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Halifax Panthers: Championship club on the hunt for a new audience with rebrand

Halifax reverted to their traditional name 18 years ago, but the Championship club have now rebranded as they set their sights on engaging younger fans and one day returning to Super League; "I think it's a really good idea and overdue," says head coach Simon Grix

Halifax head coach Simon Grix and player Scott Grix with the club's new panther mascots

For fans of a certain generation, Halifax will always be associated with the glory days of the mid-to-late 1980s which featured back-to-back Challenge Cup final appearances in 1987 and 1988, lifting the trophy in the former, and being crowned league champions in 1986.

Current head coach Simon Grix was barely out of nappies when the likes of Chris Anderson, Graham Eadie and John Pendlebury were helping 'Fax to glory on the national stage, although the 35-year-old is all too aware of the sometimes-precarious existence his hometown club have endured since then.

At 18, he was part of what remains to date the last Halifax squad to play in Super League in 2003 prior to going on to spend nine years with Warrington Wolves, then returning to The Shay four years ago and eventually succeeding recently-appointed Salford Red Devils boss Richard Marshall as head coach.

The Covid-19 pandemic robbed 'Fax of the chance to make an impact in the Championship in 2020, but with the club now adopting a bold new rebranding with the nickname Panthers, Grix sees next year as the perfect opportunity to start laying the ghosts of the past to rest.

"I think that's part of the problem because people still hang on to that," Grix told Sky Sports. "There have been some successes since then, not of Challenge Cup size, but the reality is that was more than 30 years ago.

"We need to create a new exciting future so this period will be looked on fondly. There has been a lot of trouble for rugby league; it's not a rich sport, as everybody knows, and by rebranding we open ourselves up to hopefully more fans and a younger generation.

"I think we've just got to push on and maximise everything we've got, and hopefully it brings us a bit more publicity and so forth. I think it's a really good idea and overdue."

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We need to create a new exciting future so this period will be looked on fondly.
Halifax Panthers head coach Simon Grix

Halifax, one of only six clubs to be founder members of both the Northern Union and Super League, had previously gone by the Blue Sox moniker but dropped it in 2002 after six years and until now have done without choosing another nickname.

The decision to rebrand as the Panthers came off the back of an audit done by the club's board which showed the need to attract a younger demographic to their support base and, so far, it has been well-received.

A sign of the initial impact it has made is that the #PanthersAreInTown social media hashtag has already generated over 712m impressions, while season-ticket and merchandise sales since the announcement have exceeded expectations. Halifax have also unveiled two new panther mascots to tie in with the new look.

To managing director Dave Grayson, this has confirmed the decision to adopt the Panthers name - chosen because of the history of big cat sightings around the town, and the team having a black cat mascot called Smut in the early 1900s - is the right one to help engage a new audience and build on the development work being done by the club's foundation.

Pix: Simon Wilkinson/SWpix. Rugby League grounds. Sesaon 2001. 19/05/2001..COPYWRIGHT PICTURE>>SIMON WILKINSON>>01943 436649>>..The Shay home of the Halifax Blue Sox rugby league team
Image: Halifax previously went by the Blue Sox nickname

"We're out there, but we just needed to get something which was a bit more of a hook," Grayson told Sky Sports.

"I think the Panthers, right through to the way it was done with the project team and the logos, and everything which has gone with it with the marketing, has certainly created that interest.

"We're realists and we understand perhaps some of the older generation wouldn't like the new name, but at the other end, it's driven a lot of interest.

"Our merchandise sales have gone through the roof, our season-ticket sales are above forecast for 2021 already and we launched later to tie in with the Panther rebrand. To me, it was absolutely the right call to do it."

We're realists and we understand perhaps some of the older generation wouldn't like the new name, but at the other end it's driven a lot of interest.
Halifax Panthers managing director Dave Grayson

The rebrand is just the start for Halifax though and having survived the financial constraints of a pandemic-affected 2020, the aim is for consolidation in 2021, growth in 2022, and long-term to return to full-time status and win promotion back to Super League.

Changes have taken place to boost the side on the field too, with the eye-catching signings of former Toronto Wolfpack pair Gadwin Springer and Greg Worthington moving to the Panthers along with up-and-coming players with Super League experience such as Dan Murray and Liam Harris.

That has, however, seen the club say farewell to players including Halifax stalwarts Steve Tyrer and Scott Murrell - decisions Grayson admitted were difficult, albeit necessary to kick on.

"It was very painful, what we had to do, to release some players who've been with us a long time," Grayson said.

Picture by Allan McKenzie/ - 27/07/2019 - Rugby League - Coral Challenge Cup Semi Final - St Helens v Halifax RLFC - University of Bolton Stadium, Bolton, England - Halifax's Scott Murrell celebrates a St Helens turnover.
Image: Scott Murrell is among the players who left Halifax this year

"They're people I personally have a massive amount of respect for and who have been custodians of the club, but what's happening in Covid-world is driving a lot of that.

"We've got to be up there pushing for promotion into Super League. In 2019 we finished mid-table and that's not acceptable to us or our ambitions, and that's why we had to make the changes we've made."

Grix knows too there is more to re-engaging the youngsters of Halifax in the same way him and brother Scott, another former Super League player who is now Panthers player-assistant coach, were in their youth than just adding a new nickname.

But the new branding allied with Halifax's development work with Calderdale's schools and amateur clubs can help revitalise that interest, with Grix hoping the likes of the U11s he coaches at Siddal, the team his son plays for, will be among the next generation who once again look up to the town's professional players.

"It will be really good for me as a local bloke and really good for the club to make some stars of our players they want to grow up and emulate," Grix said.

"Having a rebrand isn't just going to bring them back, the club is working hard in the background to put in place a plan of what we're doing, where we're going to go, how we're going to make the mascots household names.

"I think this is just the beginning. We've taken a big step, but the delivery is the big thing."

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