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A full rebrand by Crew ownership was one risk too many

The Black & Gold’s risk-taking approach worked... until it didn’t

Courtesy of Columbus Crew

From the time ownership and the front office of the Columbus Crew officially changed hands to Dee and Jimmy Haslam and Dr. Pete Edwards and Tim Bezbatchenko, among others, was brought to the club as president and general manager, the club stated that it is not scared to take risks. Those risks worked well over the first two years with an MLS Cup championship in 2020 and a new downtown stadium set to open this July.

Things were going well for the Black & Gold and fans and ownership, for the most part, were in lockstep and excited about the future. But then the Crew took big of a risk, one that, in the first few days since it became known, has backfired due to its unnecessary nature.

The rebrand, which has been whispered about for weeks and really began to leak out over the weekend, was officially announced on Monday. The Columbus Crew, as you know them, will now officially be dubbed “Columbus SC” and the Crew will be a nickname that will still be a part of the team’s branding. The club also has a new logo, which replaces the clear soccer crest that debuted in 2014’s rebrand with a banner.

The new logo is supposed to represent the city’s flag, and a Block C, which puts the team in line with multiple other Ohio sports franchises. It also took “The Crew” off the logo, where it had been in both previous iterations dating back to the team’s inception.

Where new ownership and the front office took its first risk was not including the team’s most passionate supporters, the ones who fought to Save The Crew, in discussions of this drastic change. As the club has said when Edwards made public appearances over the last couple of days, around 3,000 supporters were asked for thoughts on various aspects of a rebrand. While some of these questions appear to come from surveys that didn’t indicate a rebrand was in the offing or in meetings where the topic was the new stadium or other aspects of the club, it seems the ownership believed keeping the colors and Columbus in focus was what the fans wanted.

Had ownership sat down with those in the Nordecke early in the process and explained that there was a rebrand coming and they would like fans’ ideas (remember, the original name and crest for the Crew came from a fan) on how they should go about it, maybe the backlash of the last few days wouldn’t have been so great. But that, of course, wouldn’t have been as big of a risk.

Another risk was deciding on a full rebrand after only seven years. There are few out there that didn’t believe that the current crest, the one designed during the previous owner’s regime, is one of, if not the, best in Major League Soccer. In 2014, it made sense to change an outdated logo of crossed-arm construction workers. Seven years later, hardly anyone wanted to see the new crest go.

Everyone except, apparently, the new ownership.

Going from what is recognizable as a soccer logo, with similarities drawn from some of the most iconic crests around the world, to another single-letter logo — one that looks like it was drawn by a graffiti tagger on an overpass — was a big risk.

Perhaps the riskiest move of all was the timing. The 2021 MLS offseason was extended due to CBA negotiations, giving the club plenty of time to announce its new rebrand before the season started with a chance to explain to fans the thinking behind it and time for supporters to digest and cool off if they didn’t agree with the decision. Instead, ownership elected to do it over a month into the season while the team is in the midst of playing six games in a 19-day stretch.

To add to the confusing timing, the Crew opens its new downtown stadium in just under two months. While stadiums across Ohio aren’t back to full capacity yet, the hope is that we are moving in that direction and the Black & Gold almost certainly want as many supporters as possible inside the new stadium on July 3.

Even if the ownership and front office felt that a rebrand was what fans wanted and this new logo was an upgrade on the current crest, sports fans have long proven to be resistant to change, especially when it comes suddenly. Angering fans, especially the most passionate, right before the club is asking them to spend increased money at the team’s new home is, in the writer’s mind, a risk not worth taking.

Instead, there has been a lot of talk about making the club more global, instead of making sure those at home were happy. And to those that aren’t diehards that ask, “What do we call the team now?” Columbus SC? The Crew? Crew SC? Columbus Soccer Club? As it turns out, any of the above will work — that’s not confusing — as made clear by the various logos and names on the team website and social media channels.

When the club preached taking risks early in 2019, fans got on board. The Crew had fallen behind in MLS in a number of areas and needed a sprucing up. Until Monday, it appeared ownership and fans were on the same page with how to do that and the distrust supporters had with owners and front offices from the previous regime was slowly being repaired.

But sometimes when you’re a risk-taker, you go too far and take one risk too many. Until recently, that had not taken place but going full rebrand, unnecessarily changing a crest and altering an important part of the Crew’s identity was a step too far and an unnecessary risk by Columbus SC ownership.