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The REAL problem with Aston Villa's rebrand

There's more to Villa's rebrand than meets the eye

Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Aston Villa have recently finalised a rebrand that will see their media products change in time for their relegation to the Football League Championship. In a season that has been nothing but catastrophic in terms of PR for the club, I'd hate to shovel more excrement right to their doorstep, but shovel it I shall.

If there's anything Aston Villa don't want me to say after a mixed reception to the rebrand, it's this - at best it's Tom Fox trying to put his own stamp on Villa and at worst it's awful, unintelligent cronyism that simply serves to let Villa file in line with the rest of England's unimaginative corporate image.

Frankly, in any other situation, this would be a non-story. It's only because Villa are treating everyone awfully by way of results right now that I'm so annoyed about this. One of our writers (Alex) pretty much nailed it with his take: £2 Million is a pittance to a Premier League club and the fact that the same sum worries Villa fans is just a statement of this season, even with the fact that the rebrand actually cost £80,000.

Let's get things straight - Villa's new un-inspired crest didn't cost £2 million. £2 million might be the cost for every piece of promotional material that leaves Villa Park. This money also has nothing to do with Villa's transfer window as a rebrand would (ideally) have been thought about or proposed as a sensible move for the club around 12 months ago.

In fact, Villa revealed that the 'entire project' cost £80,000 - which seems like an absolute steal for an entire rejuvenation of the clubs visual imaging.

The money involved and the timing aren't an issue. In fact, I welcome the rebrand. The real issue is that basic research into this move shows that it may not have been thought out as well as Villa fans would hope, in fact, it highlights such a basic lack of ingenuity, forward-thinking and creativity that I'm not surprised Villa are being relegated.

Football clubs, since the dawn of their existence, have always served as a pillar of the community. Victorians used them as social clubs, relaxing with friends in grounds to watch and play sports. They evolved to become relief from economic woes, political strife, and war, and they have gone on to become tools of left-wingers and right-wingers. They have been pushed to the brink of tragedy and back. And they have basically been told "grow up and get a job," a task that has ended with a sterilised atmosphere at most grounds. We're now at the stage where the most important letters for any club have changed from W-L-D to PLC. The stock market rises and falls like a position on the league table. Monetisation and profits are as key as results, if not moreso.

And that, readers, is okay. It's something we all have to accept in the 21st century. Wars are fought over money, banks make money from your money, people are killed over money. Money is the blood transfusion the world chose to have following bad experiences with oil and nuclear weapons. Capitalism, as despicable as some may find it, is the key to everything. That's a bitter pill to swallow, but swallow it you will.

In this context, it is of paramount importance that a club's brand sells. That's why the rebrand is of importance - it gets those who don't care about AVFC to invest with both their hearts and (hopefully) their wallets. A kid in the States might see the badge and think it's cool and that is alone in a vast ocean of importance as something key for Villa's future. Money needs to fly into the club from the four corners of the globe.

However, in that financial pursuit, it's becoming increasingly clear that Aston Villa just don't want anything to do with their fanbase and I won't pin that attitude on Randy Lerner, but I will force it straight to the door of the recently departed CEO of Villa, Tom Fox.

Fox's lack of awareness or even respect for Aston Villa seemed to start at the beginning of this season. Before Aston Villa's 2015/2016 debut at home on a Friday night to Manchester United, fans had organised (with their own money, by the way) a mosaic that read 'Prepared'. The club started off by backing this movement, known as 'Get The Holte End Back', but this was scrapped at the last minute and replaced with a mosaic that read 'Villans'.

Although just as impressive as a mosaic of Villa's slogan, it was rumoured that Tom Fox had vetoed the 'Prepared' mosaic. At the time, it was easy to take that as his way of saying "Villa are not prepared, so why would we have that as a mosaic?", which rubbed a number of Villa fans the wrong way. Furthermore, Fox was asked about this in January's AGM and it was in fact the first question he faced from Villa supporter group My Old Man Said who asked the former CEO about these rumours.

