TUESDAY 1 JAN 2013 9:41 PM


Football clubs aren’t always known for their innovative approach to branding. But one agency had a vision for how things could change for Wolverhampton Wanderers. Brittany Golob investigates

It emerged from two colours and a crest. It grew out of a league-wide initiative and one innovative team. It introduced a new standard of branding and environmental signage. It began at a meeting between comms directors in the Premier League and the Mancunian agency Raw. It has changed the way a football club interacts with its fans.

For Wolverhampton Wanderers, an £18 million stand was due to open alongside a state-of-the-art museum and a concession and commercial complex, all under a hodgepodge brand umbrella that had ceased to communicate a unified identity. The club’s marketing department sought something worthy of its investment. Raw had a vision of improved environmental graphics, which would enhance the atmosphere and experience of a public space like a football club’s stadium concourse.

In a moment of serendipity, Cathy Long, head of supporter services at the Premier League, brought the agency and the midlands club together. Raw found an interested pair in Matt Grayson, head of communications and marketing, and Laura Price, marketing executive, and Wolves found a way to implement a new direction.

 “Rather than negative and confrontational signage, we found a tone of voice that spoke to people on a human level”

Peer review

"The attention to history in this rebrand, along with the use of striking graphics, modernizes and breathes life into a previously moribund brand.

The development of overarching guidelines should prove useful in the future as the club develops its corporate architecture. I really enjoyed the approach taken by Raw to incorporate fan and employee input, lending a grounded feel to the identity.

This rebrand could have run up against a wall of dismay from fans upset with changes to their club, but a well-thought-out strategy avoids this.

Surprisingly, the Wolves crest has been untouched in the redesign, though it fits remarkably well into the overall identity. It will be interesting to see if this style of branding takes hold throughout the Premiership."

Amanda Hill, independent consultant

The result has been a marriage of fan input, rebranded graphics, a new set of guidelines and an overhaul of signage across the club, stadium and sub-brands. All this began with a concern over wayfinding and signage at Wolverhampton’s Molineux Stadium.

“Wayfinding is something we’ve rarely seen done to a high standard in the Premier League,” managing director at Raw, Steve Taylor, says. “We were coming at wayfinding from a new perspective – thinking about the fans and making stadia positive places where people would want to congregate and feel proud.” Raw introduced its innovative conception for wayfinding to the conference of Premier League clubs which Grayson and Price attended.

History was about to become a burden for one of the founders of the English Premier League – soon to be demoted to the Championship. An extensive plan to redevelop the stadium, starting with the Stan Cullis Stand, and featuring a mega-store, club museum, cafe and hospitality facilities, was underway, but the signage was as confusing as ever. “The danger was replicating the inconsistency that we’d had across the stadium in this new facility,” Grayson says.

Signage in the stadium had been borne from an era in which safety was the chief concern for football clubs. Amid the hooliganism and disorder of the 1980s, clubs across Britain’s football leagues unveiled signage aimed at communicating safety precautions and warnings. The result was harsh language and a motley collection of environmental signage. But the last two decades had seen the Molineux Stadium attract more families. “We wanted to reflect that in the signage,” Grayson says.

Raw’s conception of environmental signage embraced that shift in attitude on the club-level. “Rather than having negative and confrontational signage, it was about finding a tone of voice that was much more friendly and spoke to people on a human level,” Taylor says. Raw was then tasked with overhauling the signage, graphics and atmosphere in the new stand and, eventually, across the stadium.

That was easier said than done for the sprawling organisation that is a football club. “We’re not a traditional business,” Grayson says of the diverse businesses and sub-brands that sit under the Wolverhampton Wanderers umbrella. Governing this array of enterprises was a four-page PDF outlining the brand guidelines, with a heavy emphasis on the iconic gold and black livery. Confronted with this inadequate document and a jumble of branding across the organisation, Raw and Wolves decided on a complete rebranding based around a new set of allencompassing guidelines.

Maintaining the 30 year old crest was an intention from the outset, but Raw had creative freedom from there. “We looked at the typeface, which was a contentious issue. We wanted to adopt a friendlier typeface; and we also looked at the brand colours carefully because club colours are so important to clubs and their fans,” Taylor explains. Beyond that, the agency trawled through the club’s history to draw out colours that could align with the modern organisation and allow Wolves to create distinctive brands for its subdivisions, Grayson says.

Raw decided on silver – based on the cup final’s gleaming prize – for the corporate brand. Green, which represented Molineux’s past life as a Victorian garden, was designated for the Young Wolves community. Yellow, reflecting the shirts the players wore in the first public games in the 1950s, was co-opted for the Wolves Community Trust. The branding was given meaning within the organisation because of the history and representative nature of the new colours. This was an important distinction for Raw, which had to get its design past the Wolves’ Fan Parliament, the wider fanbase, and the internal community.

The agency began its research into Wolves’ fan culture by employing internal and external surveys, using the Wanderers’ existing social media channels to engage fans and speaking to the monthly meeting of 30 fan-elected representatives on the Fan Parliament. Though not unique among football clubs, the Parliament allows Wolves fans an opportunity to discuss club matters directly with the chairman, chief executive and other officials, and the feedback on Raw’s work from this group was very useful, according to Grayson.

