The Higher Ed Love Triangle: A University, Its Brand and Athletics

Posted: April 27, 2015

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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.

We hear a lot about the contrast between athletics and academics in branding, website design and more. This is a hotly debated topic in higher ed world. We believe there is no one right answer. It’s important to consider your institutions goals and structure to determine which 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, we’ve listed a few examples of the various approaches along with the pros and cons of each.

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 its athletic programs.

Pros

  • Athletic brands are typically based on history or geography and do not necessarily reflect the strategic goals of the institution’s academic offerings. Treating the two logos differently allows each to achieve their own unique goals. 
  • Two logos creates the possibility of increased revenue for the institution through the sale of branded materials, specifically as it relates to athletic apparel.
  • 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

  • The academic brand can become diminished if the athletics brand is too prominent. 
  • Separation can further encourage silos among departments of the institution. There is less communication and collaboration among individuals working to promote the same school.
  • If the logos are too distinct from one another, they may lose the ability to leverage each others’ brand equity. 

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 contribute to more consistent messaging across the institution.
  • One logo llows the academic side of the institution to leverage the prominence of a well-known athletics program. Athletics can also build on the academic success of the institution.
  • There is potential to create a strong and more cohesive brand across academic and athletic supporters.

Cons

  • Academic and administrative departments across the institution may feel slighted when the athletics department is allowed to modify the logo in ways that they are not. 
  • Brand perception goes both ways. The shortcomings of one unit can negatively affect both the academic and athletic programs.

A Match Made In Heaven

We also want to note a third, and much more rare approach: when academic and athletic logos are developed to complement each other. University of North Carolina Greensboro 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.