As many of us know, rebrands aren’t usually an overnight ordeal.
But for this soccer club, the brand refresh struck in the middle of the night, causing outrage and feelings of betrayal for fans. This turned into a classic PR crisis for the defending MLS Cup champions Columbus SC, formerly known as the Columbus Crew SC.
I’ll reveal my bias early here: I’m a Columbus, Ohio native and casual fan of this team. That being said, I’m also a PR nerd who loves a good rebrand and even I didn’t like this move one bit. Let’s break down why this brand update missed the mark for MLS’s first team, starting with a quick timeline.
According to The Columbus Dispatch, rumors of a potential rebrand started as early as Friday, May 7th. Things quickly started getting out of control before the team finally gave in and rolled out the official announcement on the morning of Monday, May 10th.
The main problem here is that the leak provided fans only half of the story behind the rebrand. The new logo, coinciding with the switch from “Columbus Crew SC” to “Columbus SC” moves away from the beloved term “The Crew”, something that fans are very fond of. Although the team clarified Monday that they still will be using “The Crew” as a nickname, that seemed to be too little too late, since fans were already clamoring that the club had done away with “The Crew” altogether.
There are multiple reasons this move seems out of touch. First, the rebrand happened right after winning the MLS Cup in 2020. Teams usually don’t opt for a rebrand when the current brand is tied to very recent success. The rebrand’s timing may be to coincide with the opening of the team’s brand new stadium later this year, but despite this, it’s still an odd move to say the least.
Another reason this seems out of touch is the lack of listening to the club’s core audience. The Nordecke are an unofficial fan group that has been recognized by the club on multiple occasions and even were partly responsible for the #SavetheCrew movement, a grassroots campaign to keep the team in Columbus when there were rumors of it relocating to Austin, TX in 2018.
The team presented the rebrand to this die-hard fan group the Saturday before the announcement and according to a statement released by the group, offered “no chance for input.” The Nordecke group said they “condemn [the proposed rebrand]” and urged the team to reconsider the move. The full statement can be seen below:
This PR crisis shows just how powerful brand affinity is in sports. As my sports marketing professor recited to my class this past semester multiple times “marketing sports is a lot different than marketing toothpaste,” and this example illustrates just that and then some.
Sports PR pros in particular need to be mindful of the emotional connection fans have to their team. For many, names carry a lot of weight and represent community and comradery among the fanbase. Focus groups should be used throughout the development of a rebrand, with a chance for fan input to be adopted into the rebranding process, rather than just giving fans a preview of the final product.
Hopefully for Columbus SC, the team can fan the flames and “Save The Crew” after all.
UPDATE 5/18/21: The team has officially switched its name back from “Columbus SC” to “Columbus Crew”. See more in the joint statement released by the Columbus Crew and the Nordecke here.
Zach Ferenchak, 2020-2021 vice president of brand engagement, is a graduate of Capital University, a private university in Columbus, Ohio. There he studied emerging media with an emphasis in public relations and minors in journalism and marketing. In his career, he hopes to tell authentic brand stories to aid companies in reaching their business goals. Connect with Ferenchak on LinkedIn or Twitter.