Earlier this semester, the Journal of Contemporary Athletics (JCA) announced an upcoming special issue addressing “School Athletic Branding and Visual Identity.” The purpose of the special issue to provide a forum for the dissemination of insightful articles addressing the nuances associated with educational institution branding. Academic institutions, in both the higher education and secondary schools, offer thought-provoking points of discussion regarding effective brand management. This special issue is intended to provide a forum for the academic examination of higher education and high school institution brands, including visual identity and other related marketing components associated with school-sponsored athletics. Beyond the scope of intercollegiate sport, branding considerations impacting higher education institutions are prevalent.
Every school has a unique story, as do sport management programs. Visual identity is the visible part of the story that sport management academic programs tell. Some programs have catchy names or make use of eye-catching acronyms. For example, Miami University is home to SLAM (Sport Leadership and Management). Other programs may include the names of noted individuals (i.e., founders, benefactors, notable partners) or other defining characterizes associated with the institution or program. Most programs, however, have a basic naming structure that is comprised of discipline-specific names that simply encompass the academic programs represented within (i.e., Sport Management, Sport and Fitness Management, Sport and Recreation Management).
Places are Distinct… and so are Brands
Programs should focus on guiding principles such as institutional, departmental, and program goals and missions. Program brands are to build off of strengths that exist within the structure of existing university brand strengths. Programs should be mindful of who they are, where they are, the audience they are trying to reach, and the communities that they serve. Building on institutional resources is key. Factors such as a unique geographic location, access to desirable internship sites, and opportunities for experiential learning embedded in coursework should be considered as branding opportunities.
Your Reputation Precedes You
Programs must be mindful that their reputations are a product of identity and image elements that have been developed and presented historically. Sport management programs can benefit or be viewed negatively through associations with the institution at large, a given university’s administration (and other influential decision-makers affiliated with the institution), program faculty, students and alumni, partners from the sport community, and institutional elements such as a university’s athletic program. Prospective students and other stakeholders may make associations with academic programs tangentially through experiences and perceptions of characteristics such as an athletic department’s visibility and reputation. Program faculty and those in charge of programmatic branding efforts should be cognizant of the following core program visual identity elements.
Name. Various programs carry names that were established at a time when institutional goals and programmatic focus were different than they are at present. In order to have brand strength, it is critical for the program name to be included in that of the department in which it resides. While this can be a difficult issue that involves practical and political involvement, change, and potentially financial cost – schools should nonetheless be thoughtful of program and department name attributes while considering important characteristics such as distinctiveness, fit, and description.
For examples, at the University of North Florida, the department was renamed Leadership, School Counseling, and Sport Management in 2009. Program leaders believed it was critical for brand and degree awareness to include the name of all programs housed in the department.
Logo. Does your program have a logo? Some programs have logos that do not convey the proper quality of institutional visual identity guidelines. If the logo is not congruent with the visual identity of the larger institution, university administration could object to such implementation, as it can result in a lack of brand uniformity and therefore visibility of the program.
Tagline. Taglines are statements that can send a compelling message, and generally are in use for an extended period of time. In the case of an academic program, including taglines could be useful in reaching desired publics. Programs that currently utilize taglines may want to assess quality and see if it still fits the desired goals and intended purposes.