Last February, the Seattle Sounders embarked on a sort of branding journey. With the club’s 50th anniversary coming into focus, the Sounders felt it was time to explore their “visual identity.” The quest did not have a definite destination but was started with the very likely possibility that it would result in a new crest and possibly even more dramatic changes.
The Sounders promised that the process would be almost as important as the end product.
About nine months later, following the collection of more than 10,000 surveys and after conducting countless discussions with various stakeholders, the Sounders shared their first major update on where things are heading at their Annual Business Meeting on Wednesday.
While nothing was presented as finalized, a few elements came into focus:
- There will be a new crest in 2024
- The colors and name were effectively deemed off-limits and will only be slightly altered, if at all
- The Space Needle will almost certainly be part of it
- There was a distinct call for aquatic imagery to be added through water, waves and/or the orca
- The new mark should embrace the club’s history and acknowledge the region’s “duality”
Informing their design choices was a commendable amount of research that was shared at the Annual Business Meeting. Perhaps most striking was the breadth of people the Sounders drew from. Among the 10,000 survey respondents were nearly 1,500 who weren’t necessarily Sounders fans but who the organization recruited from the greater Seattle-Tacoma region, nearly half of whom had lived in the area for more than 21 years and nearly 20% of whom don’t only speak English at home. They also reached out to both current and former players and coaches, as well as local “tastemakers.”
Among the takeaways from that research was a strong sense that Sounders fans most identify with the current mark rather than the three previous ones that were used during the NASL, A-League and USL eras of the team. Although more pronounced among fans who started following the team more recently, that trend held strong no matter which era someone first became a fan of the club.
Some of the other themes that were deemed part of what it meant to be a “Sounder” included community, excellence, perseverance and progress.
While it’s tempting to write off all of this as just a pointless exercise designed to get fans to spend more money on new gear, I thought it was notable that unlike many rebrands this does not come at a time when the Sounders are struggling for relevance. Attendance remains strong and viewership remains high; the club’s jerseys continue to be among the strongest selling in MLS; and it’s being timed to a legitimate milestone in the club’s history.
I think it’s also important to note that virtually no sports team leaves their crest literally unchanged. Aston Villa, one of the oldest clubs in England, recently unveiled their new crest, which will become their 10th since their founding in 1874. Even the Yankees, whose interlocking NY feels almost timeless, have subtly tweaked theirs throughout their nearly 110 years.
More relevantly to the Sounders, this is an opportunity for the crest to do something it was never originally designed to do: link the past and the present while leaving room to evolve in the future. It should surprise no one that the Sounders seem to have taken this challenge seriously.