Why Columbus angered fans after removing ‘Crew’ from his name

“Save the Crew” takes on a whole new meaning. What was once a mantra (and hashtag) to galvanize support to prevent the Columbus Crew from moving to Austin, Texas, now may need to revive the phrase to save Crew’s nickname himself.

The Columbus organization announced Monday that it is dropping the word Crew in its official team name and replacing it with the completely generic Columbus SC. The news was met with immense anger among the toughest elements of the Crew – make that Columbus – fanbase, which staged a protest at Crew Stadium on Monday, but the club made progress nonetheless.

“The current leadership of our club and our city provides a natural time to examine our identity in the future,” Crew President and CEO Tim Bezbatchenko said in a statement. “The evolution of our identity and brand includes a shift in our mindset to be consistent contenders on the pitch, but also includes the evolution of our appearance both in the community and across competitions. With the upcoming completion of our modern and vibrant new stadium, our world-class OhioHealth Performance Center and coming out of an MLS Cup championship, our ratings are aligned with our purpose as a city and as an organization. . We are proud to represent Columbus on the world football stage and aspire to help uplift the city and honor for what he has done for the club. We are Columbus Soccer Club, we are The Crew, and we will be still the Black & Gold. “

So let’s dive into this news by asking three key questions: Why is the team doing this, why the fans are crazy, and why is the name of the crew sacred?

Why is the team doing this?

To hear the Columbus organization describe it, the movement is about “raising Columbus” to a bigger stage, like in the city itself. The timing is also said to coincide with the opening of the team’s new $ 313.9 million stadium which is slated to take place later this summer, to better position the organization “locally and globally.” The name change is touted as an evolution rather than a complete overhaul.

But that explanation only invites more questions, the most important being: Couldn’t the organization be doing all of these things while keeping the crew as their official nickname? The Columbus organization maintains that it is not abandoning the name altogether. The term “crew” will be visible in and around the stadium. The official store will be called “Crew Shop”, while the food and drink stalls on the site will be called “Crew Kitchen”. Although Crew will no longer appear on the team’s jerseys, the organization will continue to sell hats and t-shirts bearing the Crew name in addition to the now unmanned logo.

“[The Crew name] is not going anywhere, “Bezbatchenko said in an exclusive interview with ESPN.” If anything, it’s more prevalent. “

This is open to interpretation, although Bezbatchenko told ESPN that the rebranding effort was not done in a vacuum, with a 2,500-person focus group involved including fans and non-fans. What has been brought home is the importance of the black and gold colors and keeping the word “Crew” as part of what the team does.

The team quickly compares their approach to that of other clubs around the world. Monterrey’s official name on the La Liga MX side is “CF Monterrey”, while his nickname is “Rayados“A source at the club also pointed out that what Columbus is doing is different from, say, Montreal, which ditched its long-held nickname” Impact “and now goes through Club de Foot Montreal.

None of this really addresses the need to drop the “Crew” as the team’s nickname. There is certainly a school of thought that emphasizing Columbus will help international appeal. But the presence of a nickname hasn’t stopped teams from other American sports from becoming international brands.

Bezbatchenko countered that the terms “The Crew” and “Columbus SC” are interchangeable and reiterated the desire to highlight the name of the city.

“When you had Columbus Crew SC, people really ignored Columbus,” Bezbatchenko said. “They talked about Crew SC. It was all Crew, and that was just part of who we were and what we want to be to move forward.”

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Why are the fans crazy?

There are two aspects to this: one is about the process, the other is about the story. Let’s start with the process.

Bezbatchenko told ESPN that the impetus for the rebranding was the change of ownership in which the Haslam and Edwards families bought the team from former owner Anthony Precourt. Bezbatchenko maintains that a working group comprising (in part) members of Save The Crew, fans of “Day One”, as well as two members of the management of the Nordecke supporter group, has been informed of the management that this take. But the Columbus organization asked them to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) preventing them from sharing leadership with other stakeholders. The news was still leaking.

