The Canadian Football League has an Ottawa franchise once
again. Third time’s a charm.
Fans who can recall the Beatles split will
remember the original black and red Rough Riders and the simple white serif
capital R on their helmets. Fans who can recall the Backstreet Boys breaking up
will remember the dismal black and red Renegades. Fans destined to recall the
Rolling Stones ceasing corporate operations will remember the piebald Ottawa
Redblacks (Postmedia News publications).
Or RedBlacks (The Globe and Mail).
Or REDBLACKS (official web site).
Or something anyway that begins with that
iconic capital R. Something that seems to be a desperate, poorly executed grasp
at heritage branding by an expansion team with neither history nor identity. A
handle already hostage to the whims of various sports editors and the insanely
demanding and mostly ignored wordmark usage rules of the club’s marketing
department though the players have yet to take the field. Brands may be
recognized by their distinctive packaging but they do not just spring
genie-like out of sleek green bottles or Tetrapaks. They need time to gestate,
time to grow roots. Redblacks, RedBlacks or REDBLACKS for the league’s third
go-round in the capital read like bad seeds in arid ground.
This new digital age has been especially
kind to the sports industry. Aside from actual reality (not redundant but
increasingly passing strange), sport is pretty much the last bastion of live
media consumption and sole need to know this instant. Games really, really
matter. And if they matter, we have chosen sides. And if we have chosen sides,
chances are we’ll add to the industry’s official merchandise revenue stream,
outfit ourselves in the laundry to mix and meld with the strangers in our
tribes. Newly minted Redblacks, RedBlacks or REDBLACKS fans can discuss
Sporting clubs have always had nicknames.
Some have existed for a century or more (and some have not kept pace with more
enlightened times). Utilizing uniform colours is not uncommon. There is the
exquisite jazz synergy of hockey’s St. Louis Blues; the monochromatic statement
of the Maori All Blacks, baseball’s Cincinnati Reds and Alabama’s Crimson Tide. One colour to unite
fans: I recall watching a Chelsea–Liverpool match in a Gloucester pub and ducking my head under the
‘Go Blue!’ and ‘Go Red!’ shouting and peering down at the infants and cigarette
butts on the floor.
of course things are different. Some might say distinct. The second best football
team in the province is LavalUniversity’s Rouge et Or
(Red and Gold). They play against Sherbrooke’s
Vert & Or (Green & Gold). Given the bilingual nature of the National
Capital Region and the fact that the market of Gatineau,
QC is just across the Ottawa River, Ottawa has fumbled with
their meaningless, slightly cryptic, neologism. A simple conjunction would not
only recall the city’s bygone teams and suggest the game’s early roots in
rugger, but Red and Black would translate elegantly to Rouge et Noir. Finally,
the nickname would be consistently rendered in print: newspapers, magazines,
t-shirts and blogs.
The Rough Riders despite a long and successful
history met their end of days as mismanaged sad sacks. The Renegades started
off ineptly enough and got worse. Here’s hoping Ottawa’s new football
operations personnel have a better handle on things than their predecessors and
their current ad agency. The only foolproof sports marketing strategy is
winning games. Trouble is, even in a nine team loop there are eight losers.
Even money says the Ottawa
franchise will be re-branded before they post a respectable record in the CFL's