In 2018, English second-division club Leeds United unveiled a new logo that was intended to coincide with the team’s 100th anniversary. Depicting a well-known supporter gesture of putting a closed right fist over their chest, Leeds claimed the badge was a product of six months of research and consultation with 10,000 people.
The result was merciless ridicule and almost-unanimous backlash. Leeds, trying to create something for its second century, quickly scrapped the logo.
That’s what the Fire want to avoid.
During his media availability Monday, Nelson Rodriguez said the Fire are hoping to share the results of their branding and identity work within the next month. Owner Joe Mansueto loves the Fire name, but there are still questions about the team’s visual signature, primary colors, and logo as they prepare to move back to Soldier Field.
If the badge is changed, the Fire will be attempting to thread a needle. A successful rollout requires balancing the need for an upgrade with the attachment fans have to the older model.
“You have to really take into account a lot of things, especially the reaction people will have,” said Nathen McVittie, an art director who has worked in esports and soccer, including for England’s Leicester City. “That being said, when you initially design a logo, especially within soccer, I think you’ve got to do so much research and understand the market and target audience to almost a telepathic level of what they will like, what people will want, of the city around them, of different signifiers, of social identity.”
The current logo was unveiled in 1997 and is showing its age. Though the Florian Cross is still a unique shape, it fit in better with how MLS looked two decades ago. Today, the league is filled with teams that have sleek, modern logos that more closely resemble contemporary European clubs.
Aside from the logo, the Fire’s primary look has been red shirts and shorts with a broad white stripe across the chest. However, the logo is predominantly blue with red and more than a touch of gray.
“The actual shape kind of veers off from the traditional shields that the majority of the teams have,” said graphic designer Benjamin Enrique Alvarado, who previously worked for the USL. “However, that is what the majority of the fan base loves about the logo, is that shield and how different it is from everyone else. For me, it just seems old now.”
Yet that badge was on the Fire’s shirts when they won MLS Cup in 1998. Fans have built emotional connections with the franchise and associate their team with the familiar logo.
“It’s very difficult,” McVittie said. “It’s so difficult, especially considering the emotional attachment people have to sports.”
That doesn’t mean coming up with a popular new logo is impossible.
McVittie is confident any new identity wouldn’t be done in a lazy way. He stressed that if it represents something larger and has visual signifiers, fans could easily attach themselves to the new look.
But Leeds found out there are consequences if it isn’t done well. As for American soccer fans, McVittie said they can “smell the (expletive) from pretty far away.”
“They can sniff out anything that doesn’t feel right,” McVittie said. “They’ve got a pretty good radar for it.”