So, are there major corporate/rebranding changes afoot at West Ham United FC? It is notable that we were the first of the capital’s Premier League clubs to secure one of the new london.com web addresses. One must wonder if there are some specific marketing/commercial reason for this haste? Is reviewing the badge part of some wider ‘whizz bang’ proposal to align the image of the club with that of the Olympic Stadium? Over the last 24 hours, social media has been speculating that some sort of change of corporate identity is on the cards, whether that is a name change, a revised club badge or both and more beside. This has been partly fuelled by the recent SAB meeting and news that its members were required to sign another non-disclosure agreement in order to be privy to the club’s latest thinking. The club website has subsequently rushed to counter the wilder conjecture, denying that a name change was ever planned and reassuring the Hammers faithful that no updating/revising of the badge will be implemented without the prior agreement of the wider fan base.
This re-assurance, that any such changes will be subject to fan approval, is comforting and the club should be praised for providing that guarantee. They have said the club name is sacrosanct. Anyway, I suppose that the chances of obtaining FA approval for a name change are minimal in the aftermath of the ‘Hull Tigers’ episode. So, that one is not a runner and is probably just a distraction. The actual issue is likely to be a change in the club badge and possibly the incorporation of ‘London’ in to a revised design. But how radical might that redesign be? Will it be a Arsenal type re-styling of the traditional club badge or might it prove to be more of a departure from the past? It seems that there is now an emerging view online that the plans revolve around phasing out the castle. Obviously, this makes sense if the castle symbolises our current stadium. The rationale presumably being, no Boleyn Stadium, no castle in the badge! Although I cannot speculate in advance on anything they may seek to add in its place.
This issue does not worry me unduly. Let the club commission a new design and it will take its chances against the current badge. If it is too radical a departure, then it will be rejected by the fans, there is no doubt about that. After all, how can some ad agency effort possibly compete with the current badge? It will an unequal contest between history and tradition, 1964, 1965, 1975, 1980, Moore, Hurst, Peters, Bonds, Brooking, Devonshire, Di Canio, et al, and something (worst case scenario) off a drawing board. My gut instincts are to stick with the current version (albeit maybe restyled), but I am open to being convinced otherwise and while we fans are the final decision-makers (as the club have promised) I am relaxed about the issue.
However, what does interest me is this emphasis upon ‘London.’ Yes, we are a London club, but as we all know, we are far from having an exclusive status in that respect. Being geographically included since 1965 in the London urban conurbation is a fact, and it has had an impact, but by far the strongest formative influences on our club pre-dates that event. Firstly, we are West Ham, that is our core identity, secondly we recognise ourselves as an ‘East London’ club and thirdly we increasingly see ourselves as an Essex club. That is our triple layered identity and it directly reflects the historical development of the club, and indeed its fan base, since its formation in 1895.
Yet, on page 13 of yesterday’s Evening Standard an advert was published by makeit.london. The advert featured West Ham Utd players, against the backdrop of the OS, and contained a club statement that effectively revised the history of the club. It stated:
‘Since 1895, the Hammers have been at the heart of London. Our web address and new stadium keeps us there.’
Apart from the first sentence being historically inaccurate, it is interesting that we are portrayed, in the second, as being at the ‘heart’ of London by moving to the OS. Is this advert just a product of a lack of historical knowledge and an innocent zeal for london.com? Or is there something more subtle and interesting at play here. Namely, the opening shots in a shift to identify a relocated club with ‘London’ as a whole and, thereafter, consistently market themselves on that basis? After all, in marketing and commercial terms, it probably makes sense. Aligning the club name with London will make the club more instantly recognisable in lucrative overseas markets, with their potential new fan base and merchandising sales potential. Might it also be highly attractive to all those corporate/multi-national interests with their huge sponsorship and commercial revenue to invest? It is also interesting that it mirrors a significant corporate change made by Newham Council, in the run up to London 2012, when they rebranded the borough Newham-London. Is there a bit of a trend there?
Everyone wants the club to succeed commercially when it moves to the OS. It is perfectly understood that new revenue streams improve our chance of becoming a bigger, more successful PL club. The club must get those new external income streams flowing and also, closer to home, fill those c.60,000 seats on a consistent basis. That probably means selling seats across the capital, including to tourists, occasional spectators, business interests and alike. Fair enough. But at the same time, most fans will instinctively oppose processes that contribute to the dilution of West Ham’s strong identity and history in some sort of pan-London acid. Many fans are fearful of just that, the move to the OS resulting in a loss of the club’s hitherto strong and unique identity. The club must be aware of this and steer a course that both preserves the clubs identity/heritage and employs strategies that maximize the marketing/commercial potential of the move to the OS. Is it possible to square this particular circle? One hopes so.
‘Whizz bang’ ideas, if ill conceived and/or mis-managed, do have an unfortunate habit of flaring up suddenly and burning fingers. Forewarned is forearmed!