Around here, we all love us some football. Hard-nosed, helmet-to-helmet, good-old-fashioned American football.
But here’s the thing—there’s another football game that the people of Birmingham are growingly passionate about. The one where you score goals, not touchdowns.
In the summer of 2017, Birmingham was awarded its first ever professional soccer team—one that would play in the United Soccer League starting in 2019. The city and soccer fans all over greater Birmingham were more than excited to hear the news, but two questions remained: What would that team be named, and how would it be branded?
Great questions. And at Big, we were asked to help answer those questions.
After the excitement at the opportunity subsides, you’re left with the sobering reality of the pressure of the situation. We are about to put a name into the lexicon of athletics in Birmingham that will be here for (hopefully) generations to come. And for soccer fans across the U.S., it will be their immediate association with the city. This is the kind of exercise where you have to check your ego at the door, remove your rose-colored glasses, and be brutally honest about what the soccer-loving public will think.
Which means you have to start with the guidelines. Do a quick Google search of the failed sports franchises that have played in Birmingham, and you have a massive graveyard of names you probably shouldn’t consider. There were the Vulcans, the Americans, the Stallions, the Barracudas, the Bolts, and on and on.
Then we studied the naming conventions of soccer teams and football clubs the world over. The thing is, it’s way different from all other sports. From baseball to basketball to football, most teams are mascot-driven. They are typically named for ferocious animals (tigers, eagles, mustangs), strong persons (cavaliers, patriots, blazers), or dangerous natural phenomena (quakes, cyclones, tide). Because soccer/futbol is a global game with centuries of history, it rejects the typical American style of naming. Names are place-centric, regal, and even enigmatic. There are clubs with names like Arsenal, Ajax, Juventus, and Atleticó Madrid. That’s a far cry from the Biscuits or the Marlins. And to nerd out one step deeper, soccer clubs don’t typically go by “The ________.” They’re the actual squad, not the mascot. Rather than “The Tottenham Hotspurs,” it’s just Tottenham Hotspur.
The name also needed to have local significance without going too deeply into the city’s past. With the previous guideline in place, names like the “Steelworkers” or the “Miners” didn’t make sense. It needed to pay homage to the city without being stuffy. As citizens of Birmingham, our identity is not tied up in our steel past, but it sure is influenced by it.
The last final parameter was the legacy of the Hammers—a great name in its own right. There’s only one other squad globally that has that as a nickname (West Ham United), and it’s a great homage to the city’s past. But it was important to make sure fans knew that the level of soccer in the city was about to take a massive leap forward and not simply make a gentle escalation. The USL is big-time, and communicating that change was incredibly important.
Simply put, it had to be embraceable by the fans in the city.
So we set out to identify the perfect name. We had several walls in the agency blanketed with names. Some were ridiculous and some were really good. It was an arduous, pain-staking process, one that checked a lot of boxes we created and flew all in and around the parameters we set. “They say naming your first child is difficult; this was much harder,” said associate creative director Jason Corbin.
The selection process was also meticulous. You can’t be too negative too quickly or else it stymies creativity. We winnowed from a couple hundred, down to ten, down to four (which all had graphic identities), then down to two. The recommendation, though, was unanimous, one that we and the USL Birmingham team were excited about and proud to unveil to the city.
(Or Birmingham Legion Football Club if you prefer the full version.)
“Visually, the brand had to have grit, a fighting spirit and true character – a pure representation of our city,” said associate creative director Matt Lane Harris, who with senior art director Ryan Brown helped lead the charge on the Birmingham Legion FC brand design. “We wanted to create a brand that the players and fans would be proud to wear – a brand worthy of celebration, one forged by attitude and passion.”
We dug deep into the meaning, the rationale, and why this new team and brand would stand out from every other brand in the USL. We showed how the brand would look on everything – jerseys, outdoor boards, TV commercials, print ads, soccer balls.
After significant deliberation and discussion, it was official: Birmingham Legion FC was born – a new era in professional soccer had officially kicked off in Birmingham.
“This is more than just naming a professional soccer team; it’s creating another iconic pride point for our city,” said Ford Wiles, Big’s chief creative officer. “We wanted the identity to celebrate our city’s industrial heritage and also stand clearly apart in the field of USL teams.”
Now the only thing left to do is bring fútbol fans in Birmingham their first ever USL Cup Championship, but we’ll leave that task up to the soon-to-be-named coaches and players. You’ll find all of us at Big in the stands with the rest of the Legion fans, shouting in unison “Hammer Down!”
To get your official Legion team gear and to buy season tickets, visit bhmlegion.com.