The Higher Ed Love Triangle: A University, It’s Brand and Athletics

 By Dwight McKnight 

A college or university logo is often the most recognizable symbol of the institution. The logo is used on the website, letterhead, campus signage, t-shirts, hats, mugs, pens and all other miscellaneous swag. This omnipresent symbol represents who you are, what you stand for and what you have to offer. Needless to say, the logo is a big deal.

Many schools are faced with the challenge of competing athletic and academic logos. While both logos will often use the same color and brand personality, things like the typography and visual symbols used are very different. It’s important to consider your institutions goals and structure to determine what approach will work best in the long run. Since logos often have historical significance and sustain emotional connections, it’s important to address this decision with care.

To help you get a better understanding of the higher ed logo landscape and what types of things to consider during a rebrand and logo redesign, we’ve listed a few examples along with the pros and cons of each approach.

A Tale of Two Logos

Schools like the University of Virginia, the University of Florida and the University of North Carolina Wilmington have two distinctly different logos to represent the school’s academic offerings and it’s athletic programs.

Pros

  • Allows for more promotion of the academic integrity of the institution. Tieing academics to athletics can sometimes confuse specific academic messaging. (Athletic brands are typically chosen based on history or geography and do not reflect the strategic goals of the institution’s academic departments.)
  • Helps separate brand conflicts within and institution, as athletics is almost always a separate department with it’s own leadership and organizational structure.
  • It is easier to implement brand decisions when departments are operating separately and have fewer stakeholders (and committees) engaged at once.
  • Ability to separate negative perceptions from the public. Whether it’s a loss in a big tournament or a crisis or emergency situation (think team scandals), the academic side of the institution can uphold a separate image.

Cons

  • Confusion from audiences when looking for information. For example, prospects may go to the academic website, not see the mascot they are familiar with and think they are in the wrong place.
  • Academic brand can become lost if the athletics brand is too prominent. Alternatively, an athletics brand can be overwhelmed by strong academic presence.
  • Separation can further encourage silos among departments of the institution. While things may happen faster and more easily, there is less communication and collaboration among individuals working to promote the same institution.

One Logo to Rule Them All

In contrast to the previous examples, schools such as Clemson University, Texas A&M and the University of Miami have one consistent logo to represent all aspects of the institution.

Pros

  • Increased communication among departments can contributes to more consistent messaging across the institution.
  • Allows the academic side of the institution to leverage the prominence of a well-known athletics program. Athletics can also build in the academic success of the institution.
  • Potential to create a strong and more cohesive brand with full institution-wide agreement on strategic goals and vision. As we like to say, “it takes a village.”

Cons

  • Difficult to manage and govern one logo across all print, media and marketing communications. This is especially true for large institutions with multiple campuses and degree programs.
  • It takes more time and energy to make and implement decisions when stakeholders (and committees) across the institution need to agree. This means less agility in brand implementation.
  • All negative perceptions of the school are applied to both the academic departments as well as athletic programs.

Four’s a Crowd

I also want to note the unique brand elements of one of our local institutions. UNCG not only has two logos, but two mascots as well. Minerva and the Spartan represent the academics and athletics of the institution. What’s interesting here is that every symbol (mascot and logo) has a meaning and a reason. The two co-exist to help communicate the unique value of the institution.

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