When George Lucas embarked on creating the original Star Wars film, one decision that he’d made four years before the movie was released was perhaps the most important that he’d ever make in his lifetime. The difference between him currently being a millionaire and being a billionaire was the contract he signed with 20th Century Fox, and in 1973 Lucas made the correct choice.
Having scored a huge hit with his film American Graffiti, which earned well over 250 times its $775,000 budget, he was a wanted man. His wage for directing the picture, which was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress and Best Editing, was $150,000.
With the studio accepting the pitch for what he called “a western in space”, he could have commanded a significantly increased wage – but he turned it down in favour of two clauses in his contract. The first was that he’d retain any rights to the sequels, which would go on to be just as successful as the original, while the second was that he would be able to keep the rights to merchandising.
At the time, Fox considered this a great move. Nobody believed the film would be anything other than a flop, so rights to a sequel seemed meaningless. On top of that, in the mid-to-late 70s, merchandise just didn’t make the studios much money.
Following the sale of the Star Wars franchise to Disney, Lucas is reported to be worth something in the region of $7bn. Around half of that came as a result of the decision to renegotiate his contract in 1973.
That desire to control every single element of merchandise is what reportedly caused Manchester City to redesign their badge in 1997. Speaking to the Blue Moon Podcast, City historian Gary James explained that the rights to the badge the club had before the current design were used on licence to produce items for sale. He explains how the new crest was created in order for the club to be able to control everything onto which it was put. In essence, there could be no unofficial use of it.
That suggestion clearly becomes less of an issue when you consider that the club currently has merchandise with the old design on.
It ties in with another commonly held belief, too. Speaking to the Manchester Evening News, the former owner of the club’s Maine Road shop confirmed that he never actually owned the copyright to it and the idea that he did was just urban legend. Eddie Phillips ran the store, which started as more of a stall, from the 1970s until the mid-1990s, and he claims he was the only “verified seller of goods containing the badge” – which, while it prevented others from using the design on merchandise, didn’t mean he owned it.
He says the copyright remained with the club, but that he had rights that allowed him to “take action against anyone producing counterfeits”.
That means it’s not impossible for the club to return to a previous badge. Though while they have indicated that there are wheels in motion to change the design with the announcement of a consultation into what elements fans like and dislike, that’s no guarantee of an alteration.
It’s not quite as simple as reverting to a previous crest, either. The original Manchester City badge isn’t the one that many fans will have grown up watching the Blues play wearing. The round, red-rose badge was adapted from a previous version (pictured above), where the bottom half wasn’t too dissimilar to the current set-up – although the three white stripes on blue were three yellow stripes on red. And, as Gary James explains, there’s a lot of history to that version too.
“The earlier badge was in force when City won all the trophies in the late ‘60s,” he says. “It appeared on the 1969 FA Cup Final programme, it appeared as the gift that City gave to Gornik [Zabrze] at the 1970 European Cup Winners Cup, so even within the old round badge there will be fans that preferred that one.”
He argues that’s why the club haven’t made the consultation on a choice to switch back to a previous crest. Perhaps if there had only ever been two Manchester City badges, then there could be a simple vote – but with three, and a series of one-offs used on special occasions in the club’s history, the waters are muddied somewhat. Instead, the club’s asking what elements of the designs the fans like.
There’s been much criticism for the badge that City currently use, though it has a little more relevance than many may think. Richard Burns, writing for Typical City, recently pointed out that the golden eagle might have been a source of scorn from famous fan Noel Gallagher, but it does have roots in Manchester history. City even used an eagle in various forms as far back as the 1960s.
Indeed, the actual central shield design of the current badge isn’t a million miles from the original. Though the addition of the stars has always been a target from rivals and their inclusion was derided by the vast majority of supporters.
There seems to be a cynical view that the club is initiating this move in an attempt to get a badge that falls in line with the other clubs owned by the City Football Group. Both New York City FC and Melbourne City have round badges and, when it comes to branding, it’s easier if every crest of the clubs owned by Sheikh Mansour matched and followed a similar design.
The exception, of course, is the badge of Yokohama F. Marinos, the J-League side in which the City Football Group owns at 20 per cent stake. That it’s not a controlling share means it’d be difficult for them to bring that team on message with the others – though it’s equally worth considering that the Asian side isn’t pushed anywhere near as much as the others in terms of press and media relations. With the group owning just a fifth of the club, it’s probably seen as not a top priority.
However, if there’s one club that knows it’s impossible to please all of the people all of the time, then it’s Manchester City. Whatever the design, should there be a new design of course, there will be supporters who aren’t happy with it; some who want to return to a previous version; and some who will always believe the decision is nothing more than a marketing ploy to make everybody buy everything all over again.
In truth, this could all come down to something as simple as getting a crest that’s easier to stitch onto shirts, jumpers, scarves, baseball caps and woolly hats, as well as one that’s easier to manipulate in image-editing software and one that fits a lot better into a certain space. Frankly, a golden eagle outline, three wayward stars and a scroll at the base of shield must be a nightmare to deal with.
Whatever the reason, at least the club is asking the fans what they think before pressing ahead and doing it. This is the supporters’ chance to really say what they think – many thousands hate the current crest, so whatever the motivation for changing it there’s an opportunity to get something a lot closer to Manchester City’s history that what’s currently in use.
Written by David Mooney.
Gary James will be holding a series of lectures at the City Football Academy on the history of the club badge on:
Wednesday 28 October, 6pm-7pm (Cityzens members only)
Saturday 31 October, 1pm-2pm (Official Supporters Clubs only)
Wednesday 4 November, 5pm-6pm (Cityzens members only)
Wednesday 11 November, 12.30pm-1.30pm (Open to all – send an email to email@example.com to book a place)