How to rebrand a roller derby league

Posted in Derby World

Rebranding can be a daunting undertaking for a league. It’s often put off over and over again simply because it’s difficult to know where to start. Over the past six months we took on the challenge and we documented every step along the way. Here’s our ultimate guide!

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Rebranding can feel like you have a mountain to climb. It’s a metaphor, not an actual mountain, don’t worry!

Right, I’m ready, erm… where to begin?

Typically, there’s an initial call from within the league of “we need a new logo”. But this is the wrong starting point.

A brand is not a logo, a brand has a logo. A brand is your entire identity, from the tone of voice you use on your social media through to the way fans buy tickets, the atmosphere at a game, the colours and fonts used, and the type of photography you like to promote yourselves with. A brand is the entire way you communicate to the outside world.

brand

In order to set yourself off on the right path, instead of thinking of colours or logos or websites, initially think about objectives. If you can write a few clear goals you’re trying to achieve before you start, you can put a reason behind every decision you make.

So that’s why we sat down to begin with and worked out what our objectives were, and why we were doing this in the first place. We wanted:

  • To appeal to new fans outside of the derby world
  • To appeal to new skaters
  • To appear as an athletic-focussed, cool, alternative sport
  • To summarise the awesome atmosphere and community of the league

With these objectives set in stone, we could begin a path with a real guide, and ambitions that we could stick to.

Find out your league’s skillsets and gaps

We’re really lucky to have a league full of really talented individuals including designers, illustrators, website developers, social media peeps and marketing professionals so the majority of our rebranding work could be done without any outside help. Sadly, this isn’t always the case. To begin with, it’s good to work out who can do what and what skill gaps need to be filled. Spend a bit of time doing skills outreach, asking if any of your members know people who know people. Often with a bit of probing, it turns out someone’s housemate is an amazing photographer or a ref’s brother’s wife makes the greatest posters the world has ever seen. Make a list of what you have, who can do what and what’s still required.

Photography is key. Find a talented photographer and treat them like gods.
Photography is key. Find a talented photographer and treat them as if they are a visiting dignitary.

A decent rebranding crew/PR/creative committee would need to consist of at least:

  • an official photographer
  • web designer/developer
  • social media team
  • copywriters
  • illustrator/artworker

The brand belongs to the league, not just a select few

It’s also important to remember that any identity that gets put together is something everyone in the league needs to believe in, own and love. There will always be key decision makers, but on the most important decisions, get the league to vote. Everyone’s opinion is important, and with tools like Survey Monkey or Facebook polls you can easily get the league to decide on a direction and make their opinion count.

That said, a rebrand can stall if there are too many obstacles along the way, and you need to avoid discussions disappearing into a stalemate that never gets resolved. Make sure the league is asked in an orderly, precise way. Give everyone three or four options to vote on, rather than an open discussion. This way everyone gets a say, but things move along without friction. During our entire rebrand we voted on:

  • League name
  • Logo concepts
  • Kit designs

Everything else was handled by the elected PR and creative committee.

Write a little manifesto

Based off your initial objectives, spend a bit of time writing a little manifesto. This can be short – just a paragraph summarising what the league is, what you stand for, what’s amazing about you and why you do what you do. Rose City Rollers have an amazingly written mission statement, which can really help drill home your ideas and prepare yourself for design ideas that make sense.

Put together a plan of action

Now that you’re ready to begin it’s worth taking the time to put together a little roadmap through to the relaunch. There’s a lot of work to be getting on with, but if you split it up into smaller tasks it becomes a manageable and fun journey. Put little dates on when you want to achieve certain things and tick them off one by one.

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Trello is an awesome online tool for managing and discussing lots of tasks

Don’t be scared to give yourself deadlines and don’t be annoyed if you miss them. Everyone’s a volunteer so sometimes things will slip. If that happens, just rearrange your timeline to match. Our own timeline went a bit like this:

  • August 2015 – Objectives and mission statement decided
  • September 2015- Decision on the league’s new name
  • October 2015 – Logo concepts ready for the league to vote on
  • November 2015 – Logo and name confirmed
  • December 2015 – Brand guidelines complete, new kit designs decided
  • January 2016 – Website complete and tested, merchandise designed
  • February 2016 – Social media material complete, kits delivered, merch delivered, website launched, everything’s a go!

What’s in a name?

