Love it or hate it (FYI, I love it) the Premier League returns this weekend, offering sweet relief and unbridled excitement in equal measure for a nation of football fans who have been left to endure a summer to forget. With the new season comes a slew of fresh brand updates and overhauls, with England’s top division undergoing a dramatic facelift that (somewhat ironically) has raised a few eyebrows. But what does this new direction mean for one of the world’s most popular and recognisable brands?
Firstly, it’s impossible for anyone to deny that football clubs have some of the strongest, most iconic branding you’ll see anywhere in the world. The likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United and Chelsea are world-wide draws, with annual revenues between them bundling into the billions of pounds.
The same is true for the Premier League, broadcast literally across the world with major partnerships, through the league itself and its clubs, in pretty much every sector. In just over two decades, the artist formerly known as ‘The First Division’, has become a monolith of money and marketing.
Football has an issue with money, be it ridiculous sponsorship deals, players that are way too expensive, or Sepp Blatter’s…everything, money and football’s relationship has become depressingly tainted of late.
In February, 2016 the new imagery and ‘visual identity’ of the Premier League were unleashed on the world by Design Studio, who’ve also branded the likes of AirBnb and Logitech. As you might imagine, the internet went nuts. Some hated it, some didn’t mind it and others were confused, but the same could be said about anything on Twitter, so best to not get hung up on that.
For once, it might be worth commending the Premier League (no, no…bear with me for a bit) for their decision not to capitalise on their own naming rights for the first time, although this is more than made up for elsewhere through other deals.
This new direction is an attempt to move their image away from the stereotypes conjured by the words ‘Premier League football’; that of playboy millionaires in lavish cars and 50-room mansions etc. etc.
“We all have a part to play … every fan … every player … everyone,” says the accompanying video the league released alongside the logo reveal. An intentional step away from the corporate grandeur of previous seasons, they’ve turned the Caps Lock off and cranked up the neon pastels. Still present is the face of a crown-wearing lion, which has been a staple since the beginning. Some fans have complained that it’s ‘lost its grandeur’ – but perhaps that’s the point?
The Premier League’s managing director, Richard Masters, suggested it’s a push ‘to consider how we wanted to present ourselves as an organisation and competition’. Would it be too much to suggest, maybe, this time, a footballing body has made a positive decision? The new imagery has a playful feel to it, but still feels striking enough to catch the attention and football is just a game at the end of the day, it’s supposed to be fun.
Long accused of being out-of-touch with the common fan, the Premier League is attempting to become the ‘everyman’ league, championing the everyday supporter and ensuring kids aren’t lost amongst the glitz and glamour of grown men without an ounce of sporting talent, wearing full kits on the terraces.
Not only is it a tactical move on behalf of the consumer, but despite their newly found ‘feet on the floor’ ethos, the new imagery aims to speak to new brands and outlets too. For instance, the BBC and US-broadcasters NBC often didn’t use the previous imagery because of its commercial tie-ins.
Rebranding something so close to the hearts of, in this instance, millions of people is never going to be easy – but six months later, it seems this shift in design is somewhat of a ‘grower’. You only have to cast your mind’s eye across the M4 to Cardiff to see how spectacularly wrong it can go. Cardiff City F.C’s chairman Vincent Tan spent £100 million rebranding his club, nicknamed ‘The Bluebirds’, from blue to red.
Similarly, when Hull City’s upper management floating the idea of officially changing the name of the club to ‘Hull Tigers’ was greeted by fans with all the excitement of a school trip to the box factory.
The Premier League knows the power they have to pull in sponsorships worth billions, it would be a step too far to suggest this re-branding is the thing that makes non-fans think differently, but it’s a start. The removal of a corporate entity from what is, effectively, the league’s front door makes it infinitely more accessible for both consumers and brands alike.
By Stuart Buchanan