Organic and Raw: Oakland’s All Natural Sports Brand
Everyone in America knows Oakland, CA. The city’s rich and diverse culture has permeated multiple facets of American culture from sports and politics to hip-hop and car culture. But with the recent and future abandonments of the major sports franchises a big hole is left for the professional sports fan. Enter the Oakland Roots Sports club, whos phenomenal branding has given the team the potential to not only make a splash in the bay area, but across the globe. “We are really filling an important gap, with the other sports teams leaving,” said co-founder and director of brand development and marketing, Edreece Arghandiwal, he added “I think that there is an opportunity for us to really be the team in Oakland, along with the A’s and the other [soccer] clubs that exist. We can’t lose sight of the fact that you can't expect Oakland to love you because you are in Oakland. You have to be bigger than that and you have to get out in the city for it to really work.”
The club will kickoff in 2019 with the NPSL Founders Cup, but the Oakland pro soccer movement began years before that. “We were a bunch of guys that wanted to see pro soccer in oakland. That vision over the past two to three years turned into something that organically happened. Now we are here,” said Edreece. But where is here? For the Roots, here is six months out from kicking a ball, it is a brand that is getting national and global recognition and it is the ethos “Oakland first, always.”
Building a brand should be a long process. While designers may be able to throw out various designs that look aesthetically pleasing, if it doesn’t reflect the city or community, it’s just another brand. For the Oakland Roots Sports Club taking time to really think about what it means to be an Oaklander is what made the difference from creating a crest to developing a brand that could be embedded within Oakland culture. “We spent two and a half to three years interacting with the community, understanding perspectives, talking with stakeholders about what they see in a football club/ organization that just isn’t about soccer, but about impacting and giving back to the city we love the most,” said Edreece. The Roots organization wanted to ask the right questions and wait for the right answers. And Oakland answered.
Once the concept of the Roots was developed it was time to put that information into effect and create the image of the brand. Being good friends with famous Nike graphic designer Matthew Wolff, Edreece pitched the idea of what would become the iconic crest of the Oakland Roots. “I think soccer branding has been really traditional in the past and we wanted to think outside the box and pay homage to the city of Oakland that has always thought outside the box and have always been movers and shakers in their own respect,” said Edreece, he added “[the brand] needed to reflect diversity, it needed to reflect color and it need to reflect what we felt was important, which is the grassroots, focusing on the community and building things from the ground up. That is the essence of what we built the brand upon.”
The crest launched in October, 2019 and went on to create a media frenzy. Fans were blown away by the design and it began to earn plaudits from the soccer community and national coverage from multiple media outlets. In the center lies the famous Jack London oak tree, which has been a symbol of Oakland for over a century and is featured on many prominent Oakland-based brands and the Oakland city flag. Embedded within the all black oak tree is the shape of Oakland city. All the roots of the oak tree kaskade to bottom of the crest, with a colorful mosaic, that not only pops off the surface, but embodies the cultural diversity within the city of Oakland.
It’s safe to say that the club became one of the most popular brands in grassroot soccer, before it even kicked a ball. Currently the club is in the midst of developing its culture, generating a fan base and finding ways to make a difference within its community.
Now that the brand is out and the club is six months out of playing in the Founders Cup, it's time to develop the club and grow the brand that had such a successful launch. The common idea though, is that every step taken needs to build upon the ethos that the club set in place. When it comes to business partnerships, player signing and the continuous development of the brand it must be “Oakland first, always.”
The building process continued with the partnering of Oakland-based companies: Oaklandish, a creative clothing company that reflects civic pride, and Athletic Club Oakland, a sports bar designed for the passionate Oakland sports fan. “The biggest winning point was fact that these organizations already have an incredible presence in Oakland and they are true to the identity of the city,” commented Edreece about the initial partnerships. These business partners will be crucial to developing the professional soccer scene in Oakland, but soccer culture has been thriving in the bay area for many years. The city hosts multiple amateur and youth clubs and the Roots organization looks to be a support system for all of soccer in the community. Hopefully, allowing any Oakland-based player to one day play professionally in the city they grew up in.
