Rethinking Louisville’s soccer brand
What would it take to keep Louisville City FC’s brand from committing another red card offense?
Soccer fans have seen this before.
The city’s team enters a new league, breaks affiliation with a franchise or exchanges ownership. The team needs a bold visual statement to reflect the fresh start.
The owners unveil a new brand and it flops. Badly.
It fails to capture the character of the city and the hearts of the supporters (and they will let you know). The criticism comes as a shock at first, but the owners conveniently have an epiphany: they are not the only stakeholders in the team. To make amends, the owners perform a public expression of humility and invite the team’s supporters to be part of the redesign process.
There are a lot of things wrong with the new identity. I am going to focus on three things and offer solutions to each: the name, the color and the crest.
I know these are difficult design challenges and I am confident people worked hard to create tenable solutions. Appeasing fans and looking good is not an easy task. That said, Louisville City FC could have avoided this misstep.
Penalty: Etymology, Phonetics and Fads
Louisville has a handful of nicknames, including: Falls City, Derby City, River City, The ’Ville, The Gateway to the South and even The City of Beautiful Churches. No one has ever called it Louisville City or LouCity. This is probably because ville is the French word for city, and, as the city was named for a French king named Louis, Louisville has always seemed sufficient. Adding city is redundant, superfluous, inessential and particularly tautological.
Another reason no one has ever called it LouCity is phonetic. It sounds like Lose City. It’s an apt name for a downtrodden industrial town in a dystopian graphic novel that spells doom and gloom for the protagonist. It is not a good name for a sports team, especially one that has won two USL Championships.
Lastly, LouCity is stylized in camelCase, a fatuous trend that boomed along with the dot com era. The trouble with trends is they fall out of fashion. The whimsy once conveyed in camelCase is now a gauche curiosity without inherent significance.
Save: Falls City Football Club
The reason Louisville exists is a waterfall. Travelers had to exit the water and walk their boats around the Falls of the Ohio. Some travelers stuck around. That community grew into a city they named Louisville. Some years later, Louisville hosted a soccer team. By extension, that team only exists because of a waterfall.
Falls City Football Club honors Louisville’s origins. Falls City Football Club adopts a beloved nickname that is already part of the Louisville lexicon. Falls City Football Club contains the apparently requisite word city.
And Falls City Football Club’s repeating initials FCFC look and sound cool, too.
Louisville’s first professional sports team was a baseball team named after the color they wore (and presumably newspaper that funded their existence): The Louisville Grays. Since then, the city’s professional sports teams have worn reds, blues, yellows and greens. The only team in recent memory that dared to don purple was the Louisville Bats, which adroitly changed their colors to red and navy blue ahead of the 2016 season.
“Nothing says ‘I don’t get it’ quite like purple.”
Purple does not make sense. The affiliation with Orlando City SC has been severed, so that doesn’t cut mustard. The attempt to appeal to UofL and UK fans by mixing red and blue to become simultaneously both and neither is a Judgment of Solomon that leaves no one happy.
Save: Be Pittsburgh, Wear Red
Pittsburgh, Louisville’s neighbor up the river, got it right. They picked a color scheme and ran with it. The Penguins, Pirates and Steelers are all the black and yellow. Can you guess what colors USL cohorts Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC wear? How about the Pittsburgh Forge Rugby Club?
A Penguins fan can slip into a Riverhounds game already dressed for the occasion, and a Steelers fan can wave their towel at a Forge match. Wherever you go in Pittsburgh, kindred fans wear black and yellow, a sign of camaraderie no matter what the sport. They are fans of Pittsburgh, which means they are fans of every team in their city.
Muhammad Ali wore red. The Redbirds wore red. The University of Louisville—host to the most sports teams in the city—wears read. The Bats wear red now. Even the bourbon wears red!
Red is passion. Red is danger. Red is love and adventure, violence, fire, blood and a blanket of 554 roses. Red is visceral. It’s already a vital part of the visual vocabulary of Louisville. When you head to a Louisville game—Cards, Bats or Falls City FC—you know to wear red.
