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 FC unveiled 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.
Louisville City is also launching a sister team in the National Women’s Soccer League in 2021.
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.