Would the LA Dodgers baseball team ever willingly jettison their famous lettering on their uniform chest?
Two words: Hell. No.
But that’s exactly what the University of Denver administration has reportedly asked its own National Champion hockey team to do for next season.
The sacred ‘arched’ Denver city/school name that has adorned the chests of the DU Pioneers’ hockey (and other DU sports) uniforms in various forms for more than 70 years (as seen below) – a jersey recently called “iconic” by ESPN – may very well die a terrible and completely unwarranted death from the university-wide logo change announced last month.
It is the first time in recent memory that DU’s central administration has forced a university-wide brand change onto its own athletic uniforms, as DU Athletics has controlled its own athletic branding on school uniforms for at least the last 40 years, and likely far longer.
At LetsGoDU, we warned DU fans about this possibility last February, and now our warnings appear to sadly have come to be. Recent conversations with some fuming DU athletics staffers at the 2022 DU Hockey banquet have confirmed that they have been told by DU senior administration that the familiar “Arched Denver” (the most recent version was created in 2007) must be jettisoned to make way for the new DU university logo. DU created an air cover for this move by sending this letter to DU ticket holders last month.
DU fans should be angry if this new University logo (above) is elevated as the primary sports jersey identifier for three major reasons:
TRADITION-KILLING: It destroys many generations of school tradition, identification, brand value, and collective memory of the current athletic marks and their similar predecessors.
CONFUSING: If the new interlocking logo is applied as a primary logo without the city name – “Denver”, it slices off the most tangible and visible unity link between our city name and our school name, thus further distancing our community from our school. Our school is mostly known as “Denver” in the college sports world, and carrying the city’s name isn’t just a pride issue, it’s also our geographic identifier. Today, “DU” is seen as a secondary reference that is well known locally, but far less so out of our region. Using the letters “DU” alone as the only logo may cause potential national confusion with other NCAA Division I schools – both direct “DU” users such as DePaul University, Drake University, Drexel University, Duke University, and Duquesne University, as well as schools that use the “D” and “U” letters in the “University of” format – the University of Dayton, the University of Delaware and the University of Detroit-Mercy.
TRUST-ERODING: This move will further erode trust in university leadership, as this change has been forced down the throats of DU Athletics by DU’s central university administration. This diktat arrives on the heels of the senior administration’s ill-fated 2018 behind-the-scenes attempt to take away the Pioneer nickname. Fortunately, all of the DU administrative leaders who we identified as pushing for that terrible result are now no longer at DU in key roles. If this DU logo becomes the primary identifier, it would be the latest in a long line of identity-related screw-ups since 1998 that we’ve recapped here over the years.
“Putting this new interlocking logo as the primary identifying uniform element would be a massive mistake,” says LetsGoDU Managing Editor Nick Tremaroli. “We can’t lose our vital link to the word “Denver” as that’s our hometown and school name, and to see it replaced by generic and confusing “DU” letters would be a lost opportunity on our most public-facing brand touchpoint – sports. DU Athletics is the ