That's the greatest rock band in the history of the world. They're from Dayton. They're singing a song about Ohio from the 1996 album Under The Bushes Under The Stars. The album was released on March 26, 1996. The Columbus Crew played their first game 18 days later on April 13, 1996. You can hear a lot of the way that Ohio was in 1996 in Under The Bushes Under The Stars. You can hear a lot of the way Ohio still is in 2014 in that album, too—but nobody sees it, these days.
About this song, Robert Pollard is quoted by James Greer on page 118 in the book Guided By Voices: A Brief History: Twenty-One Years of Hunting Accidents in the Forests of Rock and Roll that "The thing about growing up in Northridge, and probably any blue-collar town, is just what you do is you get married right away. Have kids, have a family, get a job and everything. That's what 'Redmen and Their Wives' is about, that concept, that notion. That's what you do. You don't even know what else there is. I was part of that. […] I escaped it, but it cost me. Your destiny's already laid out for you."
Sometimes you must do something that you don't want to do. Some of us have entire lives comprised of nothing but things that we don't want to do. Some of us are fortunate and have very few moments like that. I've been thinking about this during the last couple of weeks. For me, the most recent instance of doing something that I didn't want to do took the shape of splashing out a bunch of money to get my wisdom teeth removed after years of putting it off. All things considered, that's really not all that bad. I'm thankful that I get to do something that I want to do, now.
For 28 in 28, the time has come to talk about something a lot of Columbus Crew supporters don't want to do, and that something comes in a color that you're most likely going to hate...
To Columbus Crew supporters, red is the equivalent of a quadruple tooth extraction, maybe throw in a root canal or two, no anesthesia, of course. For instance, if you're up for a bit of a detour, read through the first few posts in this BigSoccer thread from 2011 discussing the possibility of a Crew third kit. Immediately, the idea of a red uniform was brought up:
"Crew in Red? Never. Ever. Please. […] Crew should NEVER be in red. Better dead than red, right? ……… right?"
"A red jersey for us is out of the question."
These fans, and many others with similar opinions, can relax. Anthony Precourt has said more than once that the colors of the Columbus Crew aren't changing, which is a relief. Last year, well before any of us in Columbus knew who Anthony Precourt was, I made a prediction on a Massive Report podcast that at some point in the next couple of seasons the Columbus Crew would have to introduce a third kit color that would include red and/or gray. At the mere mention of red being included in the team colors, a lot of people sort of got angry. That wasn't surprising.
Some form of the phrase "Better dead than red" is frequently said by Crew supporters. It took the form of tifo in 2009 during the height of the Columbus-Toronto supporters rivalry, and seemed an appropriate response when the most hated opposition supporters group of Crew fans at the time was, definitely, the Red Patch Boys. Those old angers faded as TFC became worse and worse and their fan base became less and less interested in their team and traveling. Still, there are several very good reasons why Columbus Crew fans reflexively and wholly reject red. Those reasons are as follows:
1. Chicago Fire
2. D.C. United
3. Toronto F.C.
4. The Ohio State University Buckeyes
In the interests of full disclosure, I graduated from The Ohio State University in 2007, and I'm fond of my alma mater. I was an English and History of Art major, and my focus was mainly writing. It was in a rhetoric and propaganda class that I first read David Ogilvy's classic Ogilvy on Advertising. The first lines of that book are "I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art form, but as a medium of information. When I write an advertisement, I don't want you to tell me that you find it 'creative.' I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product."
Buy the product. That's what the question of a red Columbus Crew jersey really comes down to. Consider the upcoming announcement of the new adidas 2014 Columbus Crew jersey and the emphasis that MLS puts on promoting its teams' jerseys. As I write this, we are mere days away from a special event unveiling the 2014 home jersey. This is about selling the new Crew jersey, and selling the new Crew jersey is about selling new Crew tickets. It's pretty important, in the scheme of Major League Soccer things.
Soccer teams change their uniform styles, colors, designs, cuts with more frequency than any other major sport. Take, for example, what the Cleveland Browns face when merely considering changes to their traditional uniforms in 2015. Chief marketing officer for the NFL, Mark Waller, makes it clear how important the uniform is to the business of an NFL franchise. Tony Grossi quotes him as saying "Ultimately, (the uniform is) the expression of the club and the brand the fan is most familiar with. They wear them. They buy them. And it's the strongest identity they have other than the game itself."
Other than the game itself. One might even argue that updates and changes to the uniform are much more important than that for MLS teams. Soccer supporters tend to buy their team's uniforms precisely to mark the years in the history of their teams—no matter the changes from tradition, no matter the form of the team, no matter the shirt sponsor (something that NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL franchises and clubs do not need to consider). A Jim Brown uniform from 1963 is largely identical to a Bernie Kosar uniform from 1990 and a Brandon Weeden uniform from 2013. Putting aside the not-so-subtle appearance of orange pants that have erupted onto the scene now and then over the years, the Browns—like the Packers, Bears, Giants, Steelers and other old football clubs—really don't change much. How often do you ask your Browns fan friends "Is that a 1988 or a 2008 jersey?" Would they even know?
