Deep Dive: All You Need To Know About The York United Rebrand
Today, it’s official: York United has arrived as an evolution to York9 FC. While some elements of the old club identity remain, the Canadian Premier League side has now been reborn with a lot of changes in an effort to make the club more accessible to fans in Toronto and the GTA while retaining its roots in the York Region.
Club President Angus McNab doesn’t mince words about the pressure that comes with leading such a pivotal moment in club history: “A change this big shouldn’t be comfortable,” he says, and he’s right. With the York9 FC branding now shifted to the proverbial history section, only time will tell how fans react to the new, much more traditional York United identity.
It was not a decision made lightly. Still, McNab has no doubts that it was the right move to make.
There should be a degree of hesitancy and actually thinking if we’re making the right decision, and when we balance everything up we absolutely are. We’re going to direct this as the way forward really positively to put this club in an upward trajectory.Angus McNab
While the York9 FC branding focused on the nine municipalities in the York Region – a vast geographic expanse above the Toronto area – the new York United branding bridges the gap between York Region and Toronto, which itself was originally named York. Under the United emblem, the club is hoping to strike a chord with fans across the York Region, Toronto, and the Greater Toronto Area.
Given that McNab once revealed that about half of the club’s fans hailed from Toronto or the GTA, the shift to represent them makes sense – especially as the club seeks to improve its rough attendance numbers from its inaugural campaign last year, and fix some ‘questionable first-year miss-steps’ that limited the brand architecture.
In tandem with the new identity comes a new set of club colours. There’s York Green, which is a stark departure from the bright neon tones of the York9 FC. It matches nicely with the Trillium White, with York United now also embracing a new colour scheme of Lake Ontario Blue and Victory Gold, an homage to the old City of York crest and a colour tone that represents a desire to win.
The Queen’s York Rangers regiment (stationed in both Aurora and Toronto) proved to be a big influence on the visual identity, inspiring the shield of the club crest. The Toronto links don’t stop there, with Lake Ontario and the aforementioned City of York (now called Toronto) influence prominently displayed.
The change in colour schemes was another aspect of fan feedback, with many voices having stated that the neon green look was garish, overwhelming, and not something many felt they could wear casually outside of matchday. Those conversations led to a new stylistic direction, with McNab noting that the club’s primary home kit will remain white (the kit shown today is a special edition kit to celebrate the new club colours in a big way).
The home jersey will be white with some York Green, Lake Ontario Blue, and Victory Gold elements in it. It’s very, very, nice. We have fantastic partners in Macron. Their flexibility in what we can do design-wise to create something unique for our fans is a huge benefit to fans of the league and to clubs in this partnership because it means we develop great kits and great products both on-field and for retail.Angus McNab
Of course, it’s not all new: the club is retaining some of the elements that worked, like the aforementioned Nine Stripes branding and the trillium imagery that is so often featured in Ontario-based entities. Still, changing the name, colours, and brand identity of a club after only its second year will be a big talking point that reaches beyond solely Canadian Premier League fans.
McNab was quick to credit the in-house staff who worked on this rebrand, noting that this wasn’t done through an external agency: the bulk of the new design was put together by Rob Marchese, the club’s graphic designer and creative lead. For the unaware, he’s the one behind the Island Games and Nine Stripes video series which had some fans wondering if OneSoccer was producing them.
The Humber graduate has been behind every infographic, look, and feel of the club since it launched, and he’s been working alongside another York United day-one staffer in Nate Hershenfeld to flesh out the York United rebrand under the guidance of McNab, the marketing team, and a little assistance from New York Islanders creative lead Karl Hudson, who Angus had worked with before.
The end result, says McNab, is a holistic, rational, and creative result that puts the club in a position for success. It’s clearly a much more old-school and traditional look, but he believes it’s the best way forward for the CPL side.
It’s not a small decision, and I think that’s important. We know there are people who are very, very passionate about the club. We don’t make this decision lightly, but we make the decision with the long term future of both the club and the league in mind. We all need ourselves to be a viable, vibrant, sustainable franchise. That means we’ve got to do things that might be a little uncomfortable, might be a little bit of fear involved, but we have to be bold, we have to be fearless, and we have to drive to something big.Angus McNab
Incidentally, this is the second big Canadian football project that appears to have been pushed forward due to the COVID-19 pandemic: much like with how prospective League1 Ontario side 1812 FC Barrie was formed because the ownership group had extra time due to the pandemic, McNab and the York United front office were able to dedicate plenty of time to the rebrand while fans were stuck out-of-market due to COVID-19. If not for the pandemic, McNab says, York United might not have been ready to go live today.
