When the USL Championship granted one of its seven expansion franchises for the 2019 season to Hartford Athletic in July, the decision was a massive first step towards fulfilling the promise of professional soccer in Connecticut’s capital city.
“We’ve been sitting on a soccer hotbed for a long time but haven’t had our team,” said Hartford Athletic Vice President of Marketing Joe Calafiore. “There’s been a few iterations of pro soccer way back when, but there really hasn’t been a professional sports team that our city and our community could rally around for a long time and we’re hoping to really provide that team, to provide that initiative, to provide that momentum that’s going to help catalyze the growth that we’re seeing in Hartford.”
Hartford, which is still undergoing an economic revitalization following the 2007 recession, hasn’t housed a top-level men’s professional sports team since the NHL’s Hartford Whalers relocated to North Carolina and became the Carolina Hurricanes in 1997. The Connecticut Sun of the WNBA – who play in nearby Uncasville – remain the state’s only active top-level professional sports team, with the Athletic joining the AHL’s Hartford Wolfpack in the city’s professional sporting scene.
“When the Whalers left, it definitely left a hole in the soul of our community for sure,” said Calafiore, a Hartford local. “They have an important place in our history, but we’re not the Whalers either. We’re bringing something new and exciting and different and we are of course going to honor our heritage, but this is about the future.”
That future began to take shape last Thursday when the Athletic unveiled its official crest in a video featuring local players, fans and coaches. The blue and green crest was the culmination of a seven-month long branding process that began with a “Name the Team” initiative in early May, shortly after Hartford Sports Group (HSG) was given approval to rebuild Dillon Stadium by the Hartford City Council.
“We went out to the fans and asked them for ideas and asked them what was important to them,” said Calafiore. “We got back a lot of different thoughts and suggestions, but ultimately what we heard from them was ‘We want this to be soccer authentic, we want this to be unique and about Hartford and Hartford proud and we want this to be about the community,’ which was exactly aligned with our thinking from the get-go.”
The result was Hartford Athletic, a traditional naming convention across international soccer but a unique one in the United States. In fact, Hartford is the first professional soccer club in the U.S. to adopt the name ‘Athletic’, which – like English counterparts Charlton Athletic or Wigan Athletic – stems from a deeply rooted connection to a local youth organization.
“There actually is a Hartford youth soccer organization that was called Hartford Athletic,” said Calafiore. “We adopted that name through that organization and fans were really excited about it and we were really excited about it.”
Hartford Athletic unveiled its name alongside its colors – traditional shades of blue and green that have become synonymous with both the city and the Whalers over the years – at its July press conference, where USL President Jake Edwards and HSG confirmed the club’s plans to renovate Dillon Stadium and participate in the 2019 USL Championship season. As part of the launch, the club found an ally in Fox Sports host Rob Stone – himself a native of Connecticut – which saw the Athletic’s name and brand visit both the 2018 FIFA World Cup this summer and the 2018 MLS Cup this past Sunday.
From that point, the club has been working on developing its crest and figuring out how to create an emblem that not only represented the ideas of who it wanted to be but also what it’s going to be in the future as the Athletic grows as organization and a fanbase.
“If you kind of look at our crest overall, it’s really more focused on being forward-looking and the idea that we have big aspirations and big dreams as a club and as a community,” said Calafiore. “We want to make sure that we’re doing everything that we can using soccer as a platform for good and as a platform to really uplift our city.”