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Three Takeaways from the L.A. Chargers Logo Apocalypse

You may have heard the San Diego Chargers are moving to Los Angeles. You may have also heard that move has –*ahem*– not gotten off to a good start. The story of that start gives us a great real-time look at three key sports branding elements: differentiation, emotional connection, and story telling.

Sports branding requires differentiation

In order to stand out in a crowded sports marketplace, you must be different. The greater Los Angeles sports market, with now ten professional teams, two major collegiate athletics programs, and a whole bunch of minor league, semi-pro, and amateur teams, is crowded.

The Chargers introduced themselves to Los Angeles with a logo resembling that of another already much beloved L.A. team:

dodgers

After suffering 24 hours of social media beat down, the Chargers re-released the logo with updated colors. Uh-oh:

ucla

Tripping over forms and colors already associated with well-established, popular teams failed to create something new and different. The Chargers’ introduction was greeted with a pie in the face.

Is your team differentiated from your competition? Do your forms, colors, and context create a unique experience for your fans? They must – you otherwise run the risk of getting lost in the crowd.

Sports branding is about the feelings 

Assessing the overwhelmingly negative reaction to the Chargers logo, Northern Arizona University sociologist James Bowie makes an important point:

“A lot of the criticism today, it’s not really about the design itself. It’s about people’s feelings about the team moving, and they project them into the logo.”

The Chargers’ move is burdened with negativity for a variety of reasons. While every sports rebranding will have its unavoidable detractors, an effective rebranding gives fans a positive emotional reason to connect.

Is your logo good? Is your logo bad? It doesn’t matter. If you’re not connecting emotionally to your fans, all your efforts go flying out the window.

Sports branding demands you tell a story

Dan Fouts, Kellen Winslow, and Junior Seau. Jack Murphy Stadium, powder blue uniforms, and yellow lightning bolts. For the past 56 years, the story of the NFL in San Diego has been the story of the Chargers.

The story of the Chargers is not the story of Los Angeles. And that’s a problem.

The first two takeaways, the importance of differentiation and emotional connections, can be summed up in the demand for a compelling brand story.

What is a brand story? It’s the values, the vision, and the character your sports brand represents. It defines who you are, and why you matter.

Great brand stories create differentiation, separating you from your competition.

Great brand stories tug on the feelings, giving fans positive and compelling reasons to engage.

Told well, great brand stories inspire loyalty and preference, driving sales. Fans will purchase tickets to experience your story in person. They’ll purchase merchandise to bring that story home. Sponsors will want to align themselves with your story, to associate their brand with yours.

In the end, great sports branding is more than just pretty pictures: it gives your fans good reasons to care. And you want fans to care. Otherwise, you’re invisible, unimportant, and unnecessary. And then?

You’re gone.

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