Louisville City FC, a professional soccer team in the United States’ USL Championship, reverses re-brand after launching.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (January 24, 2020) —
Last month, United Soccer League Championship club Louisville City FCunveiled a new logo (badge/crest) in advance of the 2020 season and the club’s move to its brand new soccer-specific stadium.
Four days later, the club scrapped the new logo, after intense dislike by its supporters, fans and the community. It seems supporters do matter after all, at least for some teams.
Production of merchandise with the new crest was also halted. The team will revert to its familiar purple and gold kits, complete with the old badge, for the 2020 season while it studies the options beyond this season.
The redesigned crest, which was unveiled on December 16, was timed to coincide with the team moving into its new 11,700-seat soccer stadium, Lynn Family Stadium. But the logo was met with widespread disapproval from fans.
It’s not my purpose to critique the new design, although personally I didn’t think it was bad at all. It does have a classic, football logo appeal to it, and the symbology used at least has relevance to Louisville. [The city was named in honour of King Louis XVI of France, whose soldiers were aiding the colonists in their rebellion against England.] The new logo retained the team’s signature purple, but it also incorporated “Oak Chair” Black and “Kentucky Limestone” Grey as the official colors of the club. Team president Brad Estes said the biggest challenge of using the color gold was keeping it consistent across all merchandise. The new logo’s five-sided profile was meant to reference the five bridges that cross the Ohio River, while the fleur-de-lis and white stars sitting in the middle were inspired by Louisville’s city flag. It also ditched “Louisville City FC” in favour of the team’s nickname “Lou City.”
Reaction from fans on Twitter ranged from “I don’t hate this” to “don’t mess with success” and “we hate this.” Overall, fan reaction was more negative than positive. The club listened and took decisive action.
In scrapping the poorly received rebrand, the club’s reached out to the fans and supporters. Team president Brad Estes sent out via twitter this message:
“It has been a long few days. The main thing I want to say is that we love this club and would never intentionally alienate our supporters. I think you know that now. We are, however, human and will err at times. We will get it right, whatever that takes. Today was a better day.”
On December 19, the club also issued an official statement:
Balancing Loss Against Good Will
A great deal of effort goes into changing a team’s kit or logo, and it’s certain that Louisville City spent money in advance on this now discarded re-brand. The new purple and black crest was created by Louisville marketing firm Doe-Anderson, and was reportedly the outcome of “hundreds of possible designs.” The club’s kit supplier is adidas.
This was the second time Louisville City has incurred the wrath of its fans over the design of its logo. Having only been founded in 2014, the team’s original crest was abandoned in less than a week following an outcry from supporters. A design contest was then held to select an all-new badge.
While the club is going to lose money in halting production on the new crest and going back to the design stage, in the long term Louisville City is going to recoup that loss by earning good will among its most passionate supporters. It will certainly leave the impression in their minds that their team listens. It will also result in continued sales rather than a possible large-scale boycotting of the team’s apparel. On balance, it’s a smart business decision, even if it’s a suprising admission by a professional team that its re-brand was a colosal failure.
Responsibility To Fans
I will say it is a refreshing change. Let’s not kid ourselves, professional teams, no matter the sport are businesses, and unless you’re a noprofit corporation, turning a profit is every businesses’ goal.
However, too many pro sports teams in this country are dismissive of their fans when it comes to team branding and identity. A text book example is the Chicago Fire, though they are not by any means the only team. Too many pro sports teams are dismissive of their fans, period, taking them for granted and expecting them to spend money no matter the product or image they put out.
It is worth noting that not every rebrand is poorly conceived or received. Some are very well-thought out and inclusive. While a team has every right to re-brand or change its crest as it sees fit, if it wants its supporters to buy in, it needs to make them feel like a part of the process. Examples might include surveying the supporters groups, season-ticket holders or fans in general; real focus groups that are large enough to actually gauge peoples’ reactions, not just act as a rubberstamp for what an owner wants; test-marketing colours; showing design ideas; voting on logos, etc. While there’s always likely to be some resistance to change, involving those who care most about the team should be considered a ‘best practice’ approach in any organisation. Otherwise, a team runs the risk of alienating its most loyal fans and changing their history. Ask any fan of the Fire, or Leeds United for that matter, and most will agree.
