CHANGING THE GAME

Varun Sathees

17-05-2017

A Look at the Rising Emphasis & Spotlight on Football Club Rebranding

“Sports do not build character. They reveal it.” – Heywood Broun

I’ve been quite a sports enthusiast since my childhood, and outgrown steadily from a staple diet of just cricket into a healthy dose of football. It’s worth mentioning that I’m an avid spectator, and my individual sporting abilities are at best, limited. I’m a management graduate, currently working as a branding professional, and football continues to be an active part of my workplace conversations. In fact, certain recent developments led a few of us at office to talk about our passion with a lens of our professional training.

The Italian football club Juventus underwent complete rebranding via a paradigm shift in their brand philosophy leading to a giant leap in their visual identity. Historically, football clubs prefer a visual identity that is unlayered and straight forward in representing its background and culture, probably owing to the fact that their core fans have mostly been working-class with limited education and exposure. Juventus F.C. have broken this barrier in order to strive for universality, and as passionate football fans, the resulting intrigue from this new age movement of rebranding sporting entities made us attempt to lend an enthusiast’s perspective in a professional capacity.

Juventus F.C. is one of those cult football clubs, whose fans adore, idolize and breathe the institution. Founded in 1897 by a group of young Torinese students, it is the first professional club in Italy and is considered a symbol for Italianità, the spirit and essence of the entire nation. Rich in tradition, success and legacy, the club has a global following and celebrated stalwarts of the game like Zinedine Zidane, Alessandro Del Piero and Gianluigi Buffon have been an integral part of their history. The club recently launched its new emblem on a grand scale, with its president Andrea Agnelli saying it reflects ‘the Juventus way of living’.

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In a video released as part of the new emblem launch, the narrative is centered on the premise of ‘contrast’, historically borrowed from the black & white of the club and translated into multiple facets of a life philosophy that the people of its native Turin have come to embody over the years. The transition takes a step towards capturing the raw emotion behind the fans’ loyalty and love for the club, and finding a way to represent them within the club’s visual expression. Football arguably being the only true global sport, the appeal and popularity of the game has grown manifold within the last decade or so, and increasing number of fans are beginning to follow the game intensely and sincerely all over the world. This expanse of fanbase across the globe has opened up endless opportunities for established football institutions like Juventus to project itself on a grander scale and connect with people on a personal level. A philosophical shift in its self-expression – from a football club to a brand – will go a long way for Juventus to reach out and make a mark that lasts. In a cross-category reference from Down Under, Australian Open has also undergone a complete rebranding, making the visual identity and language more modern, minimalistic and easy to translate across touchpoints, thus embracing new scales of reach and impact.

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The new Juventus identity has received considerable backlash on social media, with fans, both old and new, expressing sheer agony at their beloved emblem being completely uprooted (quite a few of them call it an ‘Armani designer logo’). From my perspective, change in any form elicits a strong resistance. Familiarity has a strong sense of association, and it’s difficult to let go of what you have in the quest for the beyond and unknown. As a branding professional, I cannot help but notice the beauty of capturing an emotion rather than focusing on function, especially in my favorite sport. The simplicity and scale of the new Juventus identity overcomes multiple constraints of relevance, reach and philosophy, and in fact embraces with open arms the exciting times ahead.

Juventus has been a pioneer club in Italy and Europe, widely regarded as a trendsetter and a visionary in matters of the game and beyond. It is hardly a surprise to see a football club with relatively lesser global appeal compared to giants like Manchester United, Bayern Munich and the like attempt to break out into the open and embrace the modern era with a new age identity, where football is a powerful medium of communication. Add to this the advantage of traversing multiple channels of communication – print, merchandise , digital et.al. – and you have a powerhouse institution setting off on a path to glory and connection with its ever-growing fanbase. Here’s a football club trying to evolve itself into a phenomenon, representing the increasing focus on rebranding of sporting entities in order to become a true representation of its people and philosophy. As a football fan, I’m excited for more and more football clubs to head into the changing times, and move towards being a true symbol of the people and their passion, rather than be stuck in past glory.

To mean more than just the sport…

To matter more than just 90 minutes on the pitch…

To go far and beyond their city, into the whole wide world.

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