Why The Rebranding Of Cardiff City Will Be A Marketing Failure

The Malaysian owner's of Cardiff City want to market the club on a global scale, however killing the club's history and starting again is not the answer.
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Football clubs, as a species, are probably among the most successful brands in the world. Any organisation worth its salt would leap at the chance to create a brand that even a fraction of its audience identify with as strongly as they do their favourite football club. Lifetime commitment, massive personal investment in terms of time and money, readiness to forgive and forget, shared behaviours, myths, history and symbols and highly emotive social behaviour – they’re a marketer’s wet dream. The rebranding of a sport franchise is therefore an incredible opportunity to create meaningful commercial art and ultimately lasting culture. All of which only serves to make the rebranding of Cardiff City FC announced earlier this week that much more disappointing.

After previously backing down from the controversial rebrand following “vociferous opposition” from the fans, the club has turned its back on 100 years of history and gone from Blue to Red, from the Bluebirds to the Dragons and adopted a new slogan: “Fire and Passion”. None of these new elements are connected to the club’s traditions and were supposedly conceived to broaden the club’s global appeal (read: Asia). Apparently, this is the price of investment from new Malaysian owners who promise to make Cardiff a ‘big club’.

It’s strategically misguided and commercially negligent for the club to throw away its most important brand assets – its colours, its nickname and its slogan – in effect, its soul.

The design language has changed but doesn’t bring the expected slickness or premium values required of a brand that ostensibly wants to compete against Real Madrid and Manchester United around the world for TV viewers and merchandise. More importantly, if going global is the plan then it’s strategically misguided and commercially negligent for the club to throw away its most important brand assets – its colours, its nickname and its slogan – in effect, its soul. After all, these are the ingredients of authenticity and meaning that allow sport brands like Cardiff FC to transcend geographical and cultural divides so readily. Supporters, regardless of where they are from, are buying into a culture of shared beliefs, interests and common history when they choose a team. Indeed, these brand attributes are so powerful that they routinely transcend dubious ownership regimes, cynical corporate sponsorship exercises and the exquisite suffering of not winning anything year in year out. Indeed, one of the few pleasing contradictions of the globalised game is the fact that there are Gooners in NYC singing their hearts out at Nevada Smith’s, Moroccans cheering on Everton and official MUFC supporters clubs in Lagos and Mumbai.

That’s why it’s depressing to think about how much better a rebranding exercise could have served the club’s aspirations if it had enhanced the club’s history rather than attempting to invent a new one at a stroke. It’s disrespectful to current fans and any potential global audience will likely see through it. But perhaps the most damning criticism that can be levelled at this rebrand is the general befuddlement with which it has been received so far. In such a highly emotive category, surely inspiring outrage would have been preferable to total indifference.

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