Remember the Fan Even Before You Forget

Here’s a story that shows what happens when an organization forgets that it’s about the fan, and then remembers.

In Major League Soccer, there’s a team called the New York Red Bulls. If the logo looks familiar, there’s a good reason. The team is owned by Red Bull, the makers of the heinous-tasting, but incredibly popular energy drink. Among the many, many other successful branding platforms that the company has established, they bought this team in 2006. As corporate names go, “Red Bulls” isn’t a bad one for a soccer team, and the team has done well.


Red Bulls banner references club’s history — “since 1996,” not 2006.

For the most part, this is a happy story, but there’s one little hitch. Before the team was the Red Bulls, it was the New York Metrostars. The minute the new corporate overlords took over, the old name and branding were “summarily discarded,” according to this nice write-up on the topic at Gothamist. In the world of pure logic in which corporations can sometimes think, this makes a lot of sense. Consistency of brand is important. But, since the team had already existed for 10 years, it was going to take some work to make the new name and identity stick.

And here’s the hitch: In the sorry old world where we all actually live, people have things called “feelings” and “memories.” For some of the supporters — the oldest and most loyal, no less — the pre-Red Bulls years were still present. Some of them, while supporting the new team, did little things to remind the world that they still remembered. They sang the old songs. They created banners that used some of the old imagery. They weren’t angry, but they remembered.

Next year, Major League Soccer is adding a second team in New York. Competition for hometown fans is heating up, and because of that, it’s become clearer to the Red Bulls that the Metrostars “heritage” of their team is important. The team even decided that it was founded in 1996, rather than 2006, because indeed it was.

There’s nothing wrong with change. Sometimes fans get stuck on something that needs to change, and it’s up to you to do the best you can in their interests. That’s pretty much what the Red Bulls have done, but that doesn’t mean that those fans and their feelings don’t need to be reflected. Sure, this is a move to stave off an upstart, and yes, the timing is convenient. But despite that, it’s also the right move, and one that shows that the team understands that the fans are the “battery pack” of the team. Definitely better late than never.

What can your organization do to “remember” that the fan is what it’s all about, even if it hasn’t “forgotten” that yet?


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