In Soccer, Teams Change Logos at Their Peril

“I think anything which is about their club is going to get interest from the fans and be emotive,” said Richard Kenyon, whose marketing firm Kenyon Fraser worked on the second rebrand with Everton. He later became the club’s director of marketing and communications. “I think it’s very important that any process like this brings the fans along with it.”

For those recently tasked with reshaping Liverpool’s famous jersey crest and club badge, there were plenty of historic — and revered — elements to be considered: the liver bird, a mythical creature symbolic of the city; an image of twin flames, an early 1990s addition that pays tribute to the victims of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster that left 96 trampled or crushed to death at a Football Association Challenge cup game at Sheffield; and the Shankly Gates, a homage to Bill Shankly, widely considered the team’s greatest manager, on which are stamped the words to the club’s anthem, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Tampering with any of them, as at least one sponsor has done recently, can lead to a public relations disaster.

In the end, the new Liverpool design featured few changes: the team’s jerseys will continue to feature a golden liver bird with “125 Years” beneath it and the dates 1872 and 2017 on either side. The badge itself will not be altered, except to add type denoting the years and the 125th anniversary.


The progression of the Liverpool club’s insignia over the years.

Liverpool F.C.

But Latin mottos and eternal flames are only two of the often decades-old elements that designers must consider in any rebranding. Many European clubs started out as just that, and so the features that adorned their crests — coats of arms and animals, weapons and tools, local landmarks and significant dates — often had little to do with concepts like revenue generation and marketing appeal.

“It used to be that badges got tweaked over the years because, say, a new owner or someone would come in and go, ‘My view is that we stand for these things, so let’s add something else here,’ ” said Matt House, the chief executive officer for SportQuake, a British sports marketing agency. “Today, the majority of badge changes are purely commercially driven.”

Wholesale changes are rarely popular. When the Malaysian businessman Vincent Tan took over Cardiff City in 2010, he pledged to invest tens of millions of dollars if the Bluebirds switched their primary color to red, Tan’s lucky color and one that might increase business opportunities in Asia, where it has symbolic value. The alterations went ahead in 2012, only for the team to revert to blue three years later…

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