A funny old game

Football clubs are increasingly on the ball in developing brand identities and marketing themselves. Tom Banks discovers that branding a football club in the 21st century is as much about what happens off the pitch as on it

Fulham FC have hit the headlines bo

th nationally and in the design press over the past fortnight. On 3 April, Fulham owner Mohammed Al Fayed unveiled a statue of pop singer Michael Jackson at the club’s Craven Cottage ground. Jackson, a friend of Al Fayed before the pop star’s death, visited the ground in 1999 to see Fulham take on Wigan. The statue was met with bemused acceptance from many fans, with Al Fayed telling nay-sayers they could ’go to hell… or [arch rivals] Chelsea’ if they didn’t like it.

In a significantly less bizarre move, Fulham have also appointed Heavenly as their brand guardian (DW 7 April). A series of strategic and creative service projects lie ahead for the consultancy, but the club crest will remain untouched, for now.

The early creative direction of Fulham’s first campaign under Heavenly suggests a focus on fan experience rather than individual players, as the club looks to position itself as ’an antithesis to the larger, more commercially oriented clubs’, according to Heavenly founder and chief executive Richard Sunderland.

’Those clubs are losing a bit of their soul by stretching themselves into the Far East and other markets,’ says Sunderland.

Fulham will employ a ’gritty’ and fan-focused tone of voice, Sunderland says.

The first Heavenly-designed campaign for Fulham looks to convey ’everything but the football’ on matchday, the consultancy says.

’The commute’ shows fans walking across Putney Bridge, ’The last yards’ is a snapshot of the walk through Bishop’s Park and ’Half-time show’ celebrates the view from Craven Cottage across the Thames.

This will be followed by a season-ticket campaign, creative work for a membership scheme, a new kit launch and a review of the ’overarching club brand’, says Sunderland.

We are keeping a lot of areas non-football branded, to help strengthen the stadium’s non-matchday-use credentials

Sara Wilkins, KSS

Fulham is not the only top-tier team looking to its branding at the moment. Design Week understands a top-six Premiership side held a pitch with design consultancies in the pasttwo weeks.

In London alone, top-flight clubs Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur have all had crest changes in the past ten years.

According to Karl Hudson, creative director of the Forest, which specialises in sports branding, a reason many clubs look to rework their crest is to ensure copyright ownership of it. Those clubs that have several different iterations of a crest can find it difficult to tackle counterfeiting problems, Hudson says.

While commercial justification, by way of creating an ownable and copyrighted crest, is a common driver for clubs, often consultancies which can deliver identity, campaign and environmental design will work slowly to create a new club brand.

Architect KSS has been working with League One club Brighton & Hove Albion since 1998, and was originally briefed to work on architecture and design fit-out for a new stadium, with the club planning to leave its Withdean home.

The new stadium, in Falmer, is being handed over to the club in July in time for the 2011/12 season, and follows a new club identity, designed by KSS, which launched in February and is currently being rolled out.

Brighton’s original crest marque did not reflect the club’s personality, according to KSS director Sara Wilkins, who says it is better reflected in the design values ’fluid, quirky and open’.

’The values they were expressing of their vision for the club weren’t matching the old identity,’ says Wilkins, who with the club established the core value of ’community’, which came to be reflected in the naming of the new stadium, the American Express Community Stadium. This has been expressed in a separate identity, which takes its form from the curvature of the stadium’s two arches.

Working in consultation with fans and board members, a new crest design was chosen from a potential eight options worked up by KSS. The winning crest was a return to a roundel shape used by the club from the 1970s to the 1990s.

The seagull now possesses a yellow beak and flies from left to right in a ’progressive’ motion, says Wilkins, who adds that the original crest, with the seagull pointing left, ’is more heraldic, which is not always relevant’. As a side effect of the overall project the new badge will give the club copyright ownership, Wilkins notes.

Fan engagement and sense of community are at the forefront of much of Wilkins’ design justification, which are typified by the art commissions set to be installed as interventions into the new stadium. As yet unnamed high-profile artists, local artists and school children are being commissioned to make works across disciplines including photography and illustration in 21 separate projects.

’We are keeping a lot of areas non-football branded, to help strengthen the stadium’s non-matchday-use credentials,’ says Wilkins, who concedes there are strongly branded areas, including the club shop and tiered seating, which shows the form of the new seagull taken from the crest transposed as white seats surrounded by blue.

Even with close consultation from board members and fan groups – in the cases of Fulham and Brighton at least – branding a 21st-century football club appears to be as much about non-football, or non-matchday community experiences, as it is about buying into a pitch-side seat.

London Premiership clubs that have rebranded

  • Fulham by Heavenly
  • Arsenal by 20/20
  • Tottenham Hotspur by Navyblue
  • Chelsea’s crest was redesigned in November 2004 by Blue Dog Design
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