There was a time when football clubs, the world-over, played the vast majority of their matches in their home kits. A switch to their away colours only occurred when the home kit was too similar to their hosts’ during away matches.
The current popular trend sees teams regularly switching to their away colours on the road even when their home jerseys don’t resemble their opponents’. For some of us football purists this is slightly irksome – we identify with our clubs through their primary colours.
However, this recent trend is somewhat understandable. It’s an attempt to sell away jerseys. And it works. More and more fans can be seen wearing their clubs’ alternative jerseys as a result.
But the Canadian Premier League (CPL) has apparently taken it a step further – to a point that outright confuses, or even angers, some purists.
CPL clubs are now wearing away kits during home matches and vice versa during league matches. It’s apparently a CPL mandated switch to promote its clubs’ away kits, that kicked off roughly halfway through the inaugural season.
“It’s a league initiative to celebrate our away jerseys at home in front of our fans,” said Cavalry FC head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. on Twitter, when queried about the trend a couple weeks ago.
We can probably substitute either ‘sell’ or ‘market’ for ‘celebrate’ in the above quote to arrive closer to the league’s motives.
And some have suggested the initiative will run for a while, perhaps even to the end of the CPL’s inaugural season.
A club’s brand and identity are tied to its primary colours
It seems ill-advised to alter clubs’ primary branding at such a formative moment in the league’s development.
Some clubs are only just starting to get footholds in their local sporting landscape. To virtually change their local brands now seems unnecessary, rather hokey and possibly disruptive.
This is especially true for a club like Cavalry FC whose home and away kits are very different and have no common colour themes or trim details – red and black for its home kits and green and white for away. Cavalry FC recently hosted York9 FC at home at ATCO Field wearing its green and white away kits, very much in contrast with much of the home support and stadium decor.
Few could imagine Liverpool not playing in red at Anfield, Real Madrid not playing in white at Bernabeu or Juventus not playing in black and white in Turin.
Hyperbolic as it is to compare CPL clubs to these European giants, the point stands. A club’s home kit and colours are wrapped up in its identity.
Is it a good idea to mess with identities and branding that are still getting established? Basic marketing and communications best practices and standards would suggest not.
Nothing’s broke yet, don’t try to fix it.
Canadian Premier League kit switch best applied in moderation
It’s a policy not without some charm, however.
Imagine an 8-year-old fan, who convinced their parents to buy them Cavalry FC’s away camouflage-inspired kit because they thought it was cool, who will now get the chance to see their new heroes wearing it in person. It’s rather heart-warming, in a hypothetical case like this.
In fact, most fans attending home matches likely haven’t seen their club in its away kit.
Most casual fans, who likely outnumber the hardcores by quite some number, won’t have bought a membership with OneSoccer, the league’s streaming service, and so may yet to see their local club don its away colours on travel days.
So, perhaps a couple themed mid-season home matches wearing away kits to boost sales isn’t a terrible idea. But the policy is best applied in moderation, if the league wants its clubs to achieve and maintain brand recognition.
Choosing to visually clash with majority of your home support isn’t a good idea
But putting aside playing devil’s advocate, simply put, it just looks dumb.
On match days, most home fans will be adorned in the original home colours, as will likely be the stadium. Why would you want to visually separate yourselves and branding from most of your supporters and existing onsite marketing collateral? It’s a bizarre move.
Home kits are for home games. Away kits are for away games. The CPL may be trying too hard on this one.