If you’re a college football fan, you might have been a witness to the first ever playoff game last night. Ohio State and Oregon went head to head in a match that left Ohio State the undisputed champs for 2014. Oregon may have lost, but they still place first as the most well branded team in NCAA football. They are college sports’ undisputed champions of the 21st century’s limited attention.
The school’s agreed partnership with Nike in 1995 has been a major factor contributing to the football team’s success. The school was struggling to make a mark. A conversation with Oregon Alum, Phil Knight (who is currently working at Nike) gave the team life. The biggest portion of the rebrand is the team’s much-discussed uniforms — the yellows and the greens, the blacks and the grays, the highlighter neons and the Stormtrooper whites, the many different helmets and jerseys and pants and socks and shoes, the more than 500 possible combinations in all. When the team took the “stage” they became the most talked about team in the NCAA. And for Nike, the partnership has been more than beneficial for their brand. It’s given Nike a platform to launch its football products – uniforms, helmets, and cleats.
The uniform wasn’t the only element that was given a more aggressive look and feel. The logo was given some love with the exception of the Oregon “Duck,” which was barely touched. It’s a nostalgic symbol that could get a lot of backlash, so there was no messing with the duck.
The biggest issue that Oregon faced pre-rebrand was the fact they weren’t attracting big recruits. The school was looked at as second-class citizens, they weren’t known as a competitive team in the league. Post-rebrand, the school started to get 4-5 star recruits and began reigning terror on the west coast. They looked extremely innovative and as if inspired by the design, the team took off at warp speed.
With Oregon’s constant effort to evolve their look every game, every year, the school is put in a constant spotlight. The endless supply of flashy uniforms made major networks interested, which in turn featured Oregon in their highlights and broadcasts. Video games also took note, like NCAA Football, which gave gamers a myriad of uniform options over the years for the Ducks. So there’s much to thank the uniforms for. Since the team became relevant, kids who watch TV and wonder how cool it would be to wear the neon greens and metallic silvers as a collegiate football athlete someday has helped this team go from zero to hero.
Over the past decade the Ducks hold the fourth-best record in college football with 105-25, and have since been a national powerhouse. More than $300 million dollars have gone to the program just for facilities alone and that does not include the uniforms. Phil Knight has been more than generous helping the school’s athletic program become the high caliber program that it is today. But as you can see, the team’s success did not happen overnight. Knight knew that this particular rebranding wasn’t going to be like anything else he had done. By building the personality and experience through the uniforms and marketing the rest of the team around it, they were able to come forth with a unique brand story that will keep the team flying forward into the future. There is no denying that even with last night’s loss there is still hope for the football team to win it’s first national championship very soon.