The name is staying but the Crusaders have unveiled a new logo, bringing an end to the team’s extensive and dividing brand review. Robert van Royen reports on a turbulent 2019 off the field for the 10-times Super Rugby champions.
Threats weren’t limited to the repulsive offal pit that is social media, or from those on one side of the argument.
Angry folk didn’t hesitate getting on the blower and subjecting staff to them, or bounding into the team’s Rugby Park headquarters in St Albans, Christchurch, to unload.
Stuff understands threats were also sent in the mail, some so disturbing it reduced members of staff to tears.
“People are not shy,” as Crusaders chief executive Colin Mansbridge put it.
Only four months into the job, it became part of everyday life for Mansbridge post the March 15 Christchurch mosque shootings, which led to calls for the team to drop their name due to a link to centuries-old Crusaders, bloody medieval conflicts between Muslims and Christians.
It quickly became a divisive issue, one fanned by endless columns, social media posts, online polls and news stories.
Middle ground seemingly didn’t exist. There were those who demanded the name and medieval themed branding were scrapped, and those who were dead against the most successful Super franchise bowing down and tweaking their imagery and moniker.
One Crusaders fan even created a petition, which quickly attracted almost 25,000 people in favour of keeping the name.
From the days immediately after the attack, right through until November 29, when New Zealand Rugby and the Crusaders concluded their brand review and announced the name would stay but the team had a new logo, people walked off the street into Rugby Park to offer their two cents.
It slowed to an extent in recent months, but everyday there they were – from both sides of the spectrum.
“What was happening, is a lot of people were coming very strongly, firing their view at you quite aggressively. I’ve learnt to be less defensive about that now. Early on, your natural reaction is to throw up a defence barrier,” Mansbridge said.
“What it’s saying is people are passionate about the club. Therefore, you’ve got to stop, have a listen, and try and see some different perspectives with them.”
Mansbridge attempted to engage with everyone who fronted to start with, before it quickly became over-consuming and the flow had to be managed.
Among those he did engage with shortly before the review concluded was a person who went to the Al Noor mosque to seek an understanding from worshippers, something Mansbridge branded “insensitive”.
“It was actually someone looking for little change in anything. The fact they would go to a place of worship, where people are grieving, and have a conversation with people who are struggling to look after orphans, and are grieving over the loss of kids and that, I thought it was distasteful, frankly. But there is a bit of that goes on.”
Mansbridge, who admits he and his family weren’t prepared for the spotlight to shine so bright, could not even escape it in Japan, where he and three friends went for 10 days during the Rugby World Cup.
“They were shocked at the end of 10 days. I said to all of them, ‘actually, that’s the best it’s been in a year,’.”
The brand review
New Zealand Rugby (NZR) and the Crusaders refused to disclose how costly the rebranding exercise was, and instead chose to label it as an investment into the future of the franchise.
However, Tauranga-based sports marketing expert Simon Arkwright, who studied at the University of Canterbury, said the cost share would not have come cheap.
“I would be really surprised if there was any change for half a million,” he said.
That includes the cost for independent research company Research First to seek feedback and provide recommendations on the Crusaders brand and name.
NZR, the owner of the brand, and the Crusaders announced Research First’s involvement on April 3, when departing NZR chief executive Steve Tew said maintaining the Crusaders name, alongside imagery of knights on horseback, was “no longer tenable”.
They made it clear then, less than three weeks after the mosque shootings, that two options would be considered: retaining the ‘Crusaders’ name but changing the branding and associated imagery, or changing both.
Three days later, the Crusaders played their first home game post March 15, against the Brumbies.
There was no sign of the once-popular horses, and the castle at the northwest corner of their Addington venue was nowhere to be seen.
If one thing stood out to Research First during their some two-month exercise, it was that the most important element of the Crusaders was the red and black colours.
They instructed the Crusaders to undertake a thorough brand review, which the Crusaders announced on June 8, slightly earlier than planned, due to NZR chairman Brent Impey jumping the gun during a radio interview.
It was decided then, regardless of the result of the brand review, the Crusaders would play under a “holding brand” in 2020. The name would stay but there would be no logo on the playing strip, simply the “Crusaders” word mark.
Auckland-based company Designworks, the creators of the new logo, spent time with the team, fans, sponsors, community leaders, past players and coaches.
The Muslim community was consulted, and they made it clear they did not want to be involved in the decision making process.
“I suspect we’re the most expert people now given the breadth of perspective we’ve been able to gather,” Mansbridge said shortly before the result of the brand review was announced.
Nobody should have been overly surprised when the Crusaders confirmed they would retain the name they’ve played under since Super Rugby launched in 1996.
After all, in the months since March 15, Mansbridge repeatedly referred to the other definition of the word Crusader: a person or team who campaigns vigorously for political, social, or religious change; a campaigner.
By dropping their medieval theme, which included rehashing the Crusaders horses pre-match, they were aligning themselves with it.