Changing our league’s name was a big deal for us, even though it was a subtle change from “Rainy City Roller Girls” to “Rainy City Roller Derby”. It became important to achieve our objectives to pull away from the baggage of the word ‘girls’ and to take the league into an area more palatable to potential fans. It seems obvious, but having the full name of the sport in the league name is a big help to explain yourselves to outsiders. This was a really important decision and so was voted on by everyone, with the majority voting for change.

Logo ideation

Next comes the fun bit, sketching out dozens of different logo ideas and seeing what sticks. With our objectives firmly in our heads, we played around with lots of different concepts, wanting to represent the miserable Manchester weather in a way that was unique and cool, while still having a logo that remains athletic, dynamic and sporty.

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Some of the many discarded logo concepts we came up with along the way

It’s really important to design a logo that looks great really small, in black and white or low quality print, on a kit, on a scoreboard and on merch. Shy away from full colour or overly complex logos as your merchandise will become expensive and it becomes much less readable from a distance.

Roller derby is filled with lots of illustration heavy logos which end up rendered quite poorly on merch. While some still look kitsch, funny or cool, they’re off-putting for newcomers to the sport and can paint the organisation in a misleading light.

Roller derby in general is in a strange branding position, somewhere between an alt rock band and a sport. This should be seen as a unique selling point to potential fans who are alternative, disinterested in mainstream sport but still wanting the sense of achievement and community that comes with a team game. However, often a league’s branding is pushed so far from the idea of athletic prowess that it’s impossible for outsiders to even know that it is a real, competitive sport.

It’s a difficult balance, between two very different styles, but if you get it right you can appeal to a huge range of people interested in alternative sports, music, design and alt lifestyle.

To summarise, a good logo must:

  • Hit that balance between sporty and alternative cool
  • Look great even in shitty quality or in monochrome
  • Above all else, be readable
  • Summarise your league’s attitude, location and beliefs
  • Be eminently tappable with pride when on a vest during a game
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Our final logo with options for all contexts

Put the logo in context

When you’ve drilled down to a few logo ideas, get the league to vote on their preferred option, but first take the time to put the logos into a few different real world cases. Try it on a kit, on a scoreboard, a merch vest, poster. See how it would behave in the real world. An amazing logo that doesn’t work on a kit, is not an amazing logo. Make sure the direction you have in your mind, is a direction that will work in reality.

Create a brand guidelines document

Once a logo has been voted on, spend some time putting together a brand guidelines document. This should be one central document that acts as a rulebook for how you want to be portrayed, and should include:

  • Logo usage
  • Tone of voice
  • Typography
  • Colours
  • Photography styles
  • Illustration styles

The purpose of this document is to have a fixed set of rules for all design work in the future. It should make life easier when designing posters, programmes, merch or any other marketing material and keep everything looking consistent. If there’s consistency, it’ll look more professional and, most importantly, be more memorable. The more memorable you are, the more likely you are to gain new and repeat fans. A cohesive brand is an adhesive brand, so make something that sticks!

Here’s our brand guideline document, all complete. Click to view:

How to design and source a new kit

With the brand guidelines firmly in place, you can get cracking with kit design. This is one of the most important aspects for skaters as they need to be wearing it with pride and love. Get creative, play around with ideas and get everyone’s opinion with a league-wide vote on options. Contact other leagues in your area and ask questions about kit makers. There’s lots of companies out there that produce kits, some are terrible and some are fantastic. Get first hand experience, contact the kit makers direct and discuss what can and can’t be done. Find out about sizes and necklines, hems and printing limitations. Find out about durability. This can so easily be overlooked, but there are some companies out there that will sell you a shirt that has snagged to shit after one game.

Finding vest mockup Photoshop files on the web made designer our kits easier
Finding vest mockup Photoshop files on the web made designing our kits easier

After speaking to a number of suppliers we opted for Taut who are based in Halifax, UK. Their quality and service were pretty damn awesome and if your league is based in the UK I’d struggle to recommend anyone else.

We wanted a faint diagonal stripe to signify good ol’ fashioned Manchester rain. It was important to find out if that was possible with sublimated kits and whether it would be visible or not visible enough.

Get a design template from your potential kit makers and play with ideas. Get sample swatches or a sample kit sent out. Any decent company will send you out at least some sample swatches so that you can see the material quality for yourself.

