As the Sheffield football community gets excited about the first Sheffield derby since 2012, Hallmark Branding has decided to take a look at how the brand of a football club resonates with its fans.
Both the Blades and the Owls have had recent anniversary seasons, with Wednesday currently celebrating their 150th anniversary as a professional football club. In these seasons, both clubs decided to do away with tradition and produce commemorative shirts, ironically both ditching the iconic stripes associated with each club.
One might note that this isn’t ditching tradition, but actually paying homage to it as both kits are actually modern day replicas of seasons gone by.
In 2015 United went back to one of their earliest kits of predominantly white with a red pin stripe for their 125th anniversary (not sure why this kit was introduced in their 126th season though?)
This season Wednesday have got rid of their stripes completely with an all blue shirt with white sleeves, paying homage to their kit of the 1960’s.
So what do fans think to this? As a one-off it’s ok, as long as this is a one-off.
In United’s case, their ditching of the famous thick red and white stripes and crossed sword badge in the 2015/16 season coincided with the clubs worst league finish in 30 odd years, in fighting amongst fans unhappy with the direction the football club was going both on and off the field – ‘boring’ possession based style of play, over paid ageing players looking for one final payday, lack of clear leadership from the top – basically no clear brand guidelines for what it should mean to play for this famous football club. No stripes on the shirt – coincidence?
Whilst it is still early in the season similarities are evident across the other side of the city. Fans unhappy with the manager (listeners of Radio Sheffield’s Football Heaven programme will know what I mean by the term ‘Carlos hokey-cokey’), on-field tactics, expensive ticket prices and the 11th hour introduction of this seasons new kit resulting in fans not getting their hands on one prior to the season kick-off. Not to mention a new club badge introduced the season before. All seemingly implemented in line with new ownership of the club.
Having had two successful seasons at S6, fan expectation is high. If this season doesn’t go to plan (finishing outside the play off places appears a disastrous thought for many Wednesday fans) will the blame be pinned on a shift in brand values? If this is the case, I’m sure the stripeless kit will be confined to Room 101. If, on the other hand, Wednesday achieve what they failed to do in the previous two seasons and actually win promotion where will this leave the famous blue and shite stripes? Will this lead to a new era for Sheffield Wednesday Football Club?
We all saw what happened at Cardiff City. Their owner changed their shirt colour from blue to red (can’t imagine that would go down too well in the Steel City) and alienated large proportions of the fan base. Funny how they returned to blue when they dropped out of the Premier League. Similarly at Hull City with their owner’s unsuccessful campaign to re-brand them as Hull Tigers. Many fans were ready to walk away.
Fans are the lifeblood of the game. They have unconditional love for their team and don’t like to see their proud history and traditions tossed to one side in favour of outside influences.
After the Blades disastrous campaign under Nigel Adkins in 2015/16 they went back to modern day tradition returning the thick red and white stripes and ‘Blades’ club badge, replaced the manager with a died in the wool Blade in Chris Wilder and walked the league in 2017 winning promotion to the Championship with a 100 point haul. More coincidence? With brand values returned, the club and more importantly its fans, got their identity back. No more big time charlies, players playing for the shirt (red and white stripes anyone?) and sensible ticket pricing.
It remains to be seen if the shift in brand values will bring more luck to the Owls or if they too will return to modern day tradition and re-connect with their fans.
So what is the point of this article other than my love for the beautiful game? Well, football today is much more than a game, it is a global business.
Many businesses need to re-brand and re-position themselves in their markets in order to grow. If your business is in this situation you can learn so much about what’s important about your brand values from the above. Do your research, profile your customer segments and make sure everyone within your organisation believes in what you are trying to achieve – this is your brand! You can tap into new markets without alienating your loyal customer base.
I do hope you have enjoyed reading my take on the brand values of a football club. I have tried to remain as impartial as possible despite my unconditional love for one of the Sheffield clubs (those of you who know me will know where my allegiances lie!). I, like many other people in Sheffield, am nervous with excitement about this weekends game. The elation of winning and the despair of losing is going through my mind at 100mph. Enjoy the game everyone, stay safe and support your club!
Brendan Hall is a CIM qualified professional marketer and the owner of Hallmark Branding. Contact Brendan on 07823 357721 or firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your marketing and branding requirements.