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Roma Decade in Review: When a New Crest Isn't Really Just a New Crest

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A subtle change in branding kicked off a firestorm of debate.

FBL-EUR-C1-ROMA-ATLETICO-MADRID Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images

Club crests and logos are nothing more than flights of fancy from graphic designers, but these images become so intertwined with fan identity, sentiment and nostalgia that it doesn't take long for their emotional weight and significance to surpass the effort required to create them. But no club in any sport is immune to change, even franchises as venerated as Manchester United, the Montreal Canadiens and even perhaps the most traditional team in the world, the New York Yankees, have made changes to their logos over the years.

Whether the club owners get bored or merchandising revenues simply run cold, logos and crests, no matter how old, can only avoid the editor's desk for so long. So, naturally, when Roma's new owners changed the club's crest in 2013, it was greeted calmly and rationally.

What's that? It wasn't? People were hailing it as the death of Roma, you say?

In their 92 years of existence, Associazione Sportiva Roma has always held tradition close to its heart, donning the team in varying shades of imperial purple and golden-yellow, the very same colors that appear on the city's official seal. Similarly, the club's nickname, the wolves (i lupi if you want to be specific), is steeped in the city's founding myth, so Roma have never strayed too far from the roots of the city itself.

Despite that bond to the Eternal City, Roma has experimented with varying themes over the years. While the earliest Roma shirts featured no logos whatsoever, it didn’t take long for the club to settle on an identity, using the club's acronym (ASR) and Romulus and Remus suckling at the lupetto's teat in varying combinations and forms over the decades.

A history of AS Roma crests/logos
World Sport Logos

But creating an identity and sticking to it are entirely different stories. Indeed, the club made subtle and significant changes to its crest and/or associated iconography on average once every six years, ranging from adding the wolf, removing the wolf, adding a cross, as well as several different ways to arrange the ASR, and even one in which they just said, fuck it, just put AS Roma on the crest and be done with it. (All variations can be seen here)

Point being, while they seldom went wild, Roma has a pretty robust history of tinkering with her crest. However, the one true constant in that history has been the ASR. though the exact arrangement of those letters has varied, as you can see above.

The problem with those three letters, if you follow James Pallotta's logic, is that they carry no weight to the lay fan. A football neophyte in New York or Edmonton or Auckland may like the colors and be intrigued by the children suckling the wolf's teat, but have no idea what the ASR actually means, a point the club addressed upon changing the crest following the 2012-2013 season.

AS Roma today, upon completing its 86th year of competition, introduces an updated brand identity system that honors and builds on its rich history, highlights the club’s connection to Rome and modernizes one of the most beloved brands in football and establishes the visual direction for the Club for years to come.

An extensive local market research program was undertaken to evolve and update the celebrated marks of the Club.

The goal: Honor the rich tradition of the Club and Rome, while properly reflecting the Club’s growth domestically and internationally.

The new Roma logo features clean, modern lines along with a contemporary and timeless graphic structure. The logo is designed to reflect the essence of AS Roma – pride, courage, inventiveness, and passion – fundamental values of Roman culture as well.

Pallotta later spoke specifically about the ASR for Roma swap:

The City of Rome is the heart and origin of our club. Having ‘Roma’ on our logo and on our players’ chests properly honors this and tells the world who we are.

Former exec Italo Zanzi spoke to the new crests marketability:

The launch of our updated brand is aligned with our vision for the future – one that combines heritage with aggressive global growth. It will fundamentally enhance all of our new initiatives, including our Nike and Disney partnerships and our new stadium

God, remember all that Disney nonsense? What a sham that was, though had it taken off maybe we'd have a weekly Roma show on Disney + called "Baby Yoda's Tactical Takes”...who knows?

Roma's new leaders didn't mince words—this change was made to increase the Roma brand—and from that moment on the new ‘Roma’ Roma logo replaced the bygone ASR, marking perhaps the biggest change in branding in club history.

On a personal note, in the spring of 2013, I was dating a graphic designer and she was quick to point out that the kerning—essentially the spaces between letters—was off in the new logo, specifically the areas on either side of the O. I'm not sure if they fixed it, but I was pretty excited about the change, and she immediately went there. Suffice it to say, that relationship didn't last.

But I digress. The manner in which you digested this change likely reflected how you felt about James Pallotta. If you felt he was the destroyer of the club's myth and romanticism, then the death of the interlocking ASR was probably a knife in your heart. On the other hand, if you were optimistic about the expansion of Roma, you probably saw the change as logical and necessary.

One thing as for certain, it was unexpected. Of all the changes we anticipated with a new foreign owner, I'm not sure a new logo was on the docket...but I've always kind of dug it. It's simple, direct and represents the city without requiring any inferring by the observer. If anything, it's more representative of the city as a whole than the club in and of itself, as it puts the name and mythological origins of the city front and center rather than the club acronym, and since the club's identity is so tied up in the myth and legend of Rome, the switch made perfect since.

The 2013-2014 season was the maiden voyage for the new crest, and once Rudi Garcia ripped off 10 straight wins to start the season, the crest crisis sort of subsided on its own. And in the ensuing six years, Pallotta's mission to make Roma more marketable—through the new crest, a new and expansive digital approach, and the omniscience of Nike—has been an unequivocal success.

Of course, Roma are once again on the precipice of change as Dan Friedkin attempts to consolidate his grasp on the club by early 2020, but given the success of Roma's most recent re-branding, I can't imagine they'll tinker with the crest again. However, since we live in the age of constant consumerism, don't be shocked if the beloved ASR crest makes a reappearance as some sort of retro collector's line in the not too distant future.

James Pallotta may soon be part of Roma's past, but his imprint on the club has been substantial. His decision to change the crest, the reasons behind it and the controversy that followed, were the perfect encapsulation of his eight years in charge. Roma's new crest was the perfect symbol for the near decade-long clash between consumerism and tradition that marked his entire tenure as Roma's owner.