The Big Reset: The Chicago Fire’s next huge rebrand

After over a year of fan outrage and rumors, the Chicago Fire are changing their logo

Again.

The “new” logo that was used for the 2020 season was announced in November of 2019 to widespread ridicule. To the rest of the league, it looked like the Vancouver Whitecaps logo if it had the Real Salt Lake colors. There were memes and jokes tossed around as well as legitimate criticism that the Fire Crown just didn’t look good. But to fans, it was seen as the final betrayal of a front office that had slowly been pushing them away.

Throughout the past season, there have been waves of fans complaining about the logo. Sometimes through reasonable methods, others on literally every tweet made by the club since November. It was well known that fans were angry with the club and were not going to stop until they were heard. And it seems that they now have been heard with the Chicago Fire announcing an initiative to crowd-source a new-new logo to replace the Fire Crown.

This project was teased almost immediately after the Fire Crown was implemented when Chicago Fire owner Joe Mansueto basically said that if fans did not like it, they would take steps to change it again. This time the decision seems to be in the hands of the fans, with a questionnaire being created to gather opinions on where to go from here.

The head designer will be Matthew Wolff, a designer who’s helped with clubs like LAFC, NYCFC, Oakland Roots, and even the Nigerian National Team. Aside from professional designers, there will also be a “Stand for Chicago Council” that includes Chicago athletes like the Red Stars’ Sarah Gorden and former homegrown Drew Conner, as well as local artists.

The whole project is shaping up to be something really exciting and exactly what fans had been asking for over the past year. But now that something is in motion, a new question arises. Can the Chicago Fire just go back to the old logo?

To paint a better picture of why the club should go back to the old logo, I decided to check up on some old articles and quotes from when the team was first announced.

But while reading through those old articles, I realized that the best thing to do was to just talk to someone who was there when it happened. So I reached out to the Chicago Fire’s founder and first GM Peter Wilt about the intent behind the original badge.

At the time, MLS and graphic design, in general, looked a whole lot more different than now. A lot of what was being made involved some possibly laughable color schemes and logos that have since been changed over the years.

When talking about making the original badge, Wilt said “[We] wanted to avoid the animated logo trend that was popular at the time.” So when Nike suggested the team’s original identity as the Chicago Rhythm, Wilt and the rest of the team’s front office fought back.

When I asked about the process and creation of the original badge, I asked about any rejects, concept art that didn’t make it to being a part of the final badge. Wilt came back with some pictures. Looking through them, so many definitely age poorly. Anything with flames Just didn’t feel like a team that could stand the test of time, which was an explicit goal of Wilt’s. Of the final badge, he told me “We wanted a timeless logo that looked classic. One that would fit in with the original 6 NHL logos.”

And so, the team landed on the Florian Cross, a symbol of the Fire Department, with a subtle six-pointed star and a stylized “C” in the center. The stated goal of emulating the NHL’s Original 6 is apparent when you place the badge side-by-side with a logo like the Boston Bruins or the Montreal Canadians. It doesn’t look out of place among them. So compared to the rest of MLS, it was a badge that stood out among the cartoon-ish ’90s fueled energy of the Kansas City Wiz and New York/New Jersey Metrostars.

Comparing the Florian Cross to the Fire Crown, there’s clearly been greater support for the Florian Cross among the Chicago Fire fan base. But there is something standing in the way of going back: The fact that the change was made in the first place.

By changing the logo at any point and playing an entire season in a new logo, the previous logo is considered dead. It’s tossed aside, only to be pulled out once in a while for throwbacks. There are only a few times that I can think of where a logo was changed and then undone only a season or two afterward. There was the big Leeds United rebrand, but that was canceled before it made it onto a single kit.

Manchester City’s current logo is a version of an older logo, but it took almost 20 years to change back. In American sports, the Philadelphia 76ers logo from 1998-2009 was unrecognizable compared to all other iterations but still lasted for almost a decade before returning to the classic logo.

The only analogy I could find that would fit into the Chicago Fire’s current situation is Cardiff City. After being bought by Vincent Tan in 2010, the club rebranded almost completely in 2012 by not only changing the club’s logo from a bluebird to a dragon but also changing the team’s color scheme from blue to red. The fans were outraged and protested the changes over the course of the next two seasons, finally convincing Tan to return the club to its original blue and bringing back the bluebird on their badge.

But, each time these logos have been reverted, there’s always been some sort of change. The Florian Cross can never truly come back, not in the way that it was. Manchester City and the 76ers both changed the framing around their logos and Cardiff changed plenty of things surrounding the central bluebird. Even if fans want to go back, the club has crossed the point of no return and all they can do is try to emulate it in some other way.

Just for fun, for my last question I asked Peter Wilt about what soccer in Chicago might look like if the team did go through with taking the name Chicago Rhythm: “I’m not certain. A name and logo are important foundation elements of a team, but the identity evolves and grows with every action and public interaction. It may have been a steeper hill, but I think we still would have succeeded in earning Chicago’s support.”

That seems to be the point of this second rebrand. The first one felt like it left fans out of the loop. It was thrust upon them with seemingly very little thought for those who spent years around the club. While there might be disagreement between fans going forward, there has at least been an attempt by the club to let the fans feel like they are a part of the club again. It is no longer a commission created by a non-local firm, but a collaborative effort with the city itself. And whatever comes of it, it’s something that was created by those who love and care about the Chicago Fire.