Reigning Major League Soccer champions Columbus have reached an agreement with supporters that walks back some of the more controversial aspects of its recent rebrand, including adding back the word “Crew” to the team’s official name and logo.
Members of the front office met with representatives of various Crew supporters groups, including the Nordecke and La Turbina Amarilla, on Tuesday afternoon. The Crew were represented in part by owners Dee Haslem, J.W. Johnson and Dr. Pete Edwards, as well as team president and GM Tim Bezbatchenko, and chief business officer Steve Lyons.
The supporters groups were represented in part by Nordecke board members Jeff Barger and general counsel Charles Campisano. Hector Robledo was present representing La Turbina Amarilla. The two sides quickly reached an agreement that when it came to the rebrand, the Columbus organization moved too quickly and without enough input from the team’s most passionate fans.
The result was a return to the team’s original name of the Columbus Crew as well as changes to the logo.
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A statement read: “This evening, a positive, collaborative discussion took place between Crew investor-operators, front office executives and a diverse group from the Crew community regarding the future of the Club’s brand and the Club’s commitment to its supporter community. The importance of keeping the Crew as the Club’s primary identifier was clear. The decision that came from the discussion was that Columbus Crew will remain the team’s official name moving forward.
“The Crew received Nordecke’s support of the name, which will include Columbus Crew as a part of the new crest. In addition, ’96’ will be placed inside the outline of the Ohio state flag, recognizing the club’s status as the founding member in Major League Soccer.”
In a subsequent video statement, Edwards said, “We’re super excited about the progress we’ve made and where we’re going as a club. We’re going to be the Columbus Crew and we’re going to be the Columbus Crew forever.”
The two sides agreed that a supporter liaison position will be created, the better to communicate with the team’s supporters groups. A position to handle broader community outreach efforts will also be created.
“Restoring the name was the number one priority,” Campisano told ESPN via telephone. “Obviously, it would have been better to have a fair dialogue up front, but given that they’re listening and reacting and asked us a lot of stuff, I think is as good as an outcome as we could have hoped for given the circumstances.”
He added that the meeting was “a sincere attempt to mend fences.”
The Columbus organization announced details of the initial rebrand on May 10, after word of the project leaked the previous weekend. Among the changes were that the nickname “Crew” was being dropped from the official team name, as well the new logo. Instead the team was to be referred to as Columbus SC. At the time, Bezbatchenko insisted that the idea was to accentuate the name of the city.
“When you had Columbus Crew SC, people really ignored Columbus,” Bezbatchenko said last week. “They talked about Crew SC. Everything was Crew, and that was only part of our identity and what we want to be about going forward.”
The response was universally negative, with Morgan Hughes, one of the founders of the Save the Crew movement that prevented the team from moving to Austin, Texas, calling the rebrand “lame” and “such an unnecessary own goal.”
Making matters worse was the fact that Campisano and Barger authored a report back in January — a copy of which was obtained by ESPN — warning the Columbus front office that the response to the rebrand in general, and the name change in particular would be “negative to catastrophic.” Bezbatchenko later told ESPN that the report “hadn’t been widely disseminated” within the Crew organization.
According to Campisano, Haslam has since read the report, and admitted she should have seen it prior to last week’s announcement.
“It felt sincere and heartfelt that this wasn’t just a way to get us to quiet down,” said Campisano. “They recognize that they made a mistake, and they need to do stuff to correct it.”
The episode reiterates the impact that the league’s supporters can have on decisions made by a team’s front office. Now the Crew’s opening of its new stadium can take place later this summer without anger from fans being directed at the organization.
Campisano said, “Now I don’t have to worry about boycotting anything.”