Three years ago Milan studio Leftloft were commissioned to help iconic Italian football club Inter Milan with a ticket sales push, but the relationship developed into something much more comprehensive. Here art director Francesco Cavalli tells us how they came to lead an extensive rebranding of the whole club, from a new crest and a bespoke serif typeface to an exhaustive style guide for use across print and digital.
How did you first start working with Inter? Had you ever worked with a football team before?
Firstly we were asked to develop a poster campaign ( “ci vediamo a san siro”) to support the ticket sales drive; at that time we had no idea we were going to start a three year experience with the club! It was our first time working with a football team and we were really excited because most of us are longtime Inter fans.
Did you have preconceptions of what working with Inter would be like? How did the actual experience differ from those?
Football teams are medium-sized companies with a huge following and their receipts derive mainly from TV rights and sponsors, so we weren’t sure what the working relationship would be like. Unexpectedly we’ve been trusted to pursue a mission of renewal in the communication of every branch of the company.
The original goal was to “bring people back to the stadium” – how challenging a brief was this?
During the last 10 years, pay TV has affected the ticket sales and fewer people went to the stadium. Furthermore, Inter has always been the team with the highest number of season ticket holders in Italy and they wanted to keep the record.
“Bringing back people to the stadium" meant representing the actual spirit of being a football fan. The relationship between a football fan and his team is spontaneous, strong, deep and it’s made of memories, names, dates, images – all ingredients we had to cope with.
The campaign layout was visually inspired by the image of English football clubs on the one hand and on the other by the concept of football as a mythic sport played in the San Siro, the temple of football in Milan like the Scala is for classical music and ballet.
Two main elements met in the poster: famous players striking heroic poses and a simple friendly invitation “See you in the San Siro.” Through the simple act of going to the stadium people could be part of that mythic act, part of the show.
How did you identify the five values (Milanese, international, legendary, surprising, loyal) that defined the personality?
Defining the values was hard work; we gave questionnaires to the players and had long chats with key people among the staff including the president Massimo Moratti.
What helped us was that when we started, we had already worked on many artefacts (from flyers and the website to the official store and merchandise) and we were aware of the gap between the perceived identity and the claimed one.
We often hear about projects trying to combine heritage and tradition on the one hand and modernism on the other; how do you go about this?
We are neither vintage fans, nor do we follow fashion trends. We strive to create reliable projects that last as long as possible.
We tried to be modernist by making everything simpler and easier to understand globally, but on the other hand working with a client that is more than 100 years old meant we had to cope with the past and with tradition.The use of heritage in this case is not a gimmick, but the intention is it brings together two aspects.
Tell us about how the typeface developed.
As a result of the club’s strong relationship with its past, we decided sans serif fonts – which are typical in sports teams’ identities – were not exhaustive enough, and we tried to find something more decorative, but equally sporty.
We asked type designer Kris Sowersby to make a couple of versions of his metric font, starting from our sketches to add little serifs and develop the INTER Metric lettering.
How do you measure the success of a project like this?
The rebranding affects millions of fans and about a hundred companies from partners to sponsors who will be using the new material and the style guide.
It is not possible to have direct feedback right away. I think the rebranding could be compared to a new building – you can’t know how well it works until you live in it for a while.