Louisville City’s re-branding attempt notwithstanding, the Derby City club is one of the most successful clubs in the country, They finished runners-up in the USL Championship in 2019, having won the title the two preceeding years, becoming the first club in the USL Championship to win consecutive championships. The club was founded in 2014 after Orlando City’s USL team franchise rights were relocated to Louisville, and played their first USL season in 2015. The team adopted the colours of Orlando City, the latter holding a minority ownership stake in Louisville City FC during their inaugural MLS campaign in 2015, a relationship that ended in 2016. During that time Louisville City featured as the Lion’s USL affiliate team.
This season, Louisville City is moving to a brand new stadium in the Butchertown section of the city. It will host its inaugural match at Lynn Family Stadium on April 11, 2020, in a nationally-televised match against Birmingham Legion. I attended a match when the club played at a Slugger Field and it was an exciting atmosphere. Moving to a stadium designed for soccer will be an even bigger improvement.
The example set by Louisville City should be a lesson to be learned. Involving fans in matters such as branding is a best-practice approach that can have a positive impact and create lasting good will over the long term.
“It’s a 106 miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes; it’s dark and we’re wearing sunglasses. Hit it!” The Blues Brothers
MIAMI, Fla. (December 1, 2019) —
The franchise is named after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and was founded as the Chicago Fire Soccer Club on October 8, 1997, the event’s 126th anniversary. The team began play in 1998 as one of Major League Soccer’s first expansion teams.
Now, they have just undergone a rebrand, one which has drawn the anger of many of their most loyal fans. Just how bad is the new look? It’s bad, and not in the sense of it’s cool, or good, or “that’s sooo bad, take my money now.” No, it’s just plain bad.
Driving in the dark with sunglasses while smoking something may be a good metaphor for this rebrand.
If you’re considering a brand redesign, don’t stray too far from what made your brand successful and distinct in the first place. You want your current audience to recognise you post-redesign. Big, abrupt changes can alienate even loyal fans of your brand.
The Chicago Fire have been in existence over twenty years, long enough to build up a strong and dedicated fan base that takes pride in the team’s image, both on and off the pitch. Their fans have cultivated traditions just like fans of so many other clubs have done. The Chicago Fire are also largely under publicised in their market, the third largest metropolitan area in the U.S. They are a club that could use more attention and more fans, and this was the motivating factor behind why they negotiated their way out of their lease in suburban Bridgeview for a return to the downtown lakefront.
With the Fire moving back to Soldier Field for the 2020 season, there had been rumours that a rebrand was forthcoming. Again, something that could be considered very reasonable given the club’s objectives. An update to their look. What actually happened though, looks more like a complete makeover, one that has been sharply criticised by professionals and fans alike.
Making their new look official, the Fire unveiled a new logo along with the rest of their visual identity, complete with videos and stories created to support the change.
In the Fire’s press release, the team explained “The change from ‘soccer’ to ‘football’ reflects a long-term vision for the club as Chicago’s global ambassador to the world’s game.”
Call me a sceptic, but I find it unlikely that anyone in Tokyo, Krakow or Belo Horizonte will suddenly become a fan of the Fire just because Chicago is now a “football club,” rather than a soccer club. It makes no sense to change it after over 20 years of existence and it makes no difference in terms of fan support or identity. People will still just call the team the Chicago Fire.
There were also arguments that people confuse the badge for the actual Fire department. Again, this misses the mark. The use of a Florian cross, which is a symbol of firefighters the world over, was exactly the point of the Chicago Fire logo, to honour the Fire department, and it gave the Fire a thoroughly distinctive look. A much bigger problem from a branding perspective might be the name Chicago Fire itself. The popular NBC television show “Chicago Fire” appears on Google searches before the soccer team.
Discussing the elements of the logo, the team press release played up the fact that the oval-shaped logo is “first of its kind” in league history. I don’t find an oval logo particularly groundbreaking. It’s commonplace in Italian soccer, for example. It’s also very hard to use an oval logo well. I’ve tried. The most interesting part of the logo is the crown/flame element that is front and centre. The press release states that it’s supposed to represent “flames inverted to become a crown.” The team included a .gif in its official “Stand for Chicago” unveiling package on their website.
This reaction to the above tweet pretty much sums up what most people think about the new look and logo:
The choice of colours is also quite odd. It’s true that MLS has far too many teams with red and/or blue. But the Fire already have two decades in the books and people expect to see them dressed in red. The new colours also already exist in MLS: they look to be identical to those of Real Salt Lake. And with a new team coming to Saint Louis, preliminary images the investment/ownership group released give a strong indication that the team may well adapt the colours of that city’s flag: blue, red and yellow.
