It’s time yet again for the conversation always threatening to break out of any discussion of American soccer: branding.
In recent weeks, rumblings have emerged that Sky Blue FC has been toying with the idea of an overhaul of the team’s look. If rumors are to be believed, the most important aspect of such a rebrand would be an assertive change to the club’s current name, one that currently remains (perhaps intentionally) ambiguous about the location the team represents.
It’s not a story that is without precedent. Anyone who follows local soccer in the Tri-State remembers when Red Bull GmbH acquired the New York/New Jersey Metrostars and changed, along with the club’s nickname, the location-inclusive New York/New Jersey geographic tag to the current “New York” prefix.
It’s likely that the marketing evidence will tell Sky Blue to follow the Red Bull path. It certainly should be easier to brand a team with a definite location, especially when that location is the most recognizable city in America. New York represents a branding dream - millions of potential residents to woo with a slick new design, dozens of unique geographic features and historical references to work into a new name or logo, and several major teams in more popular American sports to partner with to increase exposure.
But despite all those perks, perhaps the team is choosing the wrong Hudson River state with their rumored rebranding. Taking a leaf out of the book of their fellow tenants at Red Bull Arena by following the Red Bull route would disregard something far less tangible but just as important- the team’s identity. It’s unquestionable that, official branding or not, Sky Blue have always been New Jersey’s team. 25% of the club’s current active roster are natives of the Garden State. The college most heavily represented on the roster’s alumnus list is Rutgers. Sky Blue’s all time leader in appearances and longest-serving captain, Christie Pierce, was a Jersey Shore native and a Monmouth University graduate. Three of the club’s four owners are New Jerseyans - most notably current New Jersey governor Phil Murphy and first lady Tammy Murphy.
And it’s worth pointing out that rebranding to a proper “New York” team isn’t an assurance of better marketing results either. As pointed out by Tutul Rahman in this thread, there is tremendous upside to be found in focusing a team’s brand on New Jersey, rather than discarding it. Many of the points regarding attendance and attracting new fans ring especially true when one factors in the fact that women’s soccer as a sport has roots that run deeper in New Jersey than any other state but perhaps California. Some of the game’s most prominent stars through the years have grown up playing in New Jersey (with Tobin Heath being the current example). That history and culture of women’s soccer in the state runs deeper than just the pro game as well. Rutgers is a staple contender in the Big Ten. Several of the academy teams in the state consistently compete for (and have won) national titles at the youth level. These youth clubs have developed clear ties to Sky Blue as well, with current players Kenie Wright and Sabrina Flores both alums of Player Development Academy, a non-profit club based out of Zarephath.
Spurning the club’s home state for the sake of attaching New York to the name would attract more eyeballs on paper due to the raw population difference, but would abandon a much deeper pool of what is presumably a key demographic for the club: young girls interested in soccer. If Sky Blue does decide to rebrand, and does choose to go all in on the New York branding, it wouldn’t be a bad choice at all. They’ll be opening crucial doors to a massive potential market to grow the game.
But it would turn the club’s back away from its identity, past and present, that has always been clear both on the field and in the stands. The club has reached an intriguing crossroads - should they consolidate and embrace their existing passionate support that remains largely based in New Jersey, or do they turn to the greener grass of the big city on the other side the Hudson? There are valid arguments for both sides, but for myself and many other New Jerseyans, Sky Blue will always be our team.