What Columbus branding experts think of the Crew’s name change, new logo

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Photo by Doug Buchanan: Back in 2018, Crew supporter John Lavelle leads the Nordecke fan section in songs and cheers during the team’s home finale at the former Mapfre Stadium.

COLUMBUS, Ohio (COLUMBUS BUSINESS FIRST)–When Kyle Kastranec watched Columbus Crew SC renamed itself the Columbus Soccer Club and unveil a new logo this week, he was not just disappointed as a longtime fan of the 2020 MLS Cup winners.

Kastranec, executive creative director at Columbus branding firm Ologie, was professionally bewildered by the team’s choice to change the name it has carried since 1996, as well as the circular logo it adopted in 2014.

“I was confused, from a professional standpoint,” he said. “Who asked for this? (That’s) the general sentiment I keep going back to.”

Kastranec said there has been some “head-scratching” in the company Slack thread this week about the Crew’s specific design choices, including the triangle placed in the corner of the new logo. (By the way, that triangle has its own Twitter account.)

But he said his main concern is more about how the new identity is making longtime fans feel about the brand.

Kastranec said there will always be some negative sentiment associated with any rebranding effort. But this specific name change has the effect of making existing supporters feel alienated without a clear benefit.

“The name Crew isn’t offensive in any way,” Kastranec said. “I don’t see any circumstance in which people would be turned off or averse to the Crew name. If anything, it’s done a good job of speaking to the work ethic and determination and mindset of Ohioans that helped it in building a strong fanbase.”

Kastranec said while the MLS is growing in popularity, it’s nowhere near as popular in the United States as other professional sports. That means there is little room to risk offending its existing fanbase. (Team officials have said they are keeping The Crew as a nickname.)

“You’re never going to have 100% buy-in, no matter what you do,” Kastranec said. “We try to make sure (we know) who is the most important community and how we can get the most of those people on board.”

Christopher Jones, chief strategy officer at Columbus agency Warhol & Wall St., said rebranding efforts can fall short if they don’t focus on the people who interact with the product or company.

“Don’t create with your end-user in mind – create with your end-user,” Jones said. “You can say, ‘We’re rebranding and want you to tell us what the Crew means to you.’ Then when you launch it, it’s not just you launching it, it’s everybody launching it because they feel like they’re a part of it.”

Jones said an organization’s name and identity ultimately speaks to its organization’s culture, “and how you include people or exclude people.”

“The anchor and emotion and the thing that really drives the people is the Crew,” he said. “Of course it’s soccer, it’s MLS – it’s all of these things, but it’s the Crew to those people who go to every game. Removing that in any way, it’s like … ‘You took the Crew out. So did you take us out?’ “

Both Kastranec and Jones said these changes could impact the Crew’s business going forward.

“They become these chinks in the armor,” Jones said. “Now you’re raising ticket prices. Now you’re changing the logos. You have to include (fans) on any changes to that, especially if they’re invested with their money, time, and interest.”

In the end, Kastranec said fans will continue to support the team and players because they want to see the city do well and the team win soccer games.

But, he said, “I think there is a very real potential for things like merchandise sales or season-ticket sales to start to fall off,” he said.

Nordecke, the main supporter group, has called for a boycott on fans buying new Crew merchandise that features the new brand.

Team owners – Dee and Jimmy Haslam, Whitney and JW Johnson, and Dr. Pete Edwards – wrote a statement on Wednesday that they will create “substantive and meaningful dialogue” with the Nordecke moving forward.

“We value their passion and loyalty to the Crew, and clearly, this process was not aligned with how we intend to operate,” the owners wrote.

Kastranec said that’s a good start.

“Without getting them on board,” he said, “I don’t know how this moves forward.”

For more business headlines, go to ColumbusBusinessFirst.com.

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