The Crusaders considered “hundreds” of other options during the review but opted against change.
“We couldn’t find anything that we were trying to do and how we are trying to connect with our community better than the name we have,” Mansbridge said.
“I think of people like Kate Sheppard in Christchurch when I think of the word Crusader. I think about [politician] Tariana Turia, she’s described as a Crusader for the rights of Maori youth . . .and lately I’ve heard people describe [climate change activist] Greta Thunberg as a Crusader, and that’s used in everyday language and nobody seems to have a problem with that.”
It was a win for those who feared the most successful team in Super Rugby would be known as something other than the Crusaders post 2020, but not all of them were pleased with the team’s new logo – The Tohu.
“It’s shaped out by our natural landscape, which stretches from the top of the Southern Alps to the depths of our moana [sea]. Taking the form of the letter “C” but expressed in way that is unique to us,” the Crusaders explained.
The Maori inspired design, which uses the words mā pango (the colour [black] of infinite potential) and mā whero (the colour [red] of true leadership) already features heavily at the team’s base, and will be introduced where possible in 2020.
It will feature on the team’s playing and training kit from 2021.
The Crusaders have revealed their new logo. Stuff reporter Tom Kitchin asks people on the streets of Christchurch what they think.
New brand not a ‘tight fit’
Arkwright isn’t convinced by the team’s new logo, saying they’ve introduced an odd element.
“To me, the Maori connection doesn’t ring true, simply because it’s not a strong Maori connection. The Chiefs have got a true Maori connection, and they double downed on that about five years ago,” he told Stuff.
The sports marketing expert says he would have preferred the Crusaders celebrated the “Mainlander” feel of the team, rather than introducing an element he doesn’t believe fits.
“How do you promote a two coloured ‘C’?
“Their brand says they do good things, some of us ride horses and some of us believe in the Maoritanga.
“It’s not a natural and tight fit.”
Arkwright also has an issue with the NZR and Crusaders process because it essentially became a public debate for eight months.
“It’s basically been a scab related to other things. People’s world views shouldn’t really factor into what you’ve got as a logo,” he said.
“What they could have done, in an ideal world, and it would have happened if they did it in 2017, is if they’d kind of kept it quiet.”
The Crusaders’ board discussed a future brand review in 2017, and briefed Mansbridge on it when he replaced Hamish Riach at the end of 2018.
It was accelerated due to the mosque shootings, but Mansbridge maintains the team always would have looked “a bit different, either now or in six months’ time”.
The original decision to call the team the Crusaders
Academics advised the Crusaders the decision to represent their identity the way they previously did was “naive” and “maybe a little bit clumsy”.
The original decision to name the team the Crusaders, coupled with the medieval imagery, has been questioned this year, with former Crusaders board chairman Donald Stewart admitting he privately had reservations about the team’s name.
Arkwright suggests the team perhaps should have seen trouble brewing in recent years, but not in 1995.
“People saying that the original management of the team were naive . . . it was a generation ago.
“In 1995-96, Christchurch was known for being English, the Cathedral and the wizard. Nothing else. So it kind of made sense then.
“A team is a team. You don’t need to necessarily over-think these things.”
Having studied the 32 NFL teams, which includes teams named as far back as the 1920s, to the newest team – the Houston Texans – being founded in 2002, Arkwright said 13 (40 per cent) of the teams were named for “odd ball” reasons.
“The bottom line is anything goes, really.”
When queried about the Crusaders former branding, Mansbridge said he would not have done it, with the gift of hindsight.
“The reality is, very few people in New Zealand knew the history at the time the brand was launched.”
Embracing and selling the new brand to fans is now the Crusaders’ big challenge.
“Where they believe their strength is, which is effectively their community connection, I don’t think it’s as obvious as they think it is. I think they’re going to have to work pretty hard to provide evidence of that,” Arkwright said.
Another challenge facing the red and blacks is the fact many fans have indicated they won’t let go of the former branding.
So, while the team has moved away from the medieval theme, fans will still turn up to games in the team’s old merchandise, wielding swords and flags donning the knight.
“The knight is still going to be there for the next five years. On jerseys, early on, there will be flags, there might even be a couple of swords,” Arkwright said.
But what’s done is done. NZR and the Crusaders believe they have set the bar by uncorking an exciting, bold, new brand, which represents more of the essence of what the team is about than the former logo and imagery did – one which will take them through another 25 years.
Now that the job is done, and the dust can begin to settle, the relief is clear at Rugby Park, where players and staff were left “shocked” eight months ago.
“Going through the process, one thing that is really clear is how gutted some of the players have felt, and past coaches and management, about the connection that was made,” Mansbridge said.
“We understand why the connection was made, but some of the connection was quite severe and almost trying to link and trying to apportion blame. That’s not who we are. For many of the players and coaches, they are still struggling with that.”