Can design help football reconnect with fans?

As football clubs evolve into competitive brands, we look at how design and comms are shaping the image of the game, and what top flight clubs can learn from smaller teams

“I think in an age where football fans engage with their clubs daily on social media, and where the club brand and identity must work on multiple platforms, having a solid brand is hugely beneficial,” says Graeme Cook, founder of branding agency Thisaway, which worked with Brentford FC on a redesign of the club’s crest and identity. “That said, a lot depends on where that club is at in its evolution, and the fundamental question to ask is why are they looking to undertake a branding project?”

Football clubs around the world are transforming more explicitly into brands, and there are myriad reasons as to why they are thinking this way. For those in lower divisions, having a strong brand can help to bring in sponsorship – all the more crucial in the face of the costly past year – while top tier clubs are rethinking their brand identities to have impact and reach on a global stage. It’s a similar story for the tournaments themselves, as seen with the new identity created by branding agency Works for the UEFA Women’s Champions League, which has an aspirational visual language as the competition attracts more money and eyeballs.

These shifts perhaps explain why there has been a move towards clean, digital-friendly club identities that often embrace a more polished, minimal design language, as per the latest designs adopted by Juventus and Inter Milan.

“I think what’s happened is sport and specifically football has matured very quickly, because as an industry, they were potentially quite far behind other industries in terms of branding,” says Simon Dixon, co-founder of DixonBaxi. The brand consultancy led the redesign of AC Milan’s visual identity, which aimed to situate the club within the city’s wider cultural context and use a “broader reference palette than just sport”. He believes that football is finally tapping into its worldwide reach, where the big clubs are competing for a share of the same audience. “There’s 80,000 people in the stadium, but they have 450 million fans around the world,” he says, highlighting that marketing, content, design and the brand experience all have a role to play.

Top: Whippets FC x Dazed photographed by Coco Capitán. Above: AC Milan identity by DixonBaxi