It's worth saying that MOMS agreed with the sentiment that Villa were 'unprepared', but asked the question to the CEO who responded that 'He had no idea where you [MOMS] heard that, I don't think I vetoed it and wouldn't have done it for that reason'.

Fox doesn't deny that he vetoed the mosaic. He simply says he had no idea where the connotation that he vetoed the design comes from. Also, he doesn't 'think he vetoed it'. Pull the other one, you cannot get it past me that a CEO of a football club simply doesn't know an action he took.

You can read more about their exchange here and I actively encourage you to do so, hindsight being the wonderful thing that it is. The veto on the 'prepared' mosaic achieved the exact same sentiment as showing it. It opened up a gaping wound for Villa that is still yet to close.

The real truth is at the end of his sentence. He wouldn't have done it for 'that reason'.  This all happened between August 2015 and January 2016, what has been removed from Aston Villa's badge since then?
villa crest comparison
For whatever reason, the club didn't leap in front of this back in August. The rebrand had clearly been commissioned by that stage and everyone would have known internally that 'prepared' would no longer feature on the crest of Aston Villa. It wasn't part of the future Fox outlined and that is okay, that's fine. What's not fine is treating every single person who wanted to help Aston Villa like a child. Like they couldn't handle, or know the truth. This is a major problem, because Aston Villa as of 2010 are a club on life support, a club that desperately needs a vocal, raucous fanbase to back them 100% of the time. Capsizing a major fan movement at the behest of a rebrand and then lying about it? That's the type of action that leads to movements like 'Out The Door on 74' and chants such as 'Tom Fox, what a wanker, what a wanker'. Whilst the club may have still cared about the opinions of its fans, it appeared to be the opposite.

In February 2016, Tom Fox removed two fans of their season tickets in a move that pretty much led him to his exit. The fans, a woman and her elderly father had apparently said to Fox, 'football is nothing without fans' during a 6-nil defeat at home to Liverpool. They were then accosted by security guards and led out of the ground. Tom Fox has since apologised for this, but the move still should never have been in his mind at all.

But that's easy for me to say. Tom Fox could be the nicest man on earth, but he has seemingly no clue of what happens in the 'real world'. This is a man who has been involved with businesses that simply cannot fail. Gatorade, Pepsi, Nike, Arsenal. Buzzword city, where networking breakfasts, business lunches, all-expenses-paid and transformation programmes rule the day. These companies simply do not reflect the real world and Fox may have enjoyed being able to fall back on 'revenue streams', 'cashflow' and 'successful commercial operations', we all know that these are fallacies. They don't matter when things are going so wrong everywhere else.

It's faceless corporatism, the kind that doggedly blights almost everything in the 21st century from self-help books to coffee shops. It's money for nothing. It's presentations, Wolf of Wall Street type garbage. It's fake, it doesn't exist, but people throughout the world still insist on it.

I wish Tom all the success in the world, but he and Aston Villa were a doomed marriage. He lived in an entirely separate world from the reality which Villa found itself. He wanted to do it all and leave his mark, but that would never be the way to win at AVFC. Why? Because he was never capable of understanding what Aston Villa are.

Villa's rebrand was carried out by SomeOne In London, a design firm that's handled more prestigious projects than you can shake a stick at. The group has pretty much knocked the ball out of the park with every task offered to them and chief among them was the transformation of London 2012's branding from an internet joke to a complete and utterly understandable visual identity. Not only did SomeOne In London carry out extensive rebranding at the London 2012 games, they also worked on redesigning Tottenham Hotspur as well as the Baku games.

