2021, 2012, 1992.
Montrealers saw signs emblazoned with those three years around town and online in the leadup to their MLS club’s rebranding announcement on Thursday, a hint of another new era for professional soccer in the City of Saints.
First came the birth of the Montreal Impact, at the time a lower-division side who began life in the old APSL. Nine years ago l’Impact moved up to the top flight as an MLS expansion club. And now they’ve been reborn as Club de Foot Montréal, with a new crest, a new motto (“droit devant,” meaning “straight ahead” or “always forward”) and a goal of becoming a truly international outfit to better match the reputation of their cultured metropolis.
“I love the Impact. This is a club and a passion project that I started along with only three full-time employees 28 years ago. And it's hard to let go of things you love,” owner Joey Saputo said in Montreal’s live-streamed unveiling. “But here's the reality. To make an impact, we need to retire the Impact. The Montreal Impact will always be that local club that made global strides, and all that, we can be proud of. In fact, that is what this vision is all about. Building a collective.”
Saputo, club president and CEO Kevin Gilmore, creative co-director Justin Kingsley and head coach Thierry Henry delved into great detail to explain the roots of the rebrand – one that has been greeted with some trepidation among some of the club’s hardcore supporters, but reflects the organization’s conclusion that their league’s rapid evolution in turn merits fresh thinking and bold action on their part.
“I asked Joey what the Impact name meant,” said Gilmore. “He wanted to have an impact on our sport, in the city, in this province, to which I responded, mission accomplished. That was his objective.
“I asked him,” Gilmore added, “if he was willing to entertain, a change in branding, or name. And he said, 'I'm open to it. If you come back to me with something that is compelling. I want you to do research. I don't want to change things for the sake of changing things. There has to be a strong enough reason to do this in terms of something that speaks to who we are and who we want to be.'”
So the club’s most recent marketing campaign, “L’Impact Montrealais,” served a dual function as “a research project” to learn more about how fans and citizens perceived the club and their place in the city’s fabric.
Soon Kingsley, a Canadian writer, filmmaker and marketer who helped coin the brand identity of the North American 2026 World Cup bid, hopped on board with his creative partner Paul Labonté. They helped hatch the new crest and name and tweaked colors, which take inspiration from Montreal’s history, climate, architecture, arts, economy, music and even its public transportation.
“In the ‘80s UNESCO designated Montreal as a global city of design, and it wasn't just in graphic design, it was in all facets of design,” Kingsley explained on Thursday. “But the reason they did this is because of the great global design era that was born here in the ‘60s with Expo 67, ‘Man and His World,’ and then the ‘76 Olympic Games and all the famous, iconic design that came from those periods. So we decided to tell our modern, contemporary story to anchor ourselves in some of the visual icons that are known all over the world.
“We are like snowflakes in a storm,” he said. “And I've seen criticisms. In fact, if you Google that word, you'll see in slang that being called a snowflake for some people is an insult. Fine. Go ahead. Insult us. Underestimate us, underestimate our team and our coach. I invite you to. To see a snowflake as a weak thing? Fine. What I'll tell you about a snowflake is that when we come together – we are all individuals, we are all different and every single one of us is unique – but when we come together, we form that impenetrable wall. Good luck to you defeating our storm, our blizzard.”
Why “Club de Foot”? The desire for a traditional moniker with a specifically local, and Francophone, twist.
“It was always going to be a French name,” said Gilmore, “but leaving that debate aside, people were saying, ‘well, you're just going to be like everybody else – FC, FC, FC.’ And there are X number of MLS clubs that have the FC moniker attached to it. And that's exactly it. We didn't want to be the same.
“So instead of choosing between football and soccer, it's common practice in Montreal for people in French to refer to the sport as foot … And Anglophones sometimes often refer to it as footy. So let's assume that, let's assume that as part of our name. Let’s assume that we are different.”
Saputo and Gilmore sought to place this updated identity in the wider context of Henry – a world-renowned icon of the sport – and sporting director Olivier Renard taking up leadership of soccer operations, as well as new hires on the communications side and what Saputo called “a new partnership structure” with Bologna, the Italian club he also owns.
“When I first joined, Joey said, ‘I want to take this club to another level.’ And to do that you have to evolve,” said Gilmore. “And what does that mean? We are a forward-thinking, constantly-evolving, and innovative organization. And everybody that works in this organization has to think that way.”