Hartwell Studio Works

Sports Branding Blog

Deep thoughts from the studio on all things sports, creative, and some other stuff in-between.

Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my!


In the early decades of collegiate athletics, you'd think that schools picked their nicknames from the same hat: Lions, Tigers, Bears, Bobcats, Eagles…it didn’t matter if you were one of 42 “Bulldogs” in the country, because so what? They’re over there and we’re over here and nobody will get confused, because why would they?

But in a 21st-century internet connected, social media driven, hyper-competitive higher education market, a collegiate athletics program must be more than just a helmet with an “angry-eyed mascot” logo. It’s now a critical marketing tool for extending a school’s institutional brand and driving bottom line enrollment.

To be effective, we need to separate you from your mascot brethren. Here are three thoughts for creating some differentiation:

Know your story: As an extension of the institutional brand, your school has a story to tell. That which makes your school unique can (and should) extend to your athletics brand and identity. For instance, cues from the history of your school or region, such as a person, event, or industry, can suggest a unique spin on the look of your mascot, making you more distinctive and recognizable.

Add a secondary mark: There may be a conceptual gap between your mascot and your school’s mission, making it difficult to relate that mission to your audience. Expanding your athletics identity with a secondary mark can bring that mission into your identity toolkit, making it easier to tell your story and create distinction at the same time.

Stay focused on your target audience: Changing an existing identity will have its unavoidable share of detractors. Remember, though, that you’re looking to develop tools to help drive future enrollments. Those future enrollments are your target audience. Brand equity is important, yes, but so is getting the attention of those future enrollments and making the case for them to consider your school.

John Hartwell