Going back the the so-called “fire crown” element, it looks more like mountains than a flame. Not to mention that flames are never geometrically perfect or form triangular shapes. Like the colours, this shape already exists in MLS in the logo of the Vancouver Whitecaps. All of this has led to more than one comment that the mirrored triple peak combined with those colours “makes it look like a bastard child of the Whitecaps and Real Salt Lake.”
If that wasn’t enough, then there is the not so little issue surrounding the crown itself. First of all, Chicago’s image is that of a hard-working city, not a place of royalty in any sense of the word. Second, there is a serious connotation that the crown symbol is connected to in Chicago. It has been a symbol of one of America’s most notorious gangs, The Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation, a/k/a the Latin Kings, the oldest and largest Latino street gang worldwide. The Latin Kings were, you guessed it, founded in Chicago. The press release announcing the new identity says this:
The branding exercise included consultation, focus groups and surveys with fans, partners, staff and MLS conducted over a period of more than 18 months. The process reviewed every aspect of the Club’s existing brand identity. The survey considered the original context of the Club’s name, crest and colors and the needs of a team building for future decades in a rapidly expanding league. Upon completion of the research, the badge, secondary marks and a new typeface were designed by creative agency Doubleday & Cartwright.
How does an 18-month-long “branding exercise” that included “consultation, focus groups and surveys with fans, partners, staff and MLS” not turn up this problematic information, anyway? Assuming this information did become known, wouldn’t it have been a better course of action to avoid using such symbols, in order to steer clear of the negative connotations?
The reaction on social media has been nothing short of disastrous. It seems as if the supporters are standing for Chicago alright, but in a different way than what the team would have hoped for. All you have to do is take a glance at the replies to the Fire’s tweets concerning the new logo and it’s quite clear that this new look has resulted in an overwhelmingly negative response from their fan base.
Despite the new logo being a daring attempt at trying something new, it nevertheless falls far, far short of the standard that you would expect from a rebrand at this point in MLS’s history. Gone are silly names like Clash, Burn and Wiz. Instead of being on a level similar to that of LAFC or Inter Miami, the Fire have fallen back into the MLS logo abyss, where they will keep company with the New England Revolution.
The logo reminds me of one of those generic video game soccer logos seen in the PES video game series for teams that the developers could not obtain licenses for. Think Manchester Red, Manchester Blue, West Midlands Village, North London, London FC, etc.
This is simply a poor look for the Fire. It defies credibility that this could be the end result of eighteen months of work. Supporters are right to reject the logo since it’s a sizeable downgrade from what they already had since their inaugural 1998 season.
I reached out to the Chicago Fire executive vice-president of communications and media to see if the team had any official position with regard to the overwhelmingly negative fan reaction. As of this writing I have not received a response.
Obvious Symbolism In Chicago
It wouldn’t have taken much to update the existing look without, excuse the pun, “burning it to the ground.” For starters, any designer who took time to really study Chicago, spend some time there on the ground, would have noted just how popular the city’s flag is. With its distinct light blue and white stripes and red six-point stars, the flag is commonly found throughout the city, and for good reason. The City of Chicago flag was rated the 2nd best in all of North America by the North American Vexillological Society. These people know their flags. In 2017, the flag celebrated its 100th anniversary of its adoption as the official city flag.
Symbols are important to Chicagoans, and the city’s municipal flag is no exception. The city also has its own municipal device, a Y-shaped symbol that is often found on older buildings.
A Study In Contrasts
Earlier this year, the Chicago Red Stars, the oldest professional women’s soccer club in the United States and a founding member of the NWSL in 2012 (after previously playing in several other leagues), unveiled a new home kit. Referred to as the “Elevated kit,” it is a raging success, both in terms of fan reactions and merchandise sales. Almost half the stock had sold on that first night of the release alone.
The kit was also the product of months of design ideas and in-house study aimed at portraying an image that would be unique to Chicago. The result was a home kit that incorporated the elevated train lines in Chicago, including the famous inner loop, as well as streets and the shoreline of Lake Michigan. Sweeping around the back, the pattern also uses the imagery to incorporate the city skyline. The kit also takes the famous stars from the city flag. It is pure Chicago.
The Red Stars’ kit, which is sold in both women’s and men’s cuts, has become so successful that it can be considered more than just a soccer shirt: It has moved into the category of lifestyle apparel, an achievement relatively few sports teams’ brands attain. When the team reached the championship of the NWSL last month, the Chicago Transit Authority even posted the following message on its twitter account, attaching the video the club had made earlier prior to the kit’s launch.