Villa's commercial officer, Charlie Wijeratna is supposedly one of the leading figures behind Villa's rebrand. A brief search for his background reveals something actually quite interesting in terms of a critique of this process. Wijeratna held positions at all of these companies during the time they were rebranded by SomeOne, including Aston Villa. Wijeratna is quoted a number of times in SomeOne's portfolio. There's a clear, multi-year link between SomeOne and Villa's CCO. At worst, it just seems lazy to fall back on the same people over and over and over. This in itself isn't a problem, but the United Kingdom is facing a few disturbing trends right now and Villa mirror that.

The future of the United Kingdom is skewed towards the favour of its capital city, London. Economic recovery and growth may very well be on the cards for the country, but there's no doubt about it that London will benefit the most from anything good coming through the U.K. A large proportion of the U.K's young talent are heading towards the capital chasing reputation, money and security in what's called a 'brain drain' of emerging minds.

This skew has led to the UK's chancellor, George Osborne to call for the creation of a 'Northern Powerhouse'. This website is no platform for me to convey my dislike of Britain's current government or my feelings on how patronising the 'Northern Powerhouse' scheme is for a party that effectively isolated the North of England, so I'll leave that conversation there - but it's worth noting that the 'brain drain' does seem to be an issue, even for a conservative, London focused government.

What's particularly disheartening within this is that Aston Villa could have fulfilled its role to the community by providing jobs and work for Birmingham's talent. Instead, they chose to ship off the work to London. This seems like another problem, why are Villa, who should be a pillar of the community in a growing city, shipping work out that could easily (very easily) be done by a firm in the city?

Surely Aston Villa could have rocked up at Birmingham City University and asked design MA students to implement their own vision for Villa's branding in return for a scholarship? Surely they could have offered a £3k prize for a fan to design a new badge?

At every single stage during the past year where Villa have had a chance to involve fans with the club's future, they simply have not. How are Villa fans meant to have faith in a team that has no faith in the fans?

Now, this is nowhere near an attack on SomeOne, who are excellent at their jobs. This isn't even an attack on Charlie Wijeratna, who is someone I am positive will bring success to Aston Villa. Furthermore, this isn't an attack on the rebrand or Aston Villa - the whole project has been carried out exceedingly well and I'm infatuated with the design.

What this is, however, is a clear criticism at the vision of Aston Villa. Both Fox and Wijeratna have backgrounds in London. SomeOne are based in London, Arsenal, and Tottenham are based in London. This stream of 'London' runs throughout the board of Aston Villa and even though two leading figures of that board have left, their influence will remain implanted on the shirt of Aston Villa for the foreseeable future.

Let me preface this criticism with my view of 'experience'. Experience, in my mind, simply tells you what not to do. Experience offers a 'safe' route and I truly feel that experience blocks creativity. Experience is a template whilst creativity is freeform.

So when Aston Villa have a shot at underlining their future with a rebrand, all that could be done by the people who run the club was pretend to be Arsenal. Pretend to be Tottenham. Pretend to be London. Arsenal and Tottenham are both successful clubs, but they got to that pinnacle by themselves. The didn't copy, they didn't pretend - they simply were. Aston Villa can't find their own path or be taken seriously by a ferocious and loyal fanbase if they allow themselves to tread a path laid by others. They need to find their own voice and be Aston Villa. Unfortunately, all the commercial team and Tom Fox could do was try and emulate Arsenal, it's a running theme in anything and everything he says because it's the only thing he knows. Villa were seriously held back by their own reluctance to be their self.

The idea, the execution and the finished product are all well and good (this excellent focus on the process by The Creative Review shows what a great job SomeOne have done), but with an opportunity to banish a terrible season with a new design and a new vision, Villa decided to fall in line with the identikit, 'fresh design' of football in the 21st-century instead of seeking their own future and that that near-sightedness falls anywhere near Villa's football operations, well - we've got more problems than a badge.

In a growing city, a club with a lot of potential should use a change like this to bolster its commercial side's effort in leading Birmingham's business. Instead, they didn't give the city a look in and turned their back on the people whose forebears made Aston Villa. I want to see Aston Villa soar again, but I don't want to see them leave my city behind.