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Atlético, Valladolid backlash a lesson for clubs in search of a new identity

Update:

If a well-known department store, a big bank or any other corporation that offers services to tens of thousands of people changed their stylistic line in terms of logos, colours or anagrams, none of their clients would feel they had the right to object. If they didn’t like the new aesthetic, they might gripe to their friends or family, but they would consider it the right of the owner to do as they please with their brand or image: it is their company, they have the right to do what they want with it and if they decide to alter their corporate image there isn’t much anyone can do about it. That is not the case in football. Atlético Madrid and Valladolid, the latter majority owned by former Real Madrid and Brazil striker Ronaldo, are both public limited companies controlled by a board of directors, and both have recently changed their strips – Atlético the stripes on the players’ shirts and Valladolid the club crest itself – and both have been pulled up by their supporters.

Football fans are not ordinary customers

Football isn’t any old business. Each and every club is a repository of feelings of which their supporters feel that they are the proprietors. In theory, that is no longer the case except in the case of the four Spanish clubs that remain the property of their club members (Real Madrid, Barcelona, Athletic and Osasuna), but the fans of all the other clubs feel they are equally part of the ownership structure. There is something more intrinsic than the client-customer relationship that links fans to the stadiums their fathers took them to as children, a love for a set of colours and a crest that naturally jars when someone comes along and decides to change them in search of a new image. And they get angry, even if Valladolid secured promotion back to the top flight last season or Atlético are now a Champions League fixture who play in a shiny new stadium.

And that’s not a bad thing. We cannot allow the symbols and the identity of our clubs to be left in the hands of the latest designer contracted by them. However true it may be that the season ticket-holder pays an increasingly small contribution to a club’s budget, we all know that the relationship between a club and its fans is something so intimate that snubbing it is not a wise move. Atlético have been making unpopular decisions for some time, first with the changes to the club crest, then with the Hollywood-style walk of legends outside the Metropolitano and now with a change to the stripes on the shirt that is meant to evoke the curvature of the Manzanares, that ran alongside the old Calderón ground, and have now opened a direct line for consultation with various supporters’ groups. They will not be club owners and they won’t have a vote, but at least they will have a voice.

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