The club finally took to announcing the first player signing for the professional team. Devante Dubose, a right back who was raised in Oakland, dreamed of one day becoming a professional athlete.“I didn't even start with soccer in Oakland. I was just trying to be a professional in everything,” said Devante. “At the age of seven my mom put me in soccer. It was the culture and the family I was around at the time. [Soccer] stayed with me, it chose me.” Devante went on to play for Virginia Tech and was eventually drafted by the San Jose Earthquakes in 2014. After that, Devante spent time with the San Jose U23s and eventually played for multiple USL PDL sides before signing a professional contract with Phoenix Rising FC.
On the field Devante will bring a plethora of experiences to the locker room. Those experiences range from life in Oakland to the various playing experiences he has had. “[My experience] gives me a chance to tell a story to those who don't have much of an understanding, because they haven't [played professionally] themselves . This allows me to have common ground with everyone who steps foot in the locker room,” said Devante. He added “my experience weighs heavy and I’ll be able to find the common ground with the team emotion and I hope that I can be one of the leaders day to day.” Devante isn’t just a new signing or the first signing, he is the embodiment of the dreams of all the Oakland youth, who hope to one day play professional soccer.
Oakland, Heavy in the Game
What makes the Oakland Roots Sports Club so different is its dedication to the community and the game of soccer. The organization believed in being something different than other soccer brands in the nation. Yes, other clubs have great crests created by great designers. And while the Roots organization made one of those partnerships with Matthew Wolff, it also took many steps in differentiating themselves from other soccer brands. Oakland is unlike any city, therefore the Roots must be unlike any other club.
The differentiation starts with the moniker, Sports Club. “ Part of the decision in going with sports club, versus soccer club or football club, was because we wanted everyone to feel involved,” said Edreece, he added “ we want the Oakland Roots Sports Club to be the brand for not only for the soccer team, but [a brand] for the community to identify with.” As we all know, soccer is not the most popular sport in America and with other dominant Oakland sports franchises such as: the A’s, Warriors and the Raiders, it would be smart to include the everyday sports fan as well as the passionate soccer fan and the ultras.
With the impending departure of the Warriors to San Francisco and the Raiders to Las Vegas, it's important for the Roots to make a stand in the city. “ Our differentiation point is the fact that we are Oakland first, always,” said Edreece about being different than the other clubs in the city. He added “that is our tagline, that is our belief, that is our vision and everything extends from that. From the way we create ideas to the way we put players on the field, hire people and interact with the community.”
To become a global brand, the Oakland Roots Sports Club must also differentiate themselves from the other soccer clubs in the world. To start that path, the Roots organization did something remarkable with its announcement of Devante Dubose, raising that bar on how to announce player signings. The Roots branding team took three hours, drove around the city and found spots to video Devante in. “ We didn't plan anything. We hoped in the car jumped out in certain areas,” said Edreece, about the process of shooting the video. He added “Devante was naturally and organically communicating with the people in the community, nothing was forced. It was a sense of us not pushing the brand and allowing Oakland to be the brand itself.” The video itself was out of this world: the intro music that blended into hip-hop, the visuals of the city, the people that represented the community and Devante. But the perfect finish was the drifting car, which was an element that was added completely on the fly. Devante called an old friend and on his lunch break he came out. “This was the last piece of Oakland culture, this is everything, this was how you tie it all together. Collectively we put together something beautiful,” said Devante.
Currently the Oakland Roots Sports Club has only taken a few steps in its path to glory. But with each step the organization makes a stride towards global recognition, and while the club desires that recognition, its main purpose is to be a vehicle for change in the community and to continue to give back to the city it loves most. To develop the brand and culture, this club planted its roots in Oakland, because it’s “Oakland first,always.”
- Steven Ramirez