Also, red teams win more.
The crest is crowded and confusing. Where to begin? I’ll address each item in the logo explainer above.
Stars & Fleur-de-lis · If the fleurs-de-lis look peculiar, it’s because they are cribbed from bad clip art of a former Louisville flag. The actual fleurs-de-lis of the former flag of Louisville (1934–2003) look very different.
The 13 stars do not represent Louisville. They represent 13 states—none of which are Kentucky, the commonwealth within which Louisville resides. And even if the stars were a crucial design element (they are not), these are aligned pointing up instead of out (because clip art).
Five Sides · The five sides “represent the five bridges that cross the Ohio River.” That’s just a shield crimped into a clunky pentagon. The only bridge anyone cares about is the Second Street Bridge because it’s forever tied to a story about being second place.
LouCity · The name is set in Gotham Bold, a lovely typeface whose ubiquity in recent years has rendered it flavorless. Why is the y kerned so far away? Why is there a space between Lou and City if it’s supposed to be LouCity? Why use the familiar LouCity and the formal Football Club (as opposed to FC, or just not mentioning it)?
Purple Triangle · It’s not a triangle; it’s a quadrangle. Check that bottom right “corner.” Why doesn’t the diagonal vector meet the corner? The stated logic behind the triangle—“our city’s rise as a professional market”—implies the existence of our city as an unprofessional market. What are you saying? Has Louisville been an amateur market this whole time? Does the black “triangle” evoke the city’s fall as a professional market?
Diagonal Line · The line represents “the Ohio River, the primary driver for our city’s growth. The city emblems on both sides of the river unite the community.” The reality is diagonal lines are fashionable in soccer shields. The Ohio River is oriented in the opposite direction and this diagonal line is literally separating the other city emblems.
Essentially, the crest is a disassembled clip art flag slapped on a shoddy pentagon with lazy typography. And purple.
Logos are full of contradiction. They need to be fresh and new while maintaining historical equity. Keep it simple and make it say everything. They need to be bold and agile. It has to look good tiny, but make it bigger. The logo needs to be a tangible memento that captures Louisville’s ineffable spirit.
Victor Hammer’s 1953 design of the seal of the City of Louisville is one of the most beloved and revered designs in Louisville. The stars are insignificant (as stated above), but the fleur-de-lis design and typography are perfect.
Adopted for a modern context and borrowing only the essential elements, a simple and familiar fleur-de-lis and elegant FC can communicate everything. Nothing more and nothing less.
One fleur-de-lis, one city. A symbol of Louisville since it’s inception. FC pulls double-duty, for Falls City and Football Club. The components can be reproduced large or small, together or individually, whole or cropped and still register as the brand (i.e. it’s well-suited for merchandise).
Extra Time: Kits
The best sports uniforms of all time look different from the rest, not the same. From the New York Yankees’ pinstripes to the Oregon Ducks’ 512 uniform combinations, kits that stand out have unique design elements. In soccer, whose outfits stand out? Bold colors and patterns.
Fortunately, there’s already a long tradition of bold colors and patterns unique to Louisville: jockey silks.
This wink and nod to the city’s horse racing heritage adds another layer of Louisvilleness, and functions well to distinguish the team from the fairly conservative kits of their opponents in the NWSL and USL. Falls City FC could issue new variations each match. Of course, the shorts should be in the style of Ali’s single-striped boxers. And think of the merch!
I hope this critique clearly illustrates the shortcomings of the new Louisville City FC branding, and establishes a potential path for success.
As a fan, I crave the best for and from my team. As a designer, I aspire to create intentional visual communication. In Louisville City FC’s flubbed brand rollout, I see a teachable moment that translates across industries and media. I hope this exercise in design thinking is helpful.
And may the powers that be at Louisville City FC find it in their eternal wisdom to correct course and step up to the big leagues in style.
Michael Buchino is an art director, graphic designer, illustrator, animator, letterer, et ceterer born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky.