Bristol and Gloucester lead the way with new Rugby Club Badges

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 07: A Harlequins fan shows off his badges during the Aviva Premiership match between Harlequins and London Irish at Twickenham Stoop on April 7, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)

The dust has still barely settled on the 2017/18 season but already, it is time to look ahead to the forthcoming season. Some supporters will return to find their teams looking vastly different; it has been a summer where new ‘rugby club badges’ in the English Premiership and Guinness PRO14 have arrived – with mixed opinion.

So, how do these new creations compare to the current crop of badges across the two leagues?

The new ‘Identities’ in Premiership Rugby

After the relegation/promotion matches, one team was elevated back into the hession world of the Premiership. And to suit the new place within the league, newly promoted Bristol have officially changed their name to Bristol Bears; effective 1st June.

Bristol Bears

This announcement was met with derision from parts, due to connotations with another local organisation called the Bristol Bears. It also met with a lot of supporter opposition due to lack of consultation. To totally scrap any link to the city badge or previous club crest was a very bold move. But this was all about the symbolism of a new era.

What a bear has to do with Bristol is still mostly unexplained, but the commercial logic is sound. The team has strong competition with two football teams also in the city, so a strong brand that can attract the next generation of supporters is crucial.

Gloucester Rugby

Hot on their West Country neighbour’s heels, were Gloucester. It was rumoured that they would also change their name, to the Gloucester Lions (though that moniker has yet to be promoted as a next stage).

The new logo, featuring nothing but the head of a lion, suggests that this may happen later down the line.

Like Bristol, Gloucester is a fiercely traditional club and this move to abandon completely a design based on the city shield has caused some upset. On the whole, however, the change has been largely accepted with the need to fully own an independent logo recognized.

This change was also softened by the simultaneous release of a new kit, very similar in design to the club’s 2002-03 shirt, in which they were runaway league toppers (although famously lost the first grand final).

The similarity of the badge to that of Leicester Tigers (see below) has been noted; what Gloucester fans would give for similar levels of on-field success.

Edinburgh Rugby

Next it was the turn of Edinburgh. Like Gloucester, they chose only to change their badge. But like Bristol, they are looking to signal the start of a new era under a new Director of Rugby. The arrival of Richard Cockerill saw a hugely improved league campaign and a PRO14 play-off appearance in 2018.

The new badge, a simplified version of the castle image, is certainly in contrast to their previous badge. Whilst Bristol and Gloucester have gone down the animal route, Edinburgh are using imagery linked to the city.

Unfortunately, this effect is lost with the castle shape being so abstract. They will have to hope Edinburgh international reputation is strong enough to ensure the castle link is clear.

Maintaining the Classic rugby club badge style

We must now go from the modern, 21st-century designs to the traditional, heritage-based shields, heralds and more simplified designs that will appear as rugby club badgers soon enough.

Northampton Saints, Connacht and Bath Rugby

Of the 12 Premiership teams, it is arguably now only Northampton Saints and Bath Rugby now have badges that show the connections to their named settlement.

Bath, a hugely historic and tourist-friendly city, have more reason than most to retain their heritage. The badge contains the central element of the city crest that reflects their central location and focal point in the city.

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Likewise, Northampton’s badge adopts large features of the town crest as does the local football team. There are added elements of the ‘Saints’ background, which comes from the club’s original name, Northampton St James.

It has quite a busy design, something the new badges are clearly trying to avoid. How long this will last in a market of simpler, single image badges is up for debate.

Embed from Getty ImagesGiven Connacht Rugby was only effectively created as a professional region in 1995, it might seem odd to see them in this list. But, with most PRO14 sides set up as regional sides only recently – most notably the Welsh contingent – most logos in this league are artificial creations, with either little local traditions to play with, or acute local politics to deal with.

Of the four Irish provinces, who have all adapted their logos from regional crests, it is only Connacht’s logo which holds the truest connection, to the original.

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Rugby Club Badges – Animals still popular as ever

The moves by Bristol and Gloucester to adopt an animal-based badge are nothing new. Wasps and Leicester Tigers have nurtured their associations since the 1800s, making it an everyday part of their overall brand.

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It is true that across the spectrum, sports teams use the noun in ways that are descriptive. It ushers a connotation, and if the relationship is natural, then it can be a successful one. More recent moves towards an ‘animal identity’ include the Ospreys, the Dragons, Newcastle Falcons and Sale Sharks.

Sale became the Sharks in 1999, and have one of the best-integrated name and logo badges on the market. By merging the shark fin into the club name, the identity appears consistent as opposed to a name with a random animal next to it.

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What does the future hold for Rugby Club Badges

If anything can be said of the main image, it is that the memorabilia and association to a club or sport can bring instant recognition. Most teams stick with a proven relationship, especially if it creates an income and reaches new supporters/markets.

Who will be next in the rugby club badges rotation? Exeter face some opposition for the connotations of their Chiefs branding. In the same way that the NFL Redskins are having to respect modern norms, might Exter need to accept that a more conciliatory noun is best integrated. Still, the same could be said of the Saracens, if considering others emotions is a priority.

The new American sponsor of the Gallagher Premiership might even encourage the remaining traditionalists; like Bath, to adopt an animal brand to make them more attractive.

Whatever happens, there is always some level of outrage with some supporters feel an incredible attachment to one particular badge. Change is hard to manage, especially when it comes from administrations who can appear emotionless. Clubs need heart, as much as marketability.

And, in the efforts to be engaging with our audience, Last Word on Rugby encourage more discussion on the subject. Does your team need a rebrand? Please, comment below!


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