Reestablishing brand identity is all the rage presently in college sports. The phrase brand identity itself has a buzz-wordy connotation, as if was the theme at a marketing convention. Given the frequency of these grand reveals, one has to wonder if all there was some Tony Robbins-esque expo on branding.
The concept behind it is simple enough: create then push a recognizable image. Where marketers and apparel providers see dollar signs, university athletic departments perhaps see an opportunity to get a leg up with donors and recruits.
Nevermind that the most iconic images in college football largely grew organically and endured the test of time. In lieu of tradition and genuinely growing a brand, athletic departments manufacture excitement with grand unveiling ceremonies.
The new UConn logo and department-wide launch of a new brand identity was one such example. And indeed, Connecticut athletics launched its updated logo and brand on Thursday. The problem? It was meant to debut April 18, one week from today.
Leaked images surfaced on the blogosphere, then spread like wildfire. The university had no choice but to expedite the process, thereby killing some of the buzz. Some is salvaged with a piece-by-piece unveiling of the details over the coming days — presumably culminating on the original launch date.
It’s unfortunate for UConn, which was already stuck in a crowded market among the universities holding what has felt like weekly ceremonies. The added headache of losing its thunder only diminishes the intended impact on an already watered-down concept.
Furthermore, UConn actually needed a brand overhaul, particularly from a football perspective. There are athletic programs designated as “basketball schools” and “football schools,” but UConn took it a step further with entirely different logos worn on the hardwood than those donned on the football field.
Here is a rundown of athletic departments with brand identity initiatives this football offseason:
- : Cal: The Golden Bears welcome a new head coach, Sonny Dykes, into a recently revamped Memorial Stadium. Perhaps then it’s only fitting the athletic department would make changes to its overall look. The updates are small, evident in the tagline “Respect The Past, Represent The Future.”
- Georgia: Changes in the Bulldogs’ image were incremental — as they should be. You don’t paint a mustache on the Lincoln Memorial, and you don’t take away Superman’s cape (unless you’re Jon Peters). Likewise, Nike did not tamper with the uniform Herschel Walker wore.
- Oregon State: Perhaps no program was under greater pressure to rebrand than Oregon State, which long felt like the little brother sporting the hand-me-downs of big brother, Oregon. And the Oregon Ducks are Patient Zero in this whole brand identity epidemic.
The athletic department’s affiliation with Nike head honcho Phil Knight spawned a modernization of everything to do with Duck athletics, which immediately preceded an on-field renaissance.
The above group of three doesn’t include the various football programs that have teased new uniforms and helmets.
- Arizona State: A tweeted image last week showed all-new helmets, just two years after the Sun Devils underwent a complete overhaul to their identity. The classic logo was replaced with a fork more reminiscent of Neptune than Sparky.
But the fork is now ASU’s identifier, and the updated helmets demonstrate the loud and clear:
- Texas Tech: The brother of a Tech recruit tweeted this image of multiple prototype helmets. Perhaps adopting a page from the Oregon playbook, Texas Tech appears to have enough helmets to cycle through a different look each of its 12 games next season.
- Tulane: Tulane has been the dregs of FBS football for quite some time now. Anything to reverse its fortune is welcome, including a cache of helmets:
- Wake Forest: Two new helmets surfaced on Twitter, one featuring a logo the university phased out in recent years.
Undoubtedly, more are coming. At some point, branding-fatigue might set in. What’s the point in new swag if football continues to flounder?
Yet given the current trend, it seems unlikely for schools to curtail branding emphasis. The more gear and logos the department has, the more merchandise it can sell. Remember watching cartoons as a kid, when a new character would appear, which just happened to coincide with the launch of a new toy?
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles probably didn’t need Panda Khan for storytelling purposes, but surely enough kids begged mom and dad to buy his action figure that it made Playmates Toys a nice profit.