By Charles Boehm – WASHINGTON, DC (May 20, 2021) US Soccer Players – It quickly drew a lot of comparisons. A tooth, clip art, a bingo ticket, and the vague, referential logos created for fictitious teams in video games made that list. Some observers saw a goatee or a doorstop tucked into a corner of the image. Others puzzled over its primary shape being noticeably different from the unique swallowtail state flag said to have inspired it.
The surprise unveiling of a new Columbus Crew crest earlier this month got people talking, for better or worse. What got their most dedicated fans really exercised, for very much the worse, was the name change that accompanied it.
“Columbus is the Crew, now and forever,” intoned a dramatic hype video posted on the club’s social media channels on May 10. “We’re now striving for something greater. We’re pushing further, thinking bigger and wanting more … What does it look like to be a champion? It’s Columbus Soccer Club. It’s the Crew.”
Confused? You’re not alone. To recap, the professional soccer team first known as the Columbus Crew, then Columbus Crew SC was now officially, instantly, in midseason, Columbus SC. Even as it simultaneously insisted that it was, is, and always would be “The Crew.” It was an interesting construction for the club once advertised itself as “America’s Hardest-Working Team.”
Of course, Columbus SC arrived clad in new attire. Gone was the much-loved roundel crest implemented in 2014, replaced by the new swallowtail design. The instantly recognizable gold hue seemed less vibrant, providing a belated backstory to the flat gray home jerseys unveiled earlier in the year that surrendered the visual distinction of Major League Soccer’s “Yellow Football Team” to Nashville SC.
The team’s most ardent supporters greeted the whole undertaking with surprise. This was a club still in Colombus rather than Austin due to the fervent grassroots movement dubbed “Save the Crew.” Amid the ongoing American soccer fixation with rebrands, this one might have been the through-the-looking-glass moment.
Here was a founding MLS club that had managed to pull off what so many of its colleagues had failed miserably at. Bequeathed a quirky 1990s gimmick of a name, Columbus and its fans embraced it, making it iconic. As arbitrary as the Crew moniker’s origins appear to be, it collected a sort of gravitas over time. The name bonded sturdily with their thriving but easily-overlooked city and its wider perception. After all, this is a fan base that adopted the eventually all-encompassing term “Massive” as an ironic badge of honor. Their home is an “erector set” venue that overachieved its way into USMNT lore as a sacred good-luck charm against Mexico.
When the Save the Crew effort succeeded, it seemed to enshrine the nickname in both love and lore. With new ownership and a new stadium on the way, the organization emerged from the existential threat richer and stronger than before. Hoisting its second MLS Cup trophy on home soil last fall was a storybook conclusion beyond the expectations of even the most rosy eyed ultra.
For a reigning league champion to throw itself into a change like this in midseason was particularly bewildering. Theories and rumors mushroomed as onlookers near and far struggled to make sense of it all.
In the end, Columbus’s leadership needed only a week to see what Chicago waited a year to acknowledge. They’d blundered. The long-range dream of wooing new fans looked ludicrous compared to the more immediate prospect of an angry exodus of real, current, here-and-now supporters. While soccer fanatics tend to hate the term “customers,” in this case the adage about the customer always being right applied.
The club convened a Monday night meeting with supporters’ groups. Joint announcements followed. “Crew” returned to the official letterhead, effective immediately, unceremoniously dumping the SC. An updated swallowtail crest emerged within hours, nodding to history with a 96 in place of the strange triangular “goatee.”
“We’re going to be the Columbus Crew and we’re going to be the Columbus Crew forever,” said Dr. Pete Edwards in an exceedingly brief video from ownership. That seemed enough for the hardcore support to breathe easy again. It seemed to be a true compromise. While the new badge isn’t popular per se, giving ground on the matter of the official team name restored enough credibility in the executive level for the faithful to set down their pitchforks.
“It will be fine, and if not, we will fix it. The important issues have been addressed,” one Crew fan told me in regards to the crest on Twitter. “A month from tomorrow we play our last match at the home of Dos a Cero where we just won our second Cup, and then we open our new home. It’s time to celebrate.”
Rebranding duds tend to spotlight the short tempers and high emotions of soccer partisans. The Columbus caper should stand out for revealing not only their sound and fury but also their forgiving nature. Get the fundamentals right, and they’ll at least listen. Any investor/operator repeating the obvious mistakes made in Chicago and Columbus can have no one to blame but themselves.
More from Charles Boehm:
- FC Cincinnati opens a stadium with issues on the field
- Has the coaching cult of personality arrived in MLS?
- On side tracks, persistence, and college soccer
- “Those American owners” The Super League blowback crosses the Atlantic
Logos courtesy of the Columbus Crew