The Major League Soccer brands leveraging visual identity
By Tom Connell, VI360
Recently, I wrote about soccer club rebrands for the latest Brand Finance Football 50, a report which ranks the world’s soccer brands by brand value, you can read the very interesting full report here. The point of my piece was that clubs should embrace a rebrand but be sure to reconcile commercial priorities with the needs of fans. For many clubs though, rebranding is fraught with risk of upsetting their loyal support. This leads to reluctance amongst owners and brand managers to take positive steps to update and improve their visual identity. That’s a real shame because we all know how potent an asset brand can be. VI360 was proud to sponsor the Transform Conference North America in New York in October and one of the most interesting brand transformation stories was from MLS’ David Bruce, Senior Director of Brand and Integrated Marketing on the league’s rebrand. It’s an impressive piece of work and like all good brand transformations, the old logo has already begun to fade from memory.
I don’t know if I’m completely sold on the design itself. The conspicuous absence of any footballing visual cues sets it apart from almost all other league brands for one thing. A logo is what the brand makes of it however and it is the creativity here which strikes a chord.
As seen below the design incorporates an impressive flexibility in allowing MLS clubs to use their own colours in the logo. It’s a cute touch and something which brings the league and club brands closer by giving each club a sense of ownership of the league brand. It’s an excellent example of consideration of the power of creative brand implementation. How the visual identity will be used, not just how it looks. It may be gimmicky, but that’s ok.
This flexibility of branding in the MLS is a strength, which the clubs are using to their advantage. MLS clubs, more so than is the norm in other leagues, are harnessing the power of brand and using visual identity to capture the imagination of fans, delivering success both on and off the pitch. Such as in the case of Columbus Crew, who not only changed their visual identity but also reinvented their brand of football too.
Rebranding is something that has been embraced across the board in the MLS. Although some are better than others, and there’ll always be entertaining banter between fans of rival teams, the Whitecaps design deserves a special mention for incorporating their initials into a stylised image of Vancouver.
You can of course make up your own mind. Not all of these examples can be placed in the ‘WIN’ column and don’t be surprised to see some be refreshed again soon but the point is they are trying, and that is inspiring fans.
This makes for an exciting time for MLS, particularly with the addition of new ‘expansion teams’ in LA and Miami. Los Angeles FC will presumably look to harness the marketable power of brand competition by joining LA Galaxy in Los Angeles and Miami will join, backed by the even more marketable power of the Beckham brand. Nevertheless, both new and existing MLS brands must beware not to forget the importance of organic growth in growing sports team brands. Fans will resent feeling manipulated and will not be keen to support a club which feels blatantly manufactured.
Being new comes with a certain freedom to take the brand and visual identity in new and interesting directions. Compared with other footballing brands that find themselves shackled by the weight of tradition and conservative fans who reject the idea of the club as a brand, MLS brands are displaying flexibility, inclusivity and ambition. This, backed by their considerable home market size with its enormous appetite for sporting spectacle, means the brands have undeniable potential.
The immediate challenges will be attracting and retaining fans and continuing to grow as a sport in their home market. Should growth be sustained then these brands, with a flexible and proactive approach to leveraging their innovative visual identities look to be in a good position, at least from a brand perspective, from which to break into world football’s elite.
Tom is a brand and visual identity consultant at VI360 London.