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Creative Brand Strategy Sports & Fitness

Aston Villa rolls out new ‘fans-first’ identity as it repositions as global brand


By Tom Banks, Creative editor

July 1, 2024 | 10 min read

The English Premier League team’s president of business operations, Chris Heck, is overseeing the project as the club seeks to expand into new markets. We find out more as part of The Drum’s Sports & Fitness Focus.

Image of Aston Villa crest

Aston Villa's new crest will appear on next season's kit in August / Aston Villa

In August, Aston Villa will start the Premier League season with a new club crest on new shirts designed by Adidas, marking the start of a partnership with the sports giant.

The crest, which was unveiled in May, sits at the heart of a new identity system that is being rolled out across everything from in-stadium fan experiences to online and merchandise as the club looks to become a global brand.

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It will need to start doing this straight away, having qualified for elite European competition the Champions League, following a successful domestic season in which it finished fourth in the Premier League.

Image of Aston Villa crests

Half of all Premier League teams, including Aston Villa, are now at least minority-stake owned by US companies. Villa was bought by American asset manager Wes Edens in 2018 in a partnership deal with Egyptian billionaire Nassef Sawiris.

Aston Villa’s president of business operations, Chris Heck, says that unbeknown to him, a new visual identity was planned just before he joined in 2023 and announced internally shortly after, which meant his main task was to make it work.

The essence of that work, which began to roll out last season but will be fully realized next season, is focused on the needs of domestic fans first, according to Heck. He says the brand has been shaped to think “local first” and recognize the club’s history. “Those two elements are always a top priority and if you get them right, then it translates globally.”

‘We do it for the fans, not investors’

He resists the suggestion that a new visual identity is a careful balancing act, appealing to domestic fans, overseas fans and investors.

“[In terms of the brand], we don’t do anything for investors; we do it for the fans and the natural progression of that investment is that our value is greater if we’re catering to the fans first.

“It starts with the fandom and ends with the fandom and any outside influence, whether that’s investors, corporate partners, sponsors or merchandise, comes as a result of the fans’ love for the brand and the affinity we have with them.

“I think about the club’s history and the core fan before anything else. I always wince when I see that a brand has been altered because there’s a new person in charge or there’s a new direction in marketing just to shake things up.”

Image of Aston Villa flags

This said, Aston Villa is looking to project its brand overseas and a new London office for the Birmingham-based club was set up at the start of 2024, dealing with partnership growth. They’re not the only team to have done this though. Other premier league teams based around the country, including Manchester City and Liverpool, have a London presence.

The new design guidelines, spearheaded by Heck and designed by in-house lead designer Luke MacGregor-Dignan, make no secret of their intentions with new global takes on positioning, storytelling and photography.

The new crest replaces a very short-lived one designed by design agency Dragon Rouge and used on last season’s shirt, which The Drum understands was part of a much bigger identity system that was delivered but never used.

Heck says he doesn’t know why this suite of work was dropped but confirms that the new work, which began to appear last season and will roll out fully this coming season, has all been done in-house.

The new crest is a clarified version of one that has been used for 35 years, most recently in the 2022-23 season.

Aston Villa was the first club to use a lion on its crest, according to Heck, and has done so since its formation in 1874, which would make the likes of Chelsea and Millwall copycats, if you’ll pardon the pun.

The new lion features a drop shadow and is accompanied by the club’s founding date, 1874, and a star that memorializes the 1982 European Championship-winning side. ‘Aston Villa’ is set in a new wordmark in Alverata Bold.

The crest also features a new double line of piping around its perimeter, which Heck says is a detail that references the piping on kits from the 1950s to 1980s, where it was often seen on the shorts and collar. “We decided to honor those great teams that played at Villa Park. It’s about opening your eyes to what’s right in front of you at a historic club like this and that’s what we’ve done.” Further experiments are now taking place with the piping to see if it works in 3D in physical environments.

Image of Holte end gates

The design language that speaks most directly to the ideas of history and locale is the hero font, Medula One. It has been inspired by lettering on the Holte End gates at Villa Park but adapted to work in the modern world across different touchpoints. It also takes cues from the claws of Villa’s emblematic lion.

It was the work of MacGregor-Dignan, who brought the idea to Heck’s attention and then set about creating a typeface featuring small brush-like end strokes that could be used across all of the club’s main messaging. The bespoke font is supported by Roboto and Alverata.

Up the Villa brand guideline image

The rollout of the brand coincides with the stepping up of new tiered fan experiences being created around the stadium. One of these is a fine dining experience called Legends, which is being overhauled and where Heck says “several former players will be present at the space and work on game days.”

The overhauled Legends Lounge

Similarly, a space called 150 opens for the upcoming season as the club celebrates its sesquicentennial anniversary. This is “a new private club space where members will have their own lockers, private tables and seats.”

Another space, The Villain’s Lounge, pays homage to famous fans, including Ozzy Osbourne, Tom Hanks and the Prince of Wales. All of these areas aim to offer different levels of service to fans based on how much they want to pay.

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New sub-brand in the works

A Villa Park sub-brand and Foundation identity are being worked on now and the idea is that they will offer consistency when interacting with the main Aston Villa brand.

Meanwhile, merchandising has been brought in-house, which has allowed Heck and his team to take it in new directions. “We needed to make it part of our club again and control it properly because it was outsourced before. From kids’ stuff to leisure wear and memorabilia, it’s going to be super exciting to have different variations of the brand that can be shared with our fans”.

The aim is to broaden it out as much as possible and appeal to all fans. “We want to be consistent but appeal to different tastes, age groups, cultures… There are so many great ways to experience a brand and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

With the club finding success on the pitch, the new identity will need to capture the hearts of old fans and new, using design and storytelling to do so as the club pushes on. If it can do that, and if Heck is right, then good business will follow.

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