When the Western Australian Rugby League decided to ditch its long time association with the ‘Reds’ branding and set sail on their NRL expansion bid as the West Coast Pirates, they knew they were taking a risk.
A month after the announcement, it looks as if the WARL board of directors’ brave move has uncovered a treasure trove of potential riches.
“The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive,” WARL chief executive John Sackson tells SB Insider. “You never know what might happen when you change a brand you’ve been living with for several years, but we drew a line in the sand, made a commitment and the response has really been overwhelming.”
The organisation, considered a front runner to be added to the NRL when it next expands (possibly 2015), has seen a surge in social media followers and merchandise sales within the first month.
“We’ve got incredible demand for our merchandise already,” says Sackson. “We’ve got T shirts and caps flying out the door. We’ve sold more Pirates material in a month since the announcement than we sold of Reds merchandise in years.”
There has been some criticism of the new logo as too gimmicky and the West Coast part of the name as too close to the AFL team the West Coast Eagles. It was clear though to the WARL that they needed to move on from the Reds name through a two years stint in the NRL in the 1990s.
“You will always get people who struggle with change,” says Sackson. “But the crux for us was that our research found over 50 percent of people associated the Reds brand with failure.”
Less than 50 percent of people in WA associated the Reds brand with rugby league. From both angles, the future was clear.
“We felt it was important to cut and run and develop a new brand that we think is fresh,” says Sackson.
The Pirates was one of a few options workshopped in a long car trip shared by Sackson and another WARL board member, Brad Hopes.
“As soon as he mentioned the name we started bouncing ideas off each other with the things you could do and how you could leverage the Pirates name in terms of match day activation and membership packages,” says Sackson.
“There are so many ways to leverage that logo creatively.”
While the logo does show a fearsome, aggressive pirate, there’s no doubt that central to this approach is a sense of fun.
“That is a key word for us,” says Sackson. “As we expected the name West Coast Pirates resonates strongly with youth. If the kids are excited about it and can engage with it then you will get the parents engaged with the brand as well.”
From the car trip, Sackson took the idea back to the WARL board and they agreed to pursue it.
“What really nailed it was I spoke to John Gearman, an east coast based creative designer and art director who has had an association with rugby league for many years – he created the Titans, Brisbane Bombers and Penrith logos. I asked him to come up with a design and he came back with a Pirate logo with the Reds name, and we thought that was appealing because we could keep the name but drop the kangaroo and get into something more edgy with the pirate.
“On reflection we thought, ‘hang on, let’s go all the way with this’. It’s a terrific logo.”
There was similar debate over the name and Sackson what tipped them to West Coast was the desire to represent the whole state.
“Honestly the [similarity to West Coast Eagles] has been a non issue,” says Sackson. “If we’d called ourselves the Western Pirates someone could say it was too close to Western Force, then there is the Perth Glory. We felt pirate theme fitted with the coastline, too – there’s genuine evidence of piracy off the west coast of Australia, and way before the Eagles were here”.
On launch, the branding got a cautious thumbs up from SB Insider expert Anthony Costa, who wrote: “It’s a look designed to excite kids and move merchandise. To me it feels a bit dated, but that’s not to say it doesn’t work. Some of world sport’s most iconic logos are graphic time capsules, proudly thumbing their nose to any notion of trendiness. The West Coast Pirates logo may not be brilliantly contemporary, but neither is it clumsy or cringe-worthy.”
If it was, indeed, designed to “excite kids and move merchandise”, then it’s on the right course.