It's not at all the same of soccer fans. Columbus Crew supporters know the difference is between the 2008 and 2010 uniforms, and they probably have both the home and away jerseys from both years. In the case of the 2014 jersey, I bought one sight-unseen the day that preorder opened up. Why? Because it's the Columbus Crew 2014 jersey, that's why. I know that's not usual to buy a jersey before seeing it, but I can guarantee that a lot of the current fan base will eventually buy them when they do see them. The trick is coming up with a new jersey that grows that fan base. What gets people's attention? Because once they buy a jersey, they become a fan.
What gets people's attention? Red does. A red jersey would sell. Not that I would like it—at least not subconsciously, but it would sell. You know that it would. It would sell because red sells. Red has a physiological and psychological impact upon us. Red increases the heart rate, creates a sense of urgency, and is more apt to result in impulse purchases. Scientific studies tell us that human beings are attracted to red. Red boosts sexual attractiveness to other human beings. Red conveys power and attracts attention. Perhaps our attraction to red is subconscious, and perhaps the origins of this "red effect" lay in our evolutionary past. Perhaps, we can't help it. To paraphrase Robert Pollard's quote above—That's what we do. We don't even know what else there is. Perhaps, it is in our blood.
David Ogilvy chose red, too. He chose red for his company during a time—post war 1948—when the color red could not have had a more negative meaning for those in the major capitalist advertising centers—London, New York—where he sought to succeed. The phrase "Better dead than red" meant to convey an extreme and real-world meaning in those days. But Ogilvy didn't need scientific studies to know the power of red to sell. He more or less created the concept of "brand imaging," and he understood that the image of "an extremely exciting and passionate company, a company full of rebels and mavericks" was what he wanted to convey for his brand. Also, Ogilvy wanted a color that was "most associated with selling." The color that accomplished that was red.
In the end, that is what modern sports franchises and businesses are doing. They are not creating. They're selling. In his book, Ogilvy quoted another ad man of his time, Rosser Reeves, "Now, what do you want out of me? Fine writing? Do you want masterpieces? Do you want glowing things that can be framed by copywriters? Or do you want to see the goddamned sales curve stop moving down and start moving up?"
That's the mindset. You're the judge of whether that mindset has done more harm than good to culture and society over the decades of Mad Men marketing. What's undeniable is that people today buy a lot more, consume a lot more, produce a lot more, sell a lot more.
Value, however, takes many more forms than just sales. So, are selling jerseys worth it to include red in a uniform or crest when red is so despised by the people who pour their hearts into that crest and wear that uniform?
This edition of 28 in 28 is about thinking of a way in which red could legitimately be included in the crest to allow for the possibility of a future red jersey option and the sales that would certainly come with it. The colors of the Columbus city flag are gold, white, and red. The colors of the Ohio flag are red, white, and blue. The official state colors are red, white, and blue. The state bird is the cardinal, the state flower is the scarlet carnation. The Black & Gold colors of the Columbus Crew should stay the primary colors of the team. That is not in question, but there are legitimate ways to incorporate red into the color scheme of this team.
Some of what I've written here may sound like a cynical, sales-driven, money-hungry, marketing-based defense of modern football. Those who know me know that that is pretty much everything I try to not cultivate in soccer support. It's just that there is a different kind of art to advertising, which is what we are talking about here, and we can see the outcome of it in recent MLS rebrands. We will certainly see much more of that in the Orlando City, New York City FC, and Miami branding to come in the next 2 years. The irony of the situation is that the crests and logos, designs and drawings that defined the early eras of soccer and sports logos are more popular now than ever. And, in comparison, those were done with no sense at all of the rapacious consumer culture that drives every aspect of sports fandom and life in general in our consumer economy.
The standards and crests that we hold dear from those bygone ages were, literally, designed to represent the values and aspirations of the club. "Merch," "swag," "gear," were not primary motivations behind the crests and badges of soccer clubs. They are now, though. It's, pretty much, all that matters.
Case in point: last summer, I went to Indianapolis to watch the Inter Milan vs. Chelsea F.C. soccer match at Lucas Oil Stadium. Merchswaggear was everywhere—and, with very few exceptions, it was all Chelsea. Why? Because that's what was going to sell. The lines for this cheaply-made extraordinarily expensive stuff were 30, 40, 50 people deep. They were all waiting in line to buy Chelsea merchswaggear. I cannot even begin to estimate the tens of thousands of dollars that was earned on merchswaggear, alone. But that's why the people were there, to get their Chelsea merchswaggear as a souvenir/remembrance/memento of that one time that they waited in line for 60 minutes to buy merchswaggear while their team played for 90 minutes on the field in the other room.
As a supporter of the Columbus Crew, I have put my trust in Anthony Precourt to lead this crest redesign in a thoughtful and considerate way. I don't think crass consumerism (a la the SKC rebrand and its Axe body spray I believe that we will win, bro aesthetic) is what Anthony Precourt wants for the Columbus Crew. But, maybe it's the way that MLS is moving and he can't stop it. In that case, there's always a wild card. There's always red.
Regardless of what happens, I hope to live to see one of two things happen: Either Guided By Voices play at Crew Stadium after a big victory over a big team, or "The Official Ironmen Rally Song" and "Don't Stop Now" become supporters' anthems that we sing from the stands. Like this particular essay, it would be the Spirit of '96 coming full circle.