Raw also ran forums, engaged fans online and built up a mass of feedback and responses on its plan for the rebrand. Research also helped Grayson and the marketing team. Grayson says it allowed the governing corporation to upturn its assumptions about the club and uncover new opinions and perceptions from fans. He says research allowed Wolves to refresh not only its identity but also how it addresses its community. The marketing department was surprised by some of the fan responses, but has since changed its communications to adopt a more Black Country sense of humour. “Maybe we were taking ourselves a bit too seriously,” Grayson says.

Raw also engaged the internal audience and spent time in Wolverhampton running focus groups and gathering individual feedback from everyone from chairman Steve Morgan to the stadium managers to the food servers in the canteen. Raw put its ideas online (a first time for a project of this scale) and saw the responses stream back from Facebook and Twitter, giving the agency feedback on its design but also providing it with a sense of the club and its supporters.

Responses ranged from the emotional buzz at the start of the game to the atmosphere at the stadium. One fan tweeted, “For 90 minutes every fortnight I become the very closest of friends with 28,000 strangers. United as one.”

“We could’ve tripped up if we hadn’t done those focus groups and hadn’t had that engagement on social media, because we’d have been trying to create a vision of what we thought Wolves was about instead of what Wolves is actually about,” Taylor says. “We managed to get the authentic voice of the fanbase.”

The responses from fans were so strong that Raw did not only use them for informing design but repurposed them for the actual rebrand. “Not only did we build up an idea of the DNA of the club, but we got fantastic, real, honest responses that we could use and celebrate,” says Taylor. As part of the redesign of Molineux’s wayfinding signage and environmental graphics, Raw put bold super-graphics featuring quotations from fans, history and facts about the Wanderers on the walls of the stadium. Many of the super-graphics feature quotations directly from Raw’s social media research, lending authenticity to the branding.

With a design for the concourses throughout not only the new stand, but the rest of Molineux, in place, Raw designed a fresh set of brand guidelines, outlining the principles of the redesign and providing a cornerstone for the future. “There is now a set of guidelines that provides real continuity for the club, and the investment they have made now will be seen for years to come,” Taylor says. The six-book document now covers each of the Wolves’ sub-brands in detail and aligns each branding enterprise with the core identity of the umbrella organisation.

The task then, was to translate what was essentially a well-designed book to use in the new Stan Cullis Stand and in the rest of the stadium. In 2009, Wolves won the Champions League’s Family Club of the Year award. But its stadium atmosphere did not align with that change in direction, until the implementation of the new environmental graphics.

Following through on the realignment meant following through strategically for the Wolves communications team. “The matchday experience starts when people arrive in the vicinity of the grounds,” Grayson says. “It’s about the 360° relationship of welcoming signage, creating a sense of place within the stadia and making sure you’ve got a coordinated strategic approach for targeting your core market.”

Wolverhampton has been faced with rising ticket prices and competition from other family attractions like zoos and amusement parks. The rebrand spoke not only to the club’s image but to its ability to communicate with its fans and community.

The team’s relegation to the Championship in the middle of the rebranding process could have thrown the redesign off track, but the commitment by the club’s leadership to invest in the future saw it through. The marketing team worked with stadium management and with the board to promote the importance of creating a friendly, welcoming space in the stadium’s concourses.

Eventually, everyone from the Wolves board down to the stadium and safety managers supported this approach to the environmental experience at Molineux. Internal cooperation among these parties has allowed the rebrand of the stadium’s concourses and wayfinding to create a more positive and engaging fan experience.

Before the rebrand, the experience, Grayson says, was lacking, “You would go up the stairwell from our lower to our upper tier and you could be walking up a multi-tier car park in the centre of town.”

Changes to the stadium have been met with receptive feedback from fans since the October unveiling. Profile pictures with super-graphics have popped up, responses on social media have been positive and a photo-based marketing campaign has captured Wolves fans faithfully for the first time. Photography studio SM2 took photos of Wolves fans in the stadium and in their homes alongside team-centric photography to promote an authentic identity for the football club alongside the rebrand. Taylor says the photography showed how the club touched people’s lives. Overall, Grayson says the redesign of the stadium and branding identity has given stakeholders “a good sense of who we are and what we stand for.”

The push toward friendlier, more captivating environmental graphics in English football began 18 months, but it hasn’t ended in Wolverhampton. Raw has had interest from other clubs in changing the way their physical environment feels to fans. “Now that Wolves, and a few other clubs, have been brave and have helped to drive projects like this, I think that we’re at the start of a movement within clubs to really start to take notice of stadia environment and its relationship with their brand,” Taylor says.

Grayson, similarly, sees Wolverhampton Wanderers as being at the forefront of a new trend. “Clubs are investing in matchdays. Attendances are down, so it’s not only price that clubs need to address but the whole matchday experience.”

Wolves was facing the loss of fans and revenue to other family attractions due to a 1980s-era brand and abrasive signage. It could have had difficulty in pursuing an investment in its image and environment. But the serendipity that brought the club and Raw together has created a new set of brand guidelines, launched a stadium-wide redesign of environmental graphics and wayfinding signage and fundamentally changed the way the club engages with its audience – both internal and external. “To use a footballing cliché,” says Taylor with a laugh, “we’re really over the moon about it!”