Wednesday, May 5, 2010


By Bowen Hobbs

At the end of April, Michigan State University unveiled the product of a near two-year collaboration with Nike. This collaboration was a conscious effort to re-brand Michigan State athletics with a single focus. In the past, the university has had a myriad of greens, type styles, and uniform templates. I think a single-focus cross-sport branding initiative could help many schools build more cohesive identities, similar to what Oregon and U of Miami have achieved. Historically, Michigan State has always had the issue of deciding whether to take a modern or classic approach. Although MSU has a wealth of tradition, this conundrum exists because they share the Automotive State with one of the most tradition-laden schools in the country. Here is a breakdown of the new changes:

Logos: The primary logo almost changed a few months ago (they kept the logo on the left), but there was a fan backlash that prompted a return to the initial Spartan head. The typography is all new with a custom block typeface called Spartan Bold, which is supposed to evoke simplicity and strength. In addition, the university unveiled a new alternate logo inspired by Spartan shields. Overall, I would have liked to see a compromise between the two Spartan head logos. The old (and current) one could use an update as it somewhat doesn't fit with the new marks, while the new (unused) helmet logo is too solid, especially the piece that connects the helmet to the crest. The typography could benefit from a more consistent use of the inset notches and wider T's, but overall it is a decent update. The tertiary logo is a great idea, but could look better if the lower left corner of the U wasn't so square. Grade: A-

Colors: With the new logos, MSU also updated its color scheme. The green is now darker and is complemented by white (as usual), bronze, and silver. The team has used silver accents in the past, but the bronze is new. I have heard from traditionalists that the bronze isn't a "Michigan State" color and that it's simply a Nike creation, but it works in reinforcing the Spartan theme and adds a unique nuance to a common color scheme that no other NCAA Division 1 sports program has. Besides, UNC's (University of North Carolina) official colors do not include navy, but every UNC sports team uses it. Grade: A

Now on to the uniforms:

Football: While I applaud Nike's innovative mindset in the development of the school's new logos and colors, the execution of the football uniforms is a bit off. The helmet stripe is rather thick and although it appears to resemble the crest of a Spartan's helmet, it could be thinner. The home and away uniforms feature a shoulder yoke design that appears over simplified and a bit blocky. Bronze trim or a different shape (something similar to Spartan armor) would have helped. Or using a subliminal pattern, which Nike has a penchant for, would have helped break up the space. Furthermore, Nike should have not used the Pro Combat pant stripe on the home alternate uniform, which is supposed to be a faux-back. Grade: C+

Basketball: The men's uniforms are fairly clean, but could be better. Like the football uniforms, the bronze color could be incorporated more thoroughly, and the template could be more "Spartan". It would also help for the school to incorporate the alternate logo on the uniforms. The women's uniforms do not share the look of the men's, but do appear to use an abstraction of the helmet crest. Once again, more bronze would help. Grade: B

Hockey: My first thought is that the striping/blocking doesn't match any of the other sports. At least they used the shield logo. In addition, the type-based dark jersey doesn't match the white logo based jersey at all. If the plan was a unified brand, they missed the mark. Grade: D+

Volleyball: I have to applaud Nike once again for their efforts to make the volleyball jerseys match their football counterparts. On the other side of that coin, however, is that many of the critiques I had of the football jerseys applies to the volleyball threads as well. The other additional critique I have is that they could have thought out the back of the white jersey better so it didn't show two bars separating the arms from the torso. Grade: B

Overall, I appreciate Michigan State's attempts at unifying their athletic brand. The logos are well done and the colors capture the Spartan aesthetic. However, some of the uniforms could have been better executed if Nike wasn't so set on using specific templates. Overall Grade: B+

Currently, the Brewers are in Southern California to play the Los Angeles Dodgers. With that in mind, I have decided to show my concept for LA's NL team. The current scheme relies heavily on the classic scheme of blue and white, while sometimes adding grey or silver. The one color choice that has always bugged me, however, is the sporadic inclusion of red. It appears on the primary logo and on the numbers for the front of the jerseys. I have never understood the red; it turns a classic, unique scheme into just another blue and red team. In the concept, I sought to eliminate the red and focus on blue, white, and grey, just like the Brooklyn days. My version of the primary logo replaces the red with grey and adds a diamond holding shape from the team's history. I kept the LA logo as the secondary, as it wouldn't be prudent to change it. I have also added a tertiary logo of the LA inside the retro diamond, which appears as a sleeve patch.

The red on the uniform numbers dates back to the tradition of the Dodgers being the first team to have numbers on the front of their jerseys. Since having the numbers is the historical "first", I kept them, but made them blue to eliminate the senseless red. I also took their plain uniforms and added a placket piping design that evokes memories of one of their greatest players, Jackie Robinson. All the uniforms, except the Sunday Alternate uniform and Batting Practice jersey, use the retro-inspired piping. The road sets introduce a new cap with a grey LA to create a more cohesive set with the rest of the uniform focusing on the interaction of blue and grey. I generally find the use of white on baseball road uniforms to be superfluous, and in many cases it inhibits teams from creating distinct looks that inspire thoughts of the game's storied past. The away jerseys utilize the "Los Angeles" script, currently on the team's away set. The Sunday Alternate gives fans a plain uniform base, but jazzes the set up with the white faux-back cap. The common themes throughout the concept are history and minimalism.

Feel free to leave a comment on Michigan State's new brand, the Dodgers concept above or anything sports branding related.

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