Of course, there is a difference between letting people know what is going to happen and allowing them to collaborate in the process. To hear the Nordecke describe it, it’s the old scenario that happened. In a statement posted to social media, the Nordecke said that “neither the Nordecke nor any group of crew supporters were involved at any time in the conception, development or conception of the name change. The Council only saw the name change in the last few days., and it was presented to us as a complete product with no opportunity to contribute. “

Earlier this year, Nordecke board members Charles Campisano and Jeff Barger were briefed on the proposed changes and submitted a report – a copy of which was obtained by ESPN – to the Columbus organization, warning the team of what they could expect. terms of reaction from fans if they agreed to the proposed rebranding without sufficient input from fans. Regarding the name change, the report warned that the likely response to the removal of the “Crew” nickname would be “negative to catastrophic”.

The report added that “significant parts of the name change are essentially swapping what is loved and recognized for components that will not be well received.” This includes the new logo, which has been criticized for being too generic and does nothing to set the team apart in terms of branding. The report notes that in Ohio alone, there are seven other professional sports teams incorporating a “C” in their logo or crest.

And yet the Columbus organization forged ahead, and it wasn’t until last Friday that supporters were made aware of the details of the name change.

“We understand that what was presented to us was: ‘This is happening’, not ‘This is to be discussed’,” said Campisano, the general counsel for Nordecke, who was present at the meeting. .

The response has been overwhelmingly negative. Campisano added that “there was some emotion” and confirmed a report in the Columbus Dispatch this individual called Bezbatchenko “a traitor”.

Part of this is due to previous statements by Bezbatchenko. When word leaked in January 2020 that the team was considering a name and color change, he told the Columbus Dispatch, “The Black & Gold colors and the nickname ‘The Crew’ are essential parts of our club’s identity and have been loved by supporters since 1996. … Discussions regarding the overall brand identity include critical comments supporters and any report suggesting a departure from the above by the Club would be inaccurate. “

Now at least the name change is coming.

“It sucks,” said Morgan Hughes, who started #SaveTheCrew and was the group’s spokesperson. “It’s just such a pointless goal. What are they doing? The logo is lame, the name is lame. And when you combine these two, each other’s presence only makes the other worse. “

Why is the name of the crew sacred?

MLS teams have long struggled to bond with the local community, but Columbus has been more successful than most. Part of that is down to being one of the original MLS teams and the history that comes with it. But attachment to the crew’s nickname intensified in 2017 when then-owner Precourt announced plans to move the team to Austin, Texas.

Fan response has been intense, sustained and ultimately effective, with the hashtag #SaveTheCrew helping to galvanize broad support on social media and elsewhere. Even Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine got involved, suing Precourt Sports Ventures, citing the Modell rule that requires teams to get state funding to give six months’ notice of his intention to leave. .

MLS, with considerable help from the City of Columbus, found a solution whereby Precourt would acquire an expansion team which he could place in Austin, while the Haslam and Edwards families would take over from the crew and thus keep the team in Columbus. This development was seen as a victory not only for Columbus fans, but also for fan groups across the league.

Adding to the angst was that at one point, Precourt considered changing the team’s name to … Columbus SC. He ultimately opted for a less controversial name change – the official name was changed to Columbus Crew SC – but in the opinion of some fans the name itself is toxic given the previous owner’s attempts to move the team.

When the crew won in the MLS Cup final last December, it seemed like a fitting tribute to a team, their fans and the new owners who made it possible. Now the relationship with the die-hard fans, the very heart and soul of the team, is deteriorating. The effort to keep the team in Columbus has been reduced and some of the goodwill the new owners had accumulated is wasted.

“I hope that the goodwill is not exhausted on a brand evolution, a revision of a logo,” said Bezbatchenko. “I think for everything [the new owners] represented and has done over the past two and a half years to mean more than a naming convention. I really do. “

The fans will be the ultimate arbiter.


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