/ 5 April 2011

Why I should get to reboot the New England Revlolution

How far back do I go with this one? Do I go back to being an upstate New York kid, in love with everything Boston? To being eight, and the sensory overload of imagemy first game at Fenway? Riding home from that game, all I could remember – like the image inside your eyelids after staring at something way too brilliant – was a color I had never seen before. The overwhelming Fenway green. Kind of evergreen, and seafoam, and chalky and grey and bright. It was not a part of the Red Sox color scheme. It was everywhere. It was perfect.

To the late 80s and early 90s, making my own terrible baseball cards and creating fake NFL teams (the Oakland Tremors, anyone?) so I could have an excuse to draw logos and uniforms for them. (In my defense, there was no team in Oakland then, and nobody in any sport I knew about was doing black and green – not yet, anyway.)

Maybe a little later, to the 1994 World Cup that I watched at back-yard barbecues. The one that made Americans like me kind of, sort of, perk up and watch for a second. Where we saw a carnival of color and the way an international soccer crowd moves and sounds – it was all different than what we were used to.  Where we started to understand that yellow, blue and green (for instance) could signify something the way we thought only red, white and blue could.

Author’s note: the entire Rev Reboot series is now up and online.  When you’re done here, feel free to read on.
Intro: Why I should get to Reboot the Revs
Part I: Identity
Part II: Uniforms
Part III: Positioning
Final Word: Summing it all up
Enjoy? Get the Rev Reboot T-Shirt!
Thanks for reading!

Maybe I go even a little more recently, to the end of the 90s and an extended stay in England (the seed), and then to the early days of the new century when I, now living in Boston, began regularly watching and understanding the English Premier League (the shoot). To having an entirely new, potent, fervid mess of signifiers and symbols and colors – each with decades of meaning – dumped into my lap to make sense of.

To seeing Blackburn wearing halved shirts, like rodeo clowns.  And wordlessly cool Arsenal attackers in their long sleeves and black gloves. And a team dressed entirely like American referees – which really messed with my expectations – being captained by a confident old bastard (Newcastle, Shearer). And the most intimidating part of United’s meticulous uniform – the black socks. (As Will Hunting memorably put it, “Because, —- you, that’s why.”) [1, 2, 3, 4] And on I went, delving into Europe and the ensuing World Cups and Champions’ Leagues and ending up somewhere, on a sofa at 2am on a weeknight watching obscure Fox Sports World segments about Fenerbahçe and Nagoya Grampus Eight.

There was so much to consume and digest; I did my best to gorge. Along the way I became a huge soccer fan, and inevitably learned a ton about travel and culture and people. I also became a bit of a designer and artist, when I can sneak it in. I love to design. I love soccer.

The Pivot

I feel pretty average about my hometown team, the New England Revolution. Many people better and more passionate than I can explain why; suffice to say that the people who run the Revs seem to care very much about the business of business, somewhat about the business of soccer and very little about the culture of soccer.

If they ever build one, they will be the last MLS team with their own soccer facility; right now, they play out in the suburbs in the crater of the Patriot’s Gillette Stadium.

If they ever sign one, they will be the last MLS team to bring in a designated star player that local soccer fans – including the thousands that speak primarily Spanish, or Portuguese, or Russian or what have you – might have gotten excited to see.

If they ever get one, they will be the last MLS team to be redesigned and rethought as something culturally specific to soccer; right now, they play in uniforms that feature mid 1990s design choices, the Patriots’ color scheme, no crest, and no sponsor. [update: just a few days after I published, the Revs did the right thing.]

If they ever decide to, they will be a big, big deal in Boston and New England. But they are fairly content not to worry about doing so. I am the Revolution’s target fan – early 30s, disposable income (in the sense that I have no kids yet and would purchase tickets to an exciting sporting event over paying a utility bill), passionate, urban, and male. I took my wife to the South African World Cup on our honeymoon – including two (2!) separate trips to lonely Rustenburg to see the US play. I’m not joking around here.  I love this stuff. But the Revs are far from capturing my heart, and that’s sad.   

Again, this isn’t news.  And Boston is a microcosm of America in this regard.  There are lots – a growing amount – of people like me out there waiting to be brought on board.  There are also an amazing amount of first and second generation families from traditional soccer cultures who still follow their far-away teams (and until something changes will raise their kids to do the same).  And there is a generation of American soccer fans who have only known the US as a World Cup mid-major, instead of a 16 seed or an outsider looking in. We are ready to embrace this. 

Specifically in Boston.  Boston has incredible fans.  We invented incredible fans, in fact.  We want to throw down at the pub and get team-oriented tattoos and sing songs and swear in other languages.  The Revs are asking us to come to Chuck E. Cheese and spend some quarters.  It’s time to grow up.

I didn’t invent these talking points, but it’s good to restate them: the Revs need a stadium near one (or better, two) lines of the MBTA subway system. They need it near urban gathering places – pubs, shops, walkable streets – so game days can be events to gather at. They need to stop being the Baby Pats.  They need new or streamlined colors and a logo that is free to become timeless (rather than something that encapsulates the worst trends – well, somehow they missed teal – of prefab 90s sports identity design). But they need more than that.

They kind of get soccer soccer; they need to understand soccer fútbol. For instance: just ‘cause your name is the Revolution, you don’t have to splash it across your jersey like a basketball team. Soccer teams don’t do that. Your colors are from the Patriot style guide: blue, red, white, and silver – ok, fine. But aside from your one traditional combo, your uniform can be anything. Barcelona is normally red and blue – but they’ve rocked a neon yellow strip sometimes, depending on the year and the occasion. Arsenal – the embodiment of red and white – wears heritage maroon if they want. Chelsea, the Blues themselves, have been seen in black and day-glo orange. In soccer, your uniform color is sometimes ephemeral. It’s fun. It’s flair, and confidence. It’s a chance to express wild impulses and create memories and (please, pay attention here) sell jerseys. It’s something you do when you have an innate confidence in your core identity.

You keep the core rock solid, and you feel free to get a little crazy. Because that’s how soccer fanship is. At least to me. But New England doesn’t have the core figured out, let alone the nuance. They need help. I’m not the best designer in the world, nor the best strategist, nor the best writer or soccer fan. But I’m going to weigh in anyway because I flat-out love this stuff.

The Payoff

That’s the pre-amble. Is there a payoff? Well, I’ve worked up a few designs for my – not “beloved” at all; let’s say “be-tolerated” – New England Revolution. I’m going to present them in a series of posts here. And I hope you feel at least towards them the way I feel towards the Revs – somewhat intrigued, with a bunch of ideas about how they could improve, kind of a vague wish that there was more to them, or that they were really going somewhere important.

First up: the crest.  After that, some kit ideas.  Stay tuned.

Author’s note: Part 1: Identity is now up!  Read it now, or do something else! 

Read more about the author here, or leave a comment below if you like. Thanks for reading.