It’s normal for a segment of the population to be critical of and resist change. It may be human nature. However, this rebrand has been so overwhelmingly poorly received that the club should give serious consideration to being responsive to fans’ reactions.
In the wake of the failed rebrand, scores of ideas have emerged. Artists, fans and amateurs alike have posted their renditions and ideas on social media. Here are two of the many ideas, both of which merit consideration by the Fire:
If you’re a fan of the Chicago Fire but not a fan of the new logo, the best advice is to not give up and do not be silent. Let your feelings be known vocally. Do not buy the new merchandise. Continue to wear the old shirt to games. There is precedent in the world of football for teams realizing that they’ve made a mistake with their logo.
In England, for example, Leeds United unveiled a new logo that depicted a supporter doing a “Leeds salute.” The fans revolted to such a degree that Leeds thought better of it and just continued using their current logo, even though it is also really terrible itself. In that case, Leeds officials claimed they had undergone a rigorous design process that lasted six months and saw over 10,000 people affiliated with the club consulted. Thousands of fans signed a petition calling for it to be scrapped.
“As we look at the feedback today I think it’s clear that the consultation process that we embarked on, that we were very confident had delivered a result, wasn’t extensive enough,” Angus Kinnear, Leeds’ managing director, told BBC Radio Leeds. “We need to reopen that consultation process very clearly.” In response to the wave of criticism, Leeds released the following statement:
“The volume and depth of opinions expressed reinforced the level of passion our fan base has for our club. While the current board of directors are custodians of Leeds United the fans will always be at the heart of everything we do, and you will be listened to. We conducted thorough research into the desire for a change to the crest to symbolise a new era for the club. However, we also appreciate the need to extend the consultation with supporters and we are committed to working with you to create an identity we can all be proud of.”
Staying in England, Everton FC only lasted one season with an updated crest before going back to the drawing board and working up a better look. Both of those situations are strong examples of clubs listening to their fans and doing better by them after revealing a disappointing look.
Mark Willis is an established artist, designer and soccer fan. He has designed what would be a far stronger crest for the Chicago Fire. See his work here: Identity Sketches For The Chicago Fire
If Fire fans continue to make their displeasure known, then this new logo may have a short shelf life. Naturally, the club itself is clearly proud of what they came up. Through silence, they have implicitly stated that they are not considering any changes at this time. The strength of the club’s position and its resolve not to listen to its supporters will be tested both by the degree and duration of the protests against the new identity. In situations where fans’ response is so overwhelmingly negative like it has been thus far, it’s worth at least revisiting the whole idea of a change, even if it’s done quietly and behind the scenes.
It’s fine to admit making a mistake and that may be what the Chicago Fire ultimately need to do in this situation.
In the meantime, Chicago Fire fans have also launched their own petition on Change.org which can be found here: Save Our Fire Identity. As of Tuesday, this petition had more than 4,500 signatures.
One other piece of advice: save this redesign for the Esports team.
Next season is still almost four months away, but we now know what next year’s official Major League Soccer game ball will look like.
Shortly after the Seattle Sounders FC lifted the MLS Cup Sunday, Major League Soccer and adidas revealed the official match ball for the league’s 25th season.
Say buenos días to the 2020 MLS NATIVO XXV.
The 2020 MLS NATIVO XXV ball celebrates the league’s 25th season. By incorporating blue and green accents, it pulls inspiration from MLS’ original logo and its first-ever match ball in 1996.
The ball, which will go on sale online and in stores on January 2, 2020, is the first of “a series of initiatives” planned to celebrate MLS’ 25th anniversary, according to the league office.
Adidas says the ball has its most sustainable design to date. It is made of 100% water-based materials and print colours.
In addition, the “Hi-White” material used is supposed to allow players to see the ball better on the pitch. The ball is constructed of the same high-performance structure and panels as recent World Cup models.
The new MLS NATIVO XXV is one of the many ways MLS’ will celebrate its milestone year. In the coming months, MLS will unveil a series of initiatives to celebrate 25 years and to kick off a new decade of soccer in North America.
It is also expected that next year’s kits for the clubs will also pay tribute the the 25th-year anniversary of the league’s founding. Now if only MLS would bring back 3rd and alternate kits . . .
The club announced its return to the iconic downtown stadium, where their home opener will be versus Atlanta United on March 21, 2020. As earlier reported on Russo Soccer, the plans have been known for months, but the Fire waited to announce the official news on the anniversary of the club’s establishment in 1997.
In an open letter to The Chicago Suntimes Fire owner Joe Mansueto wrote: “On this anniversary of both the Great Chicago Fire and the founding of our team, it is my pledge to deliver a world class club worthy of our city and one that represents all of Chicago – our neighborhoods, our people, our communities.” He added what has by now become a familiar theme about soccer uniting people, saying, “The game we love has a unique ability to unite us all – and when Chicago is united, we can accomplish anything. It is my honor to invite a new generation to stand with us, as we make our stand for you.”
The Fire previously played at Soldier Field from 1998-2001 and 2003-2005 before relocating to SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, Illinois, where they have played for the last 14 seasons.
The club did not qualify for the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs and have already seen veteran Bastian Schweinsteiger announce his retirement this offseason.
Moving back to Chicago is a logical and needed step to reconnect with the city. Bridgeview was hard to get to from the urban core of Chicago and few people made the effort.
There was some talk about rebranding the team away from the megapopular NBC TV show and away from the worst disaster in the city’s history. This author thinks that would be a good move, and the rebrand would not even have to be that dramatic to present a stronger, more positive image.
Chicago Sign Spanish Midfielder Álvaro Medran
In other Chicago Fire (the MLS club) news, in early October the Fire completed the signing of the 25-year-old Spanish midfielder. Medran had played the previous five seasons in LaLiga, making 91 appearances and scoring 11 times. He was developed in the Real Madrid youth academy and signed with Los Blancos for the 2014-15 season, making six appearances that season. He was part of the Real Madrid side that won the 2014 Club World Cup.
Medran eventually played for Getafe, Valencia, Deportivo Alavés and spent last season with Rayo Vallecano. Medran was also capped three times for Spain’s U-19 team, and once for their U-21 team.
A free agent, Medran was signed using Targeted Allocation Money (“TAM”) and his contract runs through 2021, followed by two club options. As is the case in MLS. the financial terms of his contract were not disclosed.
Club will not seek naming rights partner for the revitalization of the Bernabéu Stadium; Has “great opportunities” in business without changing the name of the stadium.
Miami, Fla. (Thursday, July 25, 2019) – Kenneth Russo
What’s in a name? In the case of a famous one, a reason not to alter it.
One of the world’s most iconic football stadiums will not be adopting a corporate name. This news came from Real Madrid Club de Fútbol’s Global Head of Partnerships, David Hopkinson.
As reported in Spanish publication ReasonWby.Es, Hopkinson had been interviewed and asked about this ahead of the World Football Summit 2019. It was believed that Real Madrid would seek a stadium naming rights partner. He commented, “Anything is possible, but to put a corporate name on the stadium probably would be incorrect. There are places around the world that are iconic and must be respected.” (“Hay lugares en todo el mundo que son icónicos y deben respetarse”) He also added that Real Madrid enjoys an extraordinary assortment of income-generating opportunities that do not involve adopting a corporate name for the home of Los Blancos.
While the stadium’s name is not changing, many aspects of the stadium will be. The club is planning a complete transformation of the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, which is expected to take until 2023 to finish.
Madrid’s ambitious plans for a “digital stadium of the future,” were made possible after securing loans totalling €575 million (£497 million/$641 million USD) in April, 2018 from two US-based financial institutions: Bank of America Merrill Lynch and JP Morgan. They will start repaying the loans in 2023 at a fixed 2.5 percent interest rate through 2049. The club will service an annual debt of €29.5 million per year on the project throughout the period.
Hopkinson, a Canadian, (and graduate of McGill University) was hired in summer of 2018, after having worked with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), where he was the Chief Commercial Officer. MLSE is the parent company of Toronto Football Club (MLS), the Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL) and Toronto Raptors (NBA). Explaining the overall business strategy of Real Madrid, Hopkinson said that Real Madrid believes the more it is able to internationalise its business, reputation, and fan base, in the process making the club a global enterprise, the more opportunities the club will have with sponsors around the world.
“Cuanto más podamos internacionalizar nuestro negocio, nuestra reputación, nuestra base de fans, para globalizar este negocio, más oportunidades tendremos con patrocinios en todo el mundo”, detalló.
The renovation will include a retractable roof, new services and experiences designed for fans, taking advantage of the latest in digital stadium technology.
While a football club can expect millions of dollars to have a corporate name on its stadium, in the case of Real Madrid CF, Hopkinson believes the benefit of not changing outweighs the increased revenue. Reaching that conclusion was probably also made easier by the fact that Real Madrid was looking for a naming rights sponsor but actually had difficulty attracting one. Potential sponsors were cautious to invest given the status of the stadium as one of the most famous in the world. It was thought, and altogether realistic to believe, that people would still refer to the stadium as the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu no matter what corporation sponsored the venue.
At the beginning of the NWSL season, a professional soccer team in Chicago unveiled a new home kit. It took less than 24 hours for the Chicago Red Stars to sell out of every single size of this 2019 home shirt, known as the “Elevated kit” It has been an instant success. The club’s video launching the jersey already has over 100,000 views on Twitter within the first two weeks.
The finished product was the result of eight months of work from the team’s designer, support from the entire front office, over 50 versions of the design, and as Chicago Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler puts it, “the internal passion to get it right.”
This article discusses the design, process, meaning and reactions to the Red Stars’ Elevated kit.
The goal was to design a kit that was visually appealing to both soccer fans and non-fans alike. The team was thinking of the design as being more of a “lifestyle brand.” They wanted someone who was not familiar with the Red Stars to see the shirt and learn more about the team.
“The battle we have as a town with eight pro sports teams is awareness and differentiation,” Whisler said. “We’re constantly looking for angles to get noticed.”
The team wanted something that would get noticed. A shirt so cool it could be sold in Michigan Avenue tourist shops and at O’Hare International Airport. Something maybe even Chance The Rapper would wear while performing.
The designer of the shirt is Anthony Guagliardo, a Chicago native. He had the good fortune of getting a job with the Red Stars about a year ago right out of college. He says he went through at least fifty different iterations and ideas over a period of several months. After narrowing it down to one or two, neither was selected by the team.
It was now October of 2018 and he was running up against a production deadline to be ready for the 2019 season. Guagliardo started again from scratch, and took inspiration from the city’s public transportation system.
“I really wanted to do something with the L,” he said, referring to Chicago’s inner-city elevated train system, also commonly called the “El” in reference to the elevated tracks on which many of the lines run. “I thought, why not go a little crazy here and do something completely new? And that’s how I landed on this Elevated design.”
His design is a maze-like design of the city of Chicago itself. The L runs through the entire pattern on the front of the shirt with the city’s Inner Loop clearly visible. Whisler compared the design to every map of Chicago he’s ever seen, with Lake Michigan clearly featured on the right.
Guagliardo ruled out a more minimalist version of the L first.
“That felt too incomplete to me,” he said. “It would look too weird, even if people would understand what it was.”
The easy way was out. The pattern was in. The inspiration came from how the streets and transportation system of Chicago interlock and interweave.. Guagliardo spent an entire week (“nine to five,” he said) building the pattern. Then he spent the next week tweaking it.
“He spent I don’t know how many days hand-connecting all those little streets,” Whisler said. “He was just dazed. He had been staring at that pattern, hand-connecting to make sure there are no weird dead ends, and his head had just been living that for days.”
With the pattern done, the distinctive stars from the flag of Chicago placed on the front of the kit, and the Nike and team logos put in their standard spots, one thing remained—the back of the jersey. Guagliardo didn’t want the back to feel like it was from a different kit.
“We thought of the phrase, ‘put the city on our back.’” He said. “That sort of hit me. We should put the skyline there.”
He had thought the skyline had been done by too many people, but the Red Stars had their own spin on it now thanks to the pattern.
“That was the differentiator,” Guagliardo said.
The production phase presented its own challenge. Nike is the kit supplier to the NWSL. Similar to what adidas does with Major League Soccer, Nike provides each NWSL team with stock kits, onto which a small level of customisation is available. In this case, the elevated kit was a lot more complex, given that it wraps around the shirt and the pattern must interlock.
By mid-November 2018, Guagliardo and the Red Stars had pushed the new design concept over to Nike for approval. The team’s director of communication and marketing, Justyne Freud, was in charge of the proofing process. It took six or seven rounds with Nike, just to make sure everything—especially the pattern—was right.
The final element was the actual launch. With the mindset being that this is far more than a women’s soccer team kit, a bigger idea was needed. The kit’s launch video adopted the bigger way of thinking. It was produced along with creative agency The Times Chicago and features defender Sarah Gorden along with defender Casey Short and midfielder Julie Ertz.
“Justyne (Freud) said that she wanted to make a statement,” Gorden said. “And that’s the kind of person and group that we are. We want to make a statement. We’re not here to be average. We want to be in your face. We want to be loud. And the video was a great representation of that.”
Chicago’s new shirt is proving that custom kits can result in significant sales numbers.
