s far from being the most creative look ever released, the badge will at least be recognizable at small resolutions, which is an important consideration in the digital age. The word “minted” appears on the left side of the circle, an obvious reference to the U.S. Mint, and taking the place of the word “established” or its abbreviation “est.” However, it does not add anything to the appearance and could easily have been omitted.

The secondary logo uses the letters that form an abbreviation for Charlotte: CLT. This apparently could be the basis of a recurring chant, “CLT!, CLT!, CLT!” although some have questioned the wisdom of such a chant.

The Contenders: Names Not Chosen

The team had a number of potential names that were in the running. Followers of the team noted back in December, 2019 a number of names that had been registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) records. The filings were made by DT Soccer LLC, an affiliate of the Carolina Panthers. Steve Argeris, the Panthers’ vice president and general counsel, is listed as the contact.

Potential Charlotte MLS names per the US Patent and Trademark O (Originally tweeted by Neil Morris (@ByNeilMorris) on 11/12/2019.)

In the end, the team decided to go with the most basic of the final five brand candidates: Say hello to … Charlotte FC.

As Charlotte moves forward with this decision, it’s fair to note there were several popular ideas floating around that didn’t make the final cut. Let’s spare a moment for some of the best.

Queen City FC

It’s surprising that this name was not the one chosen. Among fans, it was the favourite. It’s also easily identifiable with Charlotte, North Carolina. Charlotte has been known as the Queen City ever since it’s founding in 1768, named in honour of Queen Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, wife of England’s King George III. It should be noted that Cincinnati has tried to use this name, but has not been successful, probably due to Charlotte. As a name for MLS’ 28th franchise, it would be unique, replacing the traditional city name with the cultural identity of a city. It would have had excellent marketing potential also.

Of course, MLS tends to be a “do not colour outside of the lines” type of league, and uniqueness is underappreciated. Every team in MLS has a single recognized literal city, state or regional jurisdiction somewhere in the full club. (Sometimes, the city name used doesn’t even correspond to the reality of where the team plays, or state for that matter – I’m looking at you “New York” Red Bulls – see above.) In the case of Real Salt Lake, an argument could be made either way as to whether the club is named after Salt Lake City or the actual Great Salt Lake.

Racing Club Carolina

As a consultant in branding, one of the steps I would employ in naming a sports team is to take a look at what a city is known for, especially in terms of competing sports. In Charlotte’s case, it is the headquarters of NASCAR, one of the most identifiable American pastimes. North Carolina has produced both the Petty and Earnhardt families. Using this name, the team would have given a nod to the city as a centre of auto racing in the United States.

Further, it would tie in to soccer culture around the world, which has a number of clubs whose names employ the world racing. Some examples include Racing Club de Avellaneda in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Racing Santander in Spain, and two French clubs, RC Lens and RC Strasbourg, all of whom were founded as football teams, not multi-sport athletic clubs. They in turn were likely named after the most famous sports club to use racing, Racing Club de France (“RCF”), a Parisian multi-sport club founded in 1882, and which today fields an amateur football team.

Royal Charlotte FC

Likely due to the city’s nickname as the Queen City, both “Monarchs” and “Crown” were both among the original eight finalists. Royal Charlotte also pays homage to the Queen City while also borrowing from Spanish fútbol culture, where certain teams were permitted to use by the crown to use the word “Real”, meaning royal, as part of their name. Think Real Betis Balompié, Real Club Deportivo Español de Barcelona, Real Sociedad, Real Zaragoza, Real Oviedo, Real Valladolid, Real Racing Club Santander, Real Club Deportivo La Coruña and others. Using the English variation of that tradition, would tie in with both the Queen City reputation and one of the great footballing nations in the world.

Charlotte Town FC

The use of Charlotte Town FC was one of the eight finalists for whom trademark registrations had been sought. The name uses the city name plus the word “Town”, and in doing so, takes inspiration from English football and is an alternative to the overused “city” in team names. It would have made a decent and unique name for Charlotte. The one potential drawback is that it might cause some confusion in that Charlottetown is a city and capital of the province of Prince Edward Island in Canada. The last thing MLS needs is to be investigated by the Mounties.

Carolina United FC

It could have been worse, especially if Charlotte used United in its name. On the positive side, it would be a fitting way to show that the team is the MLS team for the Carolinas, and underscore the city’s role as an urban meeting point of the states of North Carolina and South Carolina. However, there are already three MLS teams that use the “United” identity that comes from England. All Carolina FC was also one of the eight finalists and would be a somewhat unique way of identifying with both states.

As part of the deal to land the new MLS team, the city of Charlotte will spend $110 million in tourism tax revenues to renovate Bank of America Stadium. The soccer team’s headquarters and training facility will be at the Eastland Mall site in east Charlotte.

It is still too soon to know anything about what the kits of the new team will look like. Adidas has a league-wide contract to supply MLS teams with their kits. The company and league has been highly-criticized for a demonstrated lack of creativity in the designs. If recent trends are any indication, fans should expect monochromatic kits, with one set being white and the other black. Third kits have also been eliminated.

Cover Photo: Alternate Charlotte FC logo | Credit (MLS; Charlotte FC)

By Ken Russo

My work in the business of soccer applies skills acquired in law practice with a focus on the sport's commercial, communications and sporting components. Russo Soccer aims to inform, educate and engage in dialogue on news and relevant issues in the game.

Um advogado por formação, concentro meu trabalho nos negócios, comunicações e operações de equipes no futebol mundial. | Abogado con fundación avanzada en comunicaciones, enfocado en los negocios del fútbol y las comunicaciones. | Je suis un avocat experimenté dans les affaires de football.

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