My first interview with Joey Saputo? It was in 1996, as part of a report on “soccer missionaries”, as I then nicknamed these enthusiasts fighting for the influence of their sport on our sporting board.
The Impact played in League A and played its games at the Center Claude-Robillard in front of a handful of loyal fans. I asked Saputo why the public should be more numerous: “We are offering a beautiful evening in the open air, a good atmosphere in the stands and an interesting show. All this at a reasonable cost. ”
These simple words came from the heart, as is usually the case when Saputo talks about soccer. The round ball lives in his thoughts. He devoted part of his adult life to promoting it. If there is a “Mr. Soccer” in Quebec, it is him.
That day in May 1996, despite his confidence in the future, did Saputo really think that one day, the Impact would play in front of 60,000 people at Olympic Stadium, as was the case many years later?
Did he imagine that sports legends would visit Montreal to face his team, as David Beckham and Thierry Henry later did?
Did he believe that an international star would one day align with the Impact, like Didier Drogba?
And yet …
And yet, yes, it all happened. I sometimes wonder if, in the tumult that has been the daily life of the Impact for so long, we have taken the time to measure how far we have come. The history of this club is, in many ways, the triumph of incredible resilience.
In this hockey country, our soccer team has become an essential part of our sporting life. No, I wouldn’t have bet on that in May 1996, when I spoke with Joey Saputo.
With a big sweep, the organization pushed back this story, a decision of incredible sadness. These epic efforts to make the Impact a strong brand are relegated to the archives. Listening to Kevin Gilmore explain this name and logo change, I got a weird feeling, as if the club’s history had to start with his new administration.
I then remembered Gilmore’s words in October 2019, announcing the appointment of Olivier Renard as sporting director. With hindsight, we understand that they were heralds of his plan: “I favor innovation, new ideas, big ideas, different thoughts where we do not look at things the same way,” he said. .
How to oppose a concept as attractive as “big ideas”?
Despite its support for the Gilmore project, Saputo was not convincing during its speech on January 14. I did not feel the fervor with which he once declared: “The Impact is my baby. He looked nervous and defensive. No smile, no enthusiasm, it sounded like a manager telling his employees bad news.
The rest of the press conference followed suit. Communicating this new start should have been exhilarating for its designers, their joy and excitement should have burst the screen. I especially felt the fear of the reactions to come.
Modernizing its image and its way of doing things is a necessary step for companies. But should we for all that cut our ties with the past? The Press, for example, has changed its logo throughout its history. It has even turned into digital media. But the brand Press has remained at the heart of its identity. Because it has a deep meaning in Quebec society.
In more than 25 years, the Impact has developed its image and made itself known on the international scene. Is it necessarily a “big idea” to shave everything off and start over?
The goal, still nebulous after 40 minutes of press conference, seems to be to increase the club’s international influence. Saputo said: “Why can’t CF Montreal have supporters beyond our city and our province? For that, we had to think globally. ”
Overall, really? The problems at the “local” level are however numerous. And Gilmore’s “big ideas” should first be used to solve immediate and critical issues, like increasing the season ticket base, filling the Saputo stadium with every game and building a team that will keep the crowds running.
I can hardly imagine that the change of the name and the logo of the club became the priority among the priorities, especially since no one was asking for such an initiative. I don’t see this as a “big idea”, but rather magical thinking.
As if removing the Impact’s name would cause a rush at the counters. On the altar of modernism, common sense has been sacrificed.
But since the organization tried all the same, an obligation of result was necessary: this plunge had to cause a “Wow! “. It was essential that these changes elicit the spontaneous support of a majority of amateurs. This does not happen.
As a result, one item is added to the list of the many challenges the organization faces. And it is important: to rally a lot of fans to this new brand image. It’s called inventing a problem.
Management has two reasons for consolation, however. First, the anger of many fans shows their visceral attachment to the team. Then the sale of the “new” derivatives starts off on the right foot, according to data provided by the team.
Having said that, what’s done is done. So good luck at the Montreal Football Club. I love soccer and I want the team to grow. But I still think this: Joey Saputo, who has been carrying professional soccer in Montreal for 30 years at arm’s length, really didn’t need this great idea.