The Vancouver Whitecaps MLS Logo: Losing History

Whereas a storm of controversy has followed the unveiling of the Portland Timbers MLS logo (a subject we will return to this week), the Vancouver Whitecaps identity shift in their MLS expansion team branding did not make much of a ruffle when it was also announced recently. This is somewhat surprising, because the Whitecaps actually showed even less interest in paying homage to the club’s history in its other incarnations with the same team name than Portland did (albeit, the Timbers did it in a cack-handed way).

Vancouver Whitecaps, MLS, logo, soccer, Canada

The MLS Whitecaps are trying to tie in their identity to the history of the Whitecaps in Vancouver, most notably to the NASL-era Whitecaps from 1974 to 1984, including their 1979 championship. So, on the back of Vancouver’s MLS jersey it reads “Since 1974″. And the Whitecaps news release on the logo unveiling said the following:

The new brand and logo, which will be used throughout the club come November 2010, draws its inspiration from the spectacular geography of Western Canada’s largest city, as well as the club’s long tradition of success. The new brand will see Whitecaps FC continue their long tradition of using white as one of their primary colours, while the club have also incorporated the colour of ‘deep sea’ blue as a reflection of Vancouver’s natural landscape.

At Brand New, a design blog, the verdict on the new logo is positive, comparing it favourably to its immediate predecessor, the current USSF D-II Whitecaps’ logo:

This is a very welcome change, as the old logo looked like a whitewater rafting attraction you would find somewhere in an interstate; it’s really amazing they sold any merchandise with that silly thing. In contrast, the new logo is no nonsense and it screams “don’t mess with me.” It’s actually a surprisingly hard-edged logo in this era of bubbly friendliness, almost leaving without points of comparison. But once you get past that initial reaction to the change, the logo is a little dull and not too sophisticated. It feels as if it needed one more round of refinement to make the typography sit a little more comfortable in those spaces, or make the mountains a little more interesting beyond just repeating the same shape six times.

On a more positive light, it wants to look like an international soccer team crest, and that’s not a bad thing to strive for.

Vancouver Whitecaps, USSF

There’s no doubt the current USSF D-II team’s logo was a cartoonish travesty that completely failed as an update to the Whitecaps classic NASL logo. But maybe the actual point of comparison should be that 1979 incarnation, a very good piece of design-work, and it’s somewhat surprising the new MLS logo is such a radical departure from it, especially given the team is trumpeting its connection to that team’s identity and success.

Vancouver, Vancouver Whitecaps, NASL, logo

That 1979 logo replaced the original logo for the Whitecaps from their first season in the NASL in 1974, an effort that tied the club much more into country than city:Vancouver, Vancouver Whitecaps, NASL, soccer, Canada, logo

The 1979 change was a radical one, but one that made sense for the team’s local identity.

“With all logos, they tend to evolve over a period of time,” said Paul Barber, the Whitecaps CEO. But the new Whitecaps logo really stretches the concept of evolution, and does not succeed as a revolutionary change, either. The new logo is a radical re-conceptualisation of the club’s identity that loses the warmth of the 1979 version that was still present even in the USSF D-II club’s poor logo. There may be a formal tie to the whitecap waves that dominated the classic 1979 logo in the new logo with the blues and the bottom half of the logo perhaps evoking waves, but in terms of style, it’s a complete reversal: angular, jagged, cold and sterile are the feelings the 2011 MLS logo evokes in me. It does not evoke anything of the history of the club or its previous success.

To illustrate our point, let’s look at them together side-by-side:

Vancouver Whitecaps, MLS, NASLThe Whitecapsfan blog makes much the same point about the coldness of the logo and its departure from the club’s past identity:

The City of Vancouver has an odd relationship with sporting tradition.  Perhaps it is because we are living on the West Coast that we demand constant change and newness.  Look at the Vancouver Canucks for instance. They joined the NHL back in 1970 with a great uniform. The colours were great, the logo was great, but it was deemed not good enough. Subsequently there have been so many changes to the look of the Vancouver Canucks it makes your head spin and you wonder which team you are really watching. It gives the Canucks a sense of impermanence and weakness other NHL teams like the Boston Bruins or the Montreal Canadians simply don’t have.

The Vancouver Whitecaps acted accordingly today, largely dispensing with tradition.  There is no wave and no soccer ball to be found in the new logo, just a cold geometric pattern (the logo consists of three diamond shapes: one large and two smaller, with the name Vancouver Whitecaps FC written in the middle). There really is no love or affection in the image. There are no organic forms.  It reminds me of going to the art gallery and seeing a cold geometric piece of  modern art.  It is utterly humorless, and completely lacking in charm. It has the same emotional appeal as the Hamburg FC logo: austere and geometric. It must have been designed by someone with German ancestry…  It makes me feel as though we are not joining Major League Soccer, but the German Bundesliga!

The logo is meant to reflect the North Shore mountains and their reflection in the ocean, but does so in such a cold geometric manner that it fails to capture the organic beauty of our city.   It is too corporate, like an automobile company logo, and does not contain the love of our club.  I far prefer the Seattle Sounders Logo, which more accurately reflects a familiar attraction of Seattle’s skyline.   There is  charm, humour and love there.

This, for point of comparison, is the Hamburg logo mentioned:

Hamburg FC, BundesligaWelcome to the world of cold and sterile logos, MLS Vancouver Whitecaps.

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