The Value of Rebranding Chivas USA

 

News of Chivas USA’s owner Jorge Vergara admitting to ESPN that the possibility of rebranding Chivas USA has been considered is not the most surprising development.  Vergara admitted specifically that “We are carrying out studies because four years of failures has degraded the name of Chivas in Los Angeles a lot.”  The four years he’s referring to is the period since Chivas USA last competed in MLS Playoffs where they lost to their crosstown rivals the LA Galaxy.

That would be the last time Chivas would get close to relative success with the next four years seeing the club hover if not anchor the very bottom of the Western Conference each season.  Each managerial change failed to bring any semblance of sustained improvement and an influx of Mexican players from Chivas in Guadalajara didn’t exactly have the desired impact either.

Combine the steep on-field decline with the fact that over the past year the club has come under two separate lawsuits, both pertaining to discrimination, wrongful termination, and labor laws, and degraded suddenly appears to be an understatement for how the Chivas name has fared.

Since the lawsuits, fans of MLS have discussed at length the various options available (or rumored to be) such as essentially putting the club into receivership, moving to San Diego, or contracting the franchise all together.  These possibilities were all put to rest by MLS commissioner Don Garber back in December and it left fans wondering then what exactly would happen.

Naturally this step towards possible rebranding seems a natural one if for no other reason than all the other options have been ruled out.  It fits with recent reports that Chivas ownership have been exploring sites for a new stadium.  Amid these reports many questioned why a new stadium would even be considered if Chivas USA continued to have the lowest attendance average of the league by far. Consider though that the question now may not be if Chivas USA can bring fans to a new stadium, but whether Los Angeles FC/SC can.

Logos included in Patent Applications - Photo's courtesy of US Patent and Trademark Office

Logos included in Patent Applications – Photo’s courtesy of US Patent and Trademark Office

A couple of days ago, Bleacher report’s The Goat Parade broke that the US Patent and Trademark Office had received trademark applications by Chivas Guadalajara LLC.  Through a public search of the US Patent and Trademarks Office’s trademark search system, it was confirmed that the applications had been submitted (1, 2, 3, 4) . The applications cover two logo applications with two different “goods and services” descriptions for each logo.  These are the descriptions:

G & S: Educational services, namely, providing SEMINARS, CLASSES AND WORKSHOPS in the fields of SOCCER; Entertainment in the nature of soccer games; Entertainment in the nature of SPORTS AND SOCCER games; Organizing community sporting and cultural events; Sports training services

G & S: Baby layettes for clothing; Belts; Berets; Cap visors; Cloth bibs; Ear muffs; Football boots and studs therefor; Gloves; Hats; Headbands against sweating; Jackets; Pajamas; Pants; Sandals; Scarves; Shirts; Shorts; Slipper socks; Slippers; Soccer shoes; Socks; Sport stockings; Sports caps and hats; Sports jackets; Sports jerseys; Sports over uniforms; Sports pants; Sports shirts; Sports shoes; Sweaters; Sweatshirts; Swimwear; T-shirts; Waterproof jackets and pants; Woolly hats; Wristbands

To quote The Goat Parade directly, “Entertainment and apparel for sale? Sounds like what pro soccer teams do.”  It is exactly what professional soccer teams do and they would not be the first MLS club to do so with the closest comparative examples being FC Dallas and Sporting KC who were previously the Dallas Burn and the Kansas City Wizards prior to their own rebranding.

Chivas USA’s LA rivals, the LA Galaxy have done a rebranding themselves back in 2007, though they did not change their name, just their logo.  Alexi Lalas explained that there was “established value in the name Galaxy.”  Vergara admitted that the name Chivas has lost quite a bit of its value in Los Angeles.  It is possible to have interpreted those words to indicate a move away from the city but with these filings, it seems that Vergara is looking to stay in Los Angeles and possibly build on a different name.

While the logos themselves share a similar red, black, and gold color scheme their respective styles are distinctly different.  The Los Angeles SC logo is a very proper crest style with four quadrants containing a bear, lion, castle and a star.  Though the lion looks similar to those on the Chivas crest, there is the possibility the logo doubles down on California and Los Angeles.  The LA City flag has a similar castle and rampant lion while the California state flag is well-known with the bear and star.

The Los Angeles FC logo contains similar elements but incorporated differently.  The elements aren’t segregated into quadrants but rather overlayed and blended in a way.  The castle acts as the foundation upon which there is an eagle head that blends into a lion and bear underneath it in the same red, black, and gold color scheme with a soccer ball at the base of the logo.

It is clear that the Chivas brand has been degraded in LA and it is natural to explore rebranding options in an effort to jump-start a franchise that is teetering on the brink of oblivion.  The logos represent a shift in thinking from the ownership.  It seems that embracing Guadalajara’s Mexican only image and management structure hasn’t been fruitful, and in fact aspects of it might be illegal.  Chivas USA was meant to build on the popularity of one of the most successful Mexican clubs due to the clubs popularity in the US as well as the sheer number of Mexicans that live all across the United States.  That seems to have failed.

The fact is that these applications were put in over a month ago.  This means that focus groups, studies, even merchandising could be already in progress and we the fans are just catching up.  The question now becomes whether it is still viable to pursue a popular but foreign brand, or whether to begin to build an original domestic one.  To build on a Mexican brand in a large hispanic population, or leverage a city’s brand in one of the largest markets in the country?  This is the question that a certain pro soccer team must answer.

 

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Reporting on the business side of the world's game.