If one still has doubts that York United is really hedging itself in to the Toronto market, a simple look at the club’s alternate mark should provide enough receipts: with the Toronto skyline front and centre, there’s little doubt that this is a club that now fully embraces both Toronto and the York Region.
When asked where York9 FC ultimately failed as an identity, McNab points to a lot of fan feedback that the club received through its focus groups and outreach efforts: the name wasn’t instantly recognizable as a football club (with one respondent even saying that it sounded like York9 was a crossfit gym), and that’s something that hurts both casual fan intake and larger commercial opportunities.
When our first line has to be ‘We’re a football club’, it’s not where we want to be and what we want to be pitching. There was also some confusion even when speaking to ADO Den Haag on the Emilio transfer, and spending far too long at the start of the call where rather than getting down to the business of a transfer of our guy going oversees, it was just talking about the origins of the name, what was it, how is the nine there, why was it. It was just a couple of lightbulb moments that made me question things. If you get sent enough signals, you need to start to try and drive change.Angus McNab
Change has been a recurring theme during McNab’s time at the club, which is fast approaching a full year now. He’d been making smaller-scale adjustments prior to the summertime Island Games bubble tournament, with the club canonically killing off a cyborg time-travelling mascot that McNab says was too contrived, unnatural, and didn’t represent the club or its fans.
While there isn’t a successor to the oft-maligned Yorky as of yet, Angus says that one might come down the road through a more natural process: they’ll consult with supporters’ groups and young fans to find something that is ‘representative and feels right’.
When we first covered the potential rebrand, head-nodding was a majority reaction, but it wasn’t unanimous: vocal supporters’ group Generation IX released an official statement stating that they were against any alterations to the club branding. Behind close doors, we’ve heard some private chats between McNab and members of the SG had turned sour some time ago.
McNab hopes to see those fans rejoin the ranks as the club seeks to become more inclusive and, of course, grow its fanbase under the new York United moniker. He understands their frustrations, but at the end of the day he believes the ends will justify the means and secure the future of the club.
I understand it. You’re passionate, and you’ve committed time, effort, and hard-earned dollars to things. We welcome your fandom. We want that fandom bigger. We need more people in the stands, and we feel that this is the way to help us access that and grow. I think I’ve said it a couple of times, sometimes change isn’t comfortable but it’s necessary in order to grow. We can look and say we could’ve kept it as-is and maybe kept that group of supporters happy, but we need this to be bigger. Everyone needs this to be bigger, more vibrant, and I truly believe it will be. I hope that those supporters are still with it. I really, really do value their fandom. They bring atmosphere, and they will forever be weaved into the history of the club.Angus McNab
The York Region club isn’t the only North American football club making headlines with branding changes this year, with MLS side Montreal Impact reportedly on the verge of a name-change to Montreal FC. The announcement has drawn mixed reactions, with over 2,000 Impact supporters signing a petition against the alteration.
For McNab, however, the comparisons are apples-to-oranges, and his eyes are only on York United.
I think for us United feels right. It’s not a ‘going European or North American route’, we’re going a route that’s right for us. To be honest, I don’t care what the next team is called. I care about this team. I care about the message and what we’re doing, and I think we’ve got it right.Angus McNab
With the club’s new focus on opening its arms to Toronto and the GTA, we asked if York United’s plans to move further into the York Region were still on the table: after all, York Lions Stadium seems to be in the sweet spot between the city and the region. It’s got TTC access, ample parking, and lies right beside Steeles Avenue, the dividing line between York Region and Toronto proper.
While Toronto is now much more integrated into CPL side’s branding, McNab says that the plans to place a stadium in the York Region haven’t changed. While the team is happy with their current situation at York Lions Stadium (which is presently undergoing renovations), in the coming years the Baldassarra family is still aiming to secure land for a stadium where York United will be owners rather than tenants.
When it comes to York United, the overarching theme is recognizing the connections between the York Region and Toronto. If fans can get behind back, the York United rebrand will prove to be the right path from its York9 FC roots.
We are York, but we have to be bigger and we have to welcome people in. We knew York had the historic connection to Toronto and everything there, but it really moved on and took us to this point where we could feel it naturally, a real message that is uniting in geography but also uniting in other aspects. We are an open football club: everyone is welcome, come and be part of it.Angus McNab
York United has wasted little time preparing for the 2021 Canadian Premier League season, having already filled twenty of its twenty-three roster spots as it seeks to improve on its fifth-place finished at The Island Games this year.
With the York United rebrand now in full swing, the club has re-launched a brand new website and is forging full steam ahead under its new, more expansive umbrella.