U.S. Soccer's new crest: Boring or marketing genius?

U.S. Soccer's new crest might not look like much, but it's the delivery that counts. Jeff Kassouf explores.

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If less is more, American soccer certainly got the message.

U.S. Soccer unveiled a new, minimalist crest on Monday, ditching the old flying soccer ball logo which stood for over two decades in favor of a word mark “USA” crest.

The crest itself hasn’t really brought too much hullabaloo as these seemingly innocuous branding changes usually go. The crest is basic and perhaps unremarkable, but it is considered an upgrade from the old logo which was oft criticized as being cartoonish.

“I think you probably will find a consensus that the old logo was tired,” John Guppy, founder of Gilt Edge Soccer Marketing, told FourFourTwo USA.

“I think it was definitely getting old and I think in this modern era of branding and being connected to the younger demo, I think that old mark didn’t cut the mustard as they say.”

What exactly are those stars for?

The old crest had been around since 1995, save a few tweaks to the brightness of its red and blue hues through the years. In 2013, a temporary centennial crest was used by U.S. Soccer. The understated crest with red and white vertical lines below white stars over a navy background paid homage to U.S. Soccer’s original identity, and there are hints of that in this new U.S. Soccer crest as well.

“I like the clean and crisp and minimalistic logo, the only thing I would say is that you look at the U.S. women with the three stars over it, that becomes uniquely ownable to the U.S. women,” says Guppy, who is the former president/CEO of the Chicago Fire and who has worked in marketing soccer in the U.S. for 25 years. “When you take the three stars away, it doesn’t become uniquely ownable to U.S. Soccer.”

The U.S. women, three times World Cup champions (and four times Olympic champions), will wear three stars above the crest to represent each world title. But the men, who have never won the World Cup, will be sans stars, a presumptuous feature which was criticized in the old badge for its lack of actual meaning (the old badge had three stars within it even before the U.S. women had won a second World Cup, not that the two things were connected anyway).

Guppy says the days of needing a black and white soccer ball in a crest to define it as that of a soccer logo are long gone, but the new U.S. Soccer crest, well, doesn’t scream soccer. He says a date to signify the founding of the federation or even some words, akin to many other federations around the world, including Germany and Brazil, are two options which could have been added to the crest.

Indeed, at a glance, the new U.S. Soccer logo could pass as the logo for just about any National Governing Body (NGB) in the United States. The word art bears striking resemblance to some of the designs USA Basketball uses and the crest which USA Hockey wore at the 2014 Olympics. The influence of Nike – outfitter of both U.S. Soccer and the U.S. Olympic team – is clear in the design of the new U.S. Soccer crest.

Something looks familiar here...

And it all comes at a cost, too. Jay Berhalter, U.S. Soccer’s chief commercial officer, tells the New York Times that the rebrand cost nearly seven figures.

But perhaps U.S. Soccer’s logo is more with the times than it may seem. And, more important, perhaps U.S. Soccer is even more intuitive than the federation gets credit for.

U.S. Soccer skipped the traditional avenues of press releases and press conferences for making the announcement of its new identity, instead teasing it last week on social media before revealing it to a select group of fans on Monday morning via the delivery of a scarf and a virtual reality video on the still relatively untapped Google Cardboard platform. From there, social media was flooded with photos of the new crest from fans and national team players.

“To put the new crest directly in the hands of U.S. Soccer fans and athletes, 10,000 packages were mailed to our Members, current and former National Team players, and friends of the Federation,” U.S. Soccer wrote on its website.

Bret Werner, executive VP and chief client officer at New York-based MWWPR who has over 20 years of branding experience, says the early adoption of a new technology can help drive awareness for a campaign.

“Soccer fans, in general, index really well digitally,” Werner tells FourFourTwo. “One, because of the global nature of sport and, two, because in North America they are maybe craving more coverage, so I thought it was an interesting approach.”

Both Guppy and Werner agree that the traditional methods of disseminating news are not completely dead, but they are no longer the only option. Digital users – particularly millennials – are influencers who drive conversations. U.S. Soccer’s approach in unveiling its new crest has actually stirred a good deal of conversation about what is, at the end of the day, a logo.

And U.S. Soccer’s understated logo follows in the footsteps of Major League Soccer’s rebrand to a minimalistic logo ahead of the 2015 season, introducing a digitally-savvy logo which makes for interchangeable team colors and was heavily criticized at the outset. In a short matter of time, the look has grown on fans as it is plastered on jersey sleeves across the league in team colors.

It is possible that U.S. Soccer, which takes its fair share of criticisms, actually nailed this; it’s just too hard to conclude such a thing in the muck of the moment.

“I think in the last year and a half, I’ve begun to see U.S. Soccer think and act like a consumer-facing brand as opposed to an NGB,” Guppy said.   

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