- The Montreal MLS team has decided to rebrand hoping to improve their sense of local identity.
- The choice–Club de Foot Montréal–is awkward at best and bizarre at worst.
- The previous name of the name was the decidedly generic ‘Montreal Impact’.
2020 was a big year for pro sports team rebranding, though not for any good reason. The previous rebranding initiatives came about due to longstanding disdain from the public and media over racial overtones. With so much of 2020 devoted to the fight against institutional racism it meant that the ‘Washington Redskins’ and ‘Cleveland Indians’ had to go.
For now, the Indians are still being referred to by their nickname though the Chief Wahoo logo is long gone. There’s no timetable for a new name and they could go with ‘Cleveland Baseball Team’ or the like until they come up with one. There have been a number of suggestions including ‘Spiders’ (Cleveland’s late 19th century NL team was called the ‘Spiders’) and ‘Crows’ (a woefully underused nickname).
The situation with the Washington Redskins is so well known and documented that it’s almost silly to provide a rundown. After years of defiance in the face of calls for a name change the dam burst in 2020. Motivated by the overall racial tone of the zeitgeist–and even more by the pressure from big money sponsors including the team’s stadium name sponsor FedEx–the team relented. What they came up with–Washington Football team–was meant as a placeholder but inexplicably it has started to catch on.
Here’s what Joe Favorito, a lecturer in sports management at Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies, told Adweek about the reaction to the Washington NFL franchise’s new (non) name:
“You never hear the Redskins name mentioned anywhere anymore. [The Washington Football Team] has really taken hold, which has been a real surprise to people.”
He says there’s is plenty of precedent, particularly in international soccer:
“Manchester United, or Arsenal or Real Madrid, are known by the club—they’re not known by their mascot.”
SOCCER ISN’T QUITE MASCOT AND NICKNAME FREE
Favorito might need to bone up on international soccer a bit. While it’s true that none of the three teams he cited has an ‘official’ nickname they all have unofficial nickname(s) that are used with varying degrees of regularity. Even novice fans of European soccer know that Manchester United is the ‘Red Devils’ and Arsenal is the ‘Gunners’. You can even buy your kid a Man U ‘red devil’ costume or pajamas.
Since 1990, Manchester United has even had an *official* red devil mascot named ‘Fred the Red’. In fact, every team in the league has a costumed mascot of one sort or another. Here’s Fred comforting legendary football manager Jose Mourinho:
There’s actually something of a red devil mascot in the Man U logo:
Which has started to be heavily marketed:
Arsenal is well known as ‘The Gunners’ and their mascot ‘Gunnersauraus’ is referred to frequently as ‘beloved’ in the UK media. He’s been around for 27 years:
There’s an iconic cannon in the Arsenal logo:
The cannon is starting to appear more frequently by itself–like this tie:
Real Madrid is a better example–they’ve actually got *four* nicknames used with varying degrees of frequency: Los Blancos, Los Merengues, Los Vikingos, and La Casa Blanca. You don’t see these merchandised at all with the common iconography being the de facto logo of most European soccer team: the shirt sponsor–currently Emirates Airlines:
BACK TO MONTREAL
Montreal is a strange case–soccer is very popular in the city and in Quebec. In the province, 1.8 million people indicate they like the sport and 1.3 million watch the sport on TV. That hasn’t translated to the Montreal MLS team. In 2019, they finished 19th out of 24 teams in attendance with an average of 16,171 in their 19,619 seat venue. They decided a name change might help make the team more of a fixture in the city–certainly not on the level of ‘Le Bleu, Blanc et Rouge’ aka the Montreal Canadiens but at least on the level of the CFL Montreal Alouettes.
Here’s what creative co-director Justin Kingsley told Adweek:
“We realized that Impact was a name that didn’t have the impact we wanted it to have. The realization internally at the senior level was that we need change.”
“We wanted to focus on the element of personal pride in being a Montrealer. We wanted to build something with a local Montreal pride story. We wanted to understand key elements that differentiate the club, the city and its supporter groups from other products in MLS and global soccer. We focused on words, slogan, manifesto: ‘What’s the brand story?’”
What they came up with–Club de Foot Montréal, or CF Montréal.
It’s received a mixed response so far but that’s not unusual for name changes or new teams. No one would admit it now, but when the name for the Vegas Golden Knights was released there were plenty of people that didn’t like it–myself included. I thought one of the other ‘finalists’ would be a better fit for the region: Silver Knights or Desert Knights. There was also some disapproval of the logo.
Fast forward a few years and the team name and logo is downright iconic:
More importantly, Vegas is now a hockey mad city. Their unprecedented trip to the Stanley Cup Finals during their first year of existence sure didn’t hurt. The ‘Silver Knights’ name found new life as the name of the team’s AHL affiliate in nearby Henderson.
Maybe the moral of the story is a) these things take time for fans to wrap their head around and b) what the team does on the ice (or field) and in the community is more significant than any type of branding effort. The team likely makes the logo, not the other way around.