Whisler said the kit puts the Red Stars on the stage. “We’re just doing everything we can to insinuate ourselves in the heads of Chicagoans.”
The players also like the new vibe.
“To me, a lot of the equality stuff is played out,” Defender Sarah Gorden said. “It’s a business. People are saying equality because they want to make money; they don’t actually believe in it! It is that F you attitude. I’m here to play soccer, and I’m here to kick ass on the field. If you want to come and watch badass women come together, then come to it! And if you have a problem with it, then stay at home.”
Reaction to the Red Stars’ new kit has been phenomenal.
The pattern came out so well that the team has incorporated into their design elements, too. For example, it appears on the season ticket holder package sent out prior to this season, and it is used on in the team’s social graphics as well.
Whisler believes this could not have happened if the Red Stars had outsourced the design to an outside agency. “At the end of the day, you can’t outsource passion. I think what you see in this jersey, there’s a lot of love. There’s a love by people who have put an awful lot of work into this team and this brand.”
Gorden said she was “blown away” by the design. Even just imagining the finished product had her excited: “I was like, wow, these jerseys would be sick.” She also added that having the city embedded in the kit serves as a constant a reminder that “this game is bigger than just you,” she said. “You’re playing for a city, you’re representing a bigger group of people. I think it’s a great reminder of that, and it’s the culture of Chicago right on our jersey.
Will There Be An Early Termination Of The Lease at SeatGeek Stadium?
According to the sports publication The Athletic, citing multiple sources with knowledge of the negotiations, Chicago Fire and Major League Soccer are in discussions with the Village of Bridgeview to arrive at an early termination of the lease with the municipality, thus allowing the team to move out of SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, Illinois.
The discussions began last year and are ongoing, and it is unclear what the potential price of the buyout would be.
Some details of the deal first emerged on social media via the Twitter account of a Fire fan, James Vlahakis. From 2013 to 2016, he worked as outside counsel for the Fire while at the firm Hinshaw and Culbertson LLP. His Twitter activity suggests that he is a passionate fan who is sometimes critical of the team’s management.
The Fire Soccer Club are currently in the fourteenth year of a stadium lease that was signed in 2005 and runs through the end of the 2036 season. An agreement to buyout the lease would allow the Fire to relocate to Soldier Field in downtown Chicago.
The club refused to provide any details, telling The Athletic: “We don’t comment on social media speculation from individuals outside the organization.”
One source indicated that Chicago billionaire and Fire minority owner Joe Mansueto has been instrumental in these negotiations. It is always difficult to obtain any financial date from the respective clubs making up MLS, which is organized as a limited liability company. It is known however that Fire majority owner Andrew Hauptman sold a 49 percent ownership stake to Mansueto for an undisclosed amount in 2018.
Mansueto is an influential player in the Chicago commercial real estate arena, having bought the historic Wrigley Building in downtown Chicago for $255 million last year.
Further evidence of the team’s desire to leave Bridgeview comes from the fact that public records show the Fire have been active in dealings with the City of Chicago in recent months. For example, lobbyist filing data shows that, “Chicago Fire Soccer Holdings, LLC” paid three lobbyists from the firm Fletcher, O’Brien, Kasper & Nottage a total of $72,000 for activities between October 1, 2018 and December 31, 2018, seeking administrative action from the mayor’s office regarding “real estate matters.”
The Fire also declined to comment on the lobbyist activity.
For this reason, escaping from the lease at SeatGeek Stadium would be an important boost in the team’s ability to reach new fans. The Fire’s stadium in Bridgeview is also not easily accessed via public transportation — it requires a train ride to Midway Airport followed by a bus ride from the airport to the stadium, a commute that takes over an hour from the city. It is also a traffic-filled 45-minute drive from most places in the city.
MLS is a party to the stadium lease, a practice that was commonplace with third-party leases in the early days of MLS, but is no longer a regular practice. Rumours circulated that other league owners will be contributing toward the buyout of the SeatGeek Stadium lease, but league sources said there are no plans for other team owners to contribute. Three separate sources familiar with ownership discussions said no such arrangement has been presented to owners of other MLS teams, and that it would be unlikely other teams would agree to such a plan.
In an interview with Sports Illustrated last month, MLS commissioner Don Garber hinted a move back to Soldier Field could be in the works for the Fire. The team played at Soldier Field from its inaugural season in 1998 through 2002, then again from 2003-06 after a brief hiatus during the NFL stadium’s renovations. SeatGeek Stadium opened midway through the 2006 season.
