Northamptonshire drop military link in Steelbacks rebrand

Club retain one-day nickname but lose military connection on new crest

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Northamptonshire Steelbacks' new crest on their T20 shirt

Northamptonshire Steelbacks' new crest on their T20 shirt  •  Northamptonshire CCC

Northamptonshire have removed the military connections from their Steelbacks crest in one-day cricket as part of the club's plan to attract a younger, more diverse set of fans.
In the late 1990s, counties chose nicknames for their one-day teams, with the majority opting for alliterative names like Essex Eagles and Sussex Sharks, but some went down a different route. Among them was Northamptonshire, who became the Steelbacks in honour of the nickname of the 48th and 59th Regiments of Foot of the British Army (later the Northamptonshire Regiment). While continuing to wear the club's rose crest in four-day cricket, they have had various different one-day badges, which have featured artwork of a soldier for the past decade.
Following various consultations and focus groups over the winter, the club's marketing department decided that the military connections were unlikely to help them engage with the local community, and have instead re-launched the Steelbacks brand with an 'S' crest that will feature on their one-day kits from this season.
"What we found from various focus groups was that although the Steelbacks name resonated in terms of being 'made of steel', resilient, gritty, and working as a team, the alignment to an 18th century infantry unit probably wasn't there," Ray Payne, the club's chief executive, explained. "If you're trying to attract a young, new audience, you need to have something they would align themselves to."
"If you look at retail sales, the rose merchandise sells much better than the Steelbacks, whereas if you look at attendances, it's the other way round. It's a great opportunity to re-launch with something new, to attract people back to the sport and to attract a new audience."
The new badge may also be seen as a nod to the club's involvement with London Spirit in the Hundred, with some similarities between the two brands. "We were conscious of that," Payne said. "We are associated with it, so we didn't think it was detrimental at all if there was some level of continuity to it."
The club are rolling out their rebrand across their academy and their community arm, with Northamptonshire Recreational Cricket becoming Steelbacks in the Community.
Perhaps the most pressing question at the club, though, is whether any fans will be in the ground to see the re-branded Steelbacks play their first T20 Blast game of the season in early June. The UK is in its third nationwide lockdown, but there remains some optimism about the prospect of fans attending games this summer on account of the speed of the vaccine roll-out.
"All scenarios are on the table," Payne said. "Before Christmas, I'd have said we'd definitely have people in the ground by April, but I'm a little bit more nervous now, though I wouldn't think it'll be far behind even if it isn't the first Championship game. It's enormously important for the game, both on a cricket level and financially.
"We're a tight-knit club anyway, and have rebuilt ourselves on running a very tight ship. We've looked at making sure we're in good stead for when we come out of it. I think we're as happy as we could be - we have very little debt left within the club - but we do need supporters back."
Northants announced the signing of Mohammad Nabi at the end of last year for the T20 Blast, but are yet to decide whether they will add another overseas player for this season.
"It's hard this year with the international calendar how it is and the uncertainty about travel," Payne said. "It's so tough to find the windows we'd want, whether that's just for the Blast or to give us an added dimension for the Championship. I'm not ruling it out but we're feeling good about this year and we've got a more balanced squad than we've had in the past."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @mroller98