In its 84-year history, the Los Angeles Rams have made a lot of moves. The team was founded in Cleveland in 1936 and moved to Los Angeles 10 years later, then went to St. Louis in 1994 only to move back to the City of Angels for the 2016 season.
And while that helps to create what LA Rams CMO Ronalee Zarate-Bayani calls a “rich history,” it also creates a complicated brand identity.
This week, the NFL franchise debuted a refreshed look and feel for the brand including a new logo, typeface and color scheme. The new colors, Ram Royal blue and a bright yellow called Sol, echo the throwback uniforms the team has incorporated into their rotation over the last couple seasons, and similar to the ones they wore prior to moving to St. Louis.
Instead of the public ceremony that the team had planned, the reveal was all digital, accompanied by a four-minute video in which chief organizing officer Kevin Demoff addressed the current reality—the global coronavirus pandemic—and explained the team’s change of plans. He also announced a telethon (or TeLAthon), underway today, where the team is partnering with a local news station to raise money for Californians affected by the widespread health and economic impacts of the virus.
The rebranding process took nearly two years, and was a joint project between the team’s in-house creatives, Nike’s in-house agency and Anomaly. The Rams also incorporated input from fans, said Zarate-Bayani.
“As we are here and wanting to rep this great city and culture of L.A., we wanted to do so in a way that respects all that we’ve been through,” she added. In an attempt to take the pulse of the team’s fanbase, Zarate-Bayani said they spoke with new and old fans as well as current and former players throughout the redesign process.
But so far, the response from fans has been largely negative. Still, it’s hard to know whether that’s just a general resistance to change or real evidence of a misguided rebrand. “Change is hard,” admitted Zarate-Bayani.
The danger of disrupting the fanbase
When undergoing a redesign for a team with a passionate fanbase, it’s hard to change anything without some backlash, according to Brian Quarles, executive creative director at sports marketing agency rEvolution. “I think most people will never like a redesign,” he said. “It’s really difficult to pull off.”
From a graphic design standpoint, said Quarles, many sports logos do seem in need of a redesign. But at the end of the day, “most fans aren’t graphic designers.” And the disruption that a redesign can create for a fanbase is often not worth the benefit of a more modern look.
The redesign also comes at a difficult time, Quarles noted, with live sports (and so much else) on pause due to the coronavirus pandemic. “This is the worst time,” he said. “Everyone’s home, everyone’s grumpy… it’s insensitive to what’s going on.”
The meaning of a logo
But there might be a deeper issue with the new logo, according to Georgetown University marketing professor Christie Nordhielm. Logos, she noted, are meant to capture and invoke a brand’s value—not create it.
“It’s supposed to be a familiar reminder, a repository of brand value,” Nordhielm said. Rather than ensuring that the logo continues to communicate the brand’s established identity, she said, the team seems to have approached the redesign as a new advertising campaign. “It’s a strategic error,” she added. “A misunderstanding of what a logo is.”
Nordhielm also questioned the reintroduction of words into the logo. Pointing to brands like Nike and Mastercard that have moved away from words altogether, she said the Rams seem to be bucking a tradition that ensures strong brand recognition: slow and gradual changes toward a wordless, iconic logo.
But Zarate-Bayani remains confident that as more pieces of the entire brand identity are revealed, the team will win over the fans who have expressed skepticism regarding the logo reveal. They knew that pivoting away from the Ram head would be hard for some, she said.
“You’ll never please everybody, but I think what you’ll find is that this is just a piece of the puzzle,” Zarate-Bayani said. “We want to bring to life, which is this connection to this home, to L.A., in a meaningful way, and represent the progressive nature of the organization and greater L.A. region.”
Later this spring, the Rams are planning to release their new uniform and helmet designs. “It’s all going to come together.”