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Former Revs executive says success of rumored rebrand tied to on-field product

Former Revs executive Brian O’Donovan talks about the origins of the crayon flag and what the rumored rebrand could mean.

Houston Dynamo v New England Revolution Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Brian O’Donovan has a lot of love for the New England Revolution and its crest. After all, he helped found the team in 1996 and was part of the Front Office until 2000.

He imagines that others have a similar love for the team’s branding, perhaps because of the memories forged with friends during the tailgate or while cheering on the team during MLS Cup runs. This type of love is real and grows over time.

He’s seen the rumored new crest and thinks it has potential and imagines that it could win the adoration of the fans. That, however, depends on how the team performs on the field.

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O’Donovan was the General Manager of Sullivan Stadium in Foxborough when Robert Kraft purchased the stadium in 1989. At the time, O’Donovan was drawing crowds by booking tractor pulls and musical acts like The Who, The Rolling Stones, and Elton John. Despite the wild success of these events, O’Donovan’s first conversation with Kraft was about something else.

“The first thing he said to me was, ‘Good to meet you. What are we going to do about soccer?’ I was like, ‘Jesus, that’s not what I expected,’” O’Donovan said during an interview with The Bent Musket.

Kraft, who owned the stadium but didn’t yet own the Patriots, saw a lot of potential in soccer. The two parties aimed to build the events program, serve as the landlord for the Patriots, and “try to develop soccer as much as we could.”

Sullivan Stadium would soon host a number of international soccer events, most notably six games at the 1994 World Cup. Meanwhile, the Krafts became the owners/investors of the New England team for the forthcoming domestic soccer league.

O’Donovan’s role would shift as Major League Soccer began to take shape. He was there during the heated discussions about the countdown clock and shootouts after ties, neither of which he was opposed to. He was against widening the soccer goals and was happy to hear other executives agree.

Back in Foxborough, he helped with the team’s branding. O’Donovan remembers Minutemen, Militia, and even Bats being explored as potential names. He recalls that “coordinating a little bit with the Patriots was not unimportant. It wasn’t a key thing, but it wasn’t unimportant.”

The final name actually came from D.C. executive Kevin Payne who pitched that his team be called Washington Revolution. O’Donovan stated he liked the name, but thought it would work better for the place where the American Revolution was born. The two agreed and New England’s team became the Revolution.

Next came the crest. For this, the Revs needed to work with Reebok, who was earmarked to create the team’s inaugural jersey. O’Donovan visited their offices in Canton to work with Peter Moore, who is now the Chief Operating Officer of Liverpool. O’Donovan found inspiration on one of the many shoe’s that surrounded him.

“I said, ‘That looks kind of interesting. It looks kind of like a logo painted in the middle of the night on a wall,’ O’Donovan recalls. “And I thought in my mind that it went with the word ‘revolution.’ A different connotation than colonial Revolution but just ‘revolution,’ like the idea of ‘go frig yourself’ would be written on the wall or ‘send O’Donovan home’ or ‘send Stapleton back where he came.’ That kind of suited us, that kind of urban type of approach.”

O’Donovan went to the graphic designer who created the Reebok logo, who said he’d be happy to help. There was a twist, however.

“He got out a pen and said, ‘This is the pen I used to design that logo. At the moment, it’s almost out of ink and it has a very specific deterioration on its nib, which is kind of a felt nib. If I take the cover off of this and write out the logo you want then it will be the last time this nib can be used because it’s running out of ink.’”

The designer asked for absolute certainty about the name and crest. When he was officially given the okay, the crest was written out once and captured digitally, officially becoming the symbol of the New England Revolution.

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The name and crest for the New England Revolution officially took on meaning when the club kicked off in 1996.

According to O’Donovan, the league was hopeful that the Revolution would be one of the top four clubs, alongside D.C. United, NY/NJ MetroStars, and LA Galaxy. Instead of being synonymous with success, the Revs were a regular presence at the bottom of the league.

The Revs’ longest win streak was four (two shootout wins) and their longest losing streak was three (happened three times). The team ultimately finished ninth out of ten, a long cry from being a top four team.

Fans didn’t like to see their team struggle and demanded better results. O’Donovan remembers having post-game conversations with members of the Midnight Riders, who were happy to lend advice in the parking lot. This was a sign that the Revolution meant something to those in the stands.

“The Supporters’ Groups are designed to keep management’s feet to the fire,” O’Donovan explained. “People are paying big bucks to feel they have a stake in a team. They care emotionally about that team and they have every right to be critical of it.”

The passion from the fans was proof that the Revs’ brand mattered. O’Donovan and the rest of the Front Office dreamed of creating a team that would be supported by different generations. They hoped that one day they could reward their fervor by winning an MLS Cup.

The Revs never reached the highs O’Donovan would’ve liked, but the memories he has of starting an MLS franchise give him positive feelings when he thinks of the Revolution and its crest.

“You had to have a passion and vision that was associated with the startup mentality of it,” O’Donovan said. “That’s what I particularly loved, that startup mentality. I loved those times that I would visit the Midnight Riders, the Alexi Lalas antics, the Walter Zenga craziness, all the coaches coming in, the Thomas Rongen days. It was just so much fun. I feel so privileged to be a small part of it.”

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O’Donovan has no qualms with the new crest, but thinks public perception will depend on how the team does in the coming years.

“Brands and logos and names are what brands and logos and names do,” O’Donovan said. “That’s a fine logo. It looks fantastic. If they lose every year for the next five years then that logo is going to look like a loser. If they win an MLS Cup with that logo then that logo is going to look absolutely gorgeous.”

O’Donovan used the Patriots as an example. The team rebranded in 1993, replacing Pat Patriot in the three-point stance with a grey-faced man wearing a red, white, and blue cap. O’Donovan remembers liking the rebrand, noting that it gave the team a “modern look while preserving the origins of it.”

Still, the organization truly got redefined when the team started to win Super Bowl championships. Now when people look at the crest they see success and think of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.

The final verdict on the new Revolution crest will depend on the memories fans make while wearing the gear. If they’re lucky enough to have images of their team hoisting an MLS Cup in front of them then it will forever be remembered fondly. If it’s a crest worn during another 25 years without a league Cup then we’ll all be looking forward to another rebrand.