“We were playing in Soldier Field and we ended up going into a stadium that is not downtown, does not have the things around it that many of our other urban parks do,” Garbersaid on the Planet Futbol podcast. “And if things could work out properly maybe we end up back at Soldier Field at some point.”
MLS Commissioner Don Garber
But while moving into the city of Chicago would certainly help access a millennial demographic that has been vital to the growth of MLS around the country, it should not be considered a cure-all for a team that has struggled mightily on the field. The Fire have finished ninth or tenth in the Eastern Conference in four of the past five years, creating a mix of frustration and apathy even within its most diehard fanbase. And while the team has spent more on its on-field product, signing players like Bastian Schweinsteiger and Nemanja Nikolic, it lacks in several areas of infrastructure and support, including training grounds and a scouting network.
The lease with the Village of Bridgeview imposes a significant restriction, one which prohibits the Fire from playing any MLS home games outside of Bridgeview, without the express permission of the Village. According to two sources, MLS commissioner Don Garber flew to the Chicago area to meet with Bridgeview mayor Steven Landek ahead of the MLS All-Star Game announcement in 2017 in hopes of securing a Chicago Fire regular season match at Soldier Field during that season. League officials held off on an announcement that the All-Star game would be held at Soldier Field in order to pair that announcement with the Fire game, and team and league officials were optimistic a deal had been struck. In the end, however, Bridgeview declined to allow the game.
Possible Rebrand Also In The Works?
“We’re still in that process, and I think refresh is the word we like.”
Nelson Rodriguez, Fire GM
Multiple sources confirmed meetings have also been held regarding a potential team rebranding, though no decision has been finalized on whether that will include a new team name. Vlahakis’ tweet indicated that the Fire would rebrand as “Chicago City Football Club” as part of the move back downtown.
Fire general manager and president Nelson Rodriguez said on the record in a roundtable discussion with reporters last summer that the team has considered a brand “refresh.”
“We’re just still in that process, and I think refresh is the word we like,” Rodriguez said. “It’s not an overhaul, it’s not a major change. It’s an iconic badge. There’s a lot of great history at the club, a lot of great work from people that came before (COO John Urban) and I arrived, which we think should be honored. We will continue to honor that, but times change, there needs to be a little bit of an evolution and I think we need to hone in on what our voice is for today, and that’s what we’re working on.”
The Fire, which won MLS Cup in its inaugural season in 1998, holds a historic place in the league’s history. Conversely, the brand has almost no resonance in the city of Chicago, where game days are mere blips on the radar of most city residents and bigger media outlets in the market do not provide regular coverage. That lack of market penetration, paired with the dreadful management of a franchise that has made the playoffs just twice in the last nine seasons, has created a massive problem for the league as a whole. MLS, which is eyeing a new media rights deal in 2021, needs to remedy its lack of interest in the third-largest media market in the country.
A Fire rebrand would follow the model set by the MLS franchise in Kansas City, which rebranded from the “Kansas City Wizards” to “Sporting Kansas City” in 2010. That rebrand, paired with a new stadium opened in the summer of 2011, has been one of the success stories in MLS. That rebrand and new stadium, however, was buoyed by the consistent success of the team and charismatic coach and Sporting Director Peter Vermes, supported by a large infrastructure investment on the part of the investors owning the team. Kansas City’s MLS franchise, which won an MLS Cup as the Wizards in 2000, stands out as one of the league’s few “original 10” teams that experience success in their home market.
Before And After: Kansas City Rebrand
Other MLS original clubs have struggled to keep pace with recent expansion teams, including two other teams that have rebranded: FC Dallas, originally the Dallas Burn, and the New York Red Bulls, originally the New York/New Jersey Metrostars. The Red Bulls, while a success on the field and with a top-class stadium, have not seen that translate in its attendance figures. Other MLS original franchises that are struggling to make a big impact within their market include the New England Revolution, Colorado Rapids and Columbus Crew. Columbus nearly relocated before being saved by new ownership, while Colorado and New England, like Chicago, have struggled in most seasons over the past decade; New England has just three playoff appearances since 2010, Colorado has four, and the Fire have just two.
Those on-field struggles have showed themselves at the gate. The Fire has an average announced attendance of 15,723 over the past nine seasons, and has averaged just 11,029 in three home games this season, the worst in MLS—just below Colorado and New England.
A chance to get back into the city could provide a jumpstart, but negotiations with Bridgeview have been tricky in the past. One source pointed to a recent example to show that no deal is done until the papers are signed.