Arizona Sun Devils Ditch “Sparky” Logo In Major Rebranding Effort

Over the past few weeks, the Arizona State Sun Devils athletic department has been releasing videos and teasers about a big announcement they had planned for April 12, 2011. 

Before we actually review what happened, we should start by taking a look at what they did to create anticipation and excitement among their fans and alumni:

Clearly, something big was coming, but no official announcements were made until April 12, so fans had to wait. I love how the videos covered the full history of their athletic program, successfully mixing nostalgia and historic moments to more recent highlights and successes. This allowed the videos to resonate with a wide age range of fans, which is very important when you have alumni from age 22 to 102.

When the time came, we finally learned that the Sun Devils were undergoing a complete rebranding, transitioning away from the traditional “Sparky” logo to a new pitchfork-based logo and updating their official colours and fonts. Here is the official “Time to Fear the Fork” video that went along with the announcement:

Behind the scenes, Nike was working with Arizona State for over a year on the rebranding process, which involved changes to all the colours and marks across all sports at the school.  The logo itself was the most significant change, but the introduction of black as an important colour for the school’s brand was also very important. For more on Nike’s role in the process, check out this video:

Here is an official statement on the new brand from the school’s weekly “Devil’s Insider” email newsletter:

“The rebranding of Sun Devil Athletics includes adding two colours to the athletics colour palette: copper, for its prominence in Arizona history, and black, a long-anticipated return to the Sun Devil attitude. This fall will not be the first time our Arizona State football squads have worn black helmets, as we previously wore black helmets in the 1950s.  We now have a custom athletic font exclusive to Sun Devil Athletics. The font, called Sun Devil Bold, incorporates unique characteristics intended to represent my horns or my pitchfork. Speaking of pitchforks, the official logo of Sun Devil Athletics is now the pitchfork… This exclusive and contemporary mark will be used consistently across all of our Sun Devil teams. Anytime someone sees this logo, they will instantly recognise it as Sun Devil Athletics.”

Putting aside that I’m a bit biased when it comes to Arizona State (I went there for my MBA and worked in the athletic department), I think this is a great move for them. While Sparky has a long history at the school, it wasn’t the greatest logo to build the brand around.

They wanted to have a strong, intense brand, but at the same time, Sparky was also their mascot and was very family friendly, which created a conflicting message in their brand. Now, they can continue to use Sparky in the mascot role, where he’s always been a great fit, but their athletic program can be better marketed under the new colours and pitchfork logo. This change should contribute to improvements in merchandise sales, brand awareness, ticket sales, and hopefully alumni contributions.

The decision to rebrand any sports organisation is very complicated, as the decision makers need to balance the affinity that their fans have to the current brand against the long-term value of what the new brand could represent. It seems like the Sun Devils really used their time productively not only to decide on what the new brand will be, but in how to create excitement about it and communicate the changes to their fans.