Finally, find out about lead times. Ordering new kit for an entire league can be a time consuming task, so make sure you have plenty of time from when the kit’s being ordered to when the relaunch is taking place. Set up a Google Sheets document for people to put their kit orders in with their desired numbers and names, plus options for second kits. Nothing’s worse than a typo or a missing kit on game day. Collate all orders and place in one go. This way you can keep an eye on the first order so everyone has their new kit ready for the first game day with the new brand.

A whole new set of merch

One of the biggest challenges is having to get rid of all the old merch and replace with an entire new set all in one go. There’s so much to design and so much to order. Games without a fully stocked merch stand are an opportunity missed, especially for the first game with a new brand. There’ll be a lot of people excited and eager to buy new tees, hats, patches and badges.

Right at the start of the process we put a huge 50% sale on our old merch to make sure we didn’t have a large amount left and after our launch set up a bargain bin for people to buy any remaining items.

We made a massive list of all merch we’d want in a perfect world, from baseball caps to novelty pens, big foam hands, custom sunglasses and all sorts of ridiculous ideas. We then worked with finance to see what would be a sensible outlay based on our finances for an initial phase. We opted for getting in the essentials:

  • Two teeshirts/ vest designs
  • Stickers
  • Badges
  • Totebags

merch

The idea being that once these make their money back we can move onto a second phase of merch with more varied items and move on from there.

Speaking to other leagues and getting advice on who makes the best merch, who’s good to work with and having initial chats as early as you can with these companies is really important here too. Find out what can and can’t be done, try and get the best costs possible and find out how long it will take to print, as you want everything ready for that first game with the new brand.

We opted for getting most of our merch with Interplanetary Print Syndicate who are based in Edinburgh and make amazing tees, vests, scrim tops and bags and are super lovely to work with.

Makin’ websites

Your website can be a daunting undertaking all by itself. Unless your league has or knows a great web designer or developer it can be really tricky to get a good looking site that achieves your objectives. If you are lacking in the web skills department, I’d recommend using a website builder like Squarespace, but to keep things SIMPLE. Funnel all traffic and comms through Facebook, concentrate on building your fanbase there. Use your website merely as landing page with some good photography, links to social media for new skaters and upcoming games. Websites can be a huge drain on time and resource – if you try and build a typical website with a blog, loads of pages and features you’ll have to spend a lot of time keeping it all updated. Additionally, if your site feels clunky and doesn’t work well on mobile it can be more damaging to your brand than just a simple holding page and a link over to Facebook or Twitter.

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If you do have a good web developer around then you’re in luck! Make sure you have the website just as objective-focussed as everything else – working out what you want users to do and measuring traffic to see if they do it. We use Google Analytics and have a couple of goals, one for ticket sales and one for enquiries on the website. We can now monitor traffic and see who buys tickets, where they came from and work out which bits of marketing are working the best for us.

Spend a little time working on a content strategy- how often can people update the site, who’s in charge of it after it’s launched. A stagnant website is so damaging for a league, so if a blog can’t be updated regularly, don’t bother with a blog. Just get people over to Facebook instead.

Remember that websites take a long time to make (typically at least two months for a custom-built responsive beauty) so make sure you factor that into your roadmap for launch.

The new brand launches

So, you’re almost there. This much hard work deserves a fanfare! Get in touch with local news, sports associations, universities, local business and get a shout out. Coincide the launch with a game day so you can celebrate all together.

Prepare your social media, because you’ve no doubt got Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Facebook and probably a heap of other accounts that all need the artwork changing, all in one go. Create a little teaser leading up to the rebrand launch so that people know something is coming, a week in advance. Then think of something you can release to announce the new brand – we created a little video announcement for people to share, and the whole league shouted about the change in one go.

Get yourself a brand guardian

After your launch, make sure someone’s in charge of keeping an eye on design work and social posts, just to keep things coherent and make sure your brand guidelines are being abided by. It’s not a heavy task, but if someone’s been designated it means it’ll never go sloppy or get watered down. This is your new brand and you’ve worked hard for it, so keep it as shiny and effective as it was on the day of the launch.

Hope that was of some use to any league looking to go through this whole process. Any questions, please ask below.

by Michael Watson

Bench manager for Rainy City Allstars. Likes to talk long and hard about typography. Can’t look at the colours pink and red next to each other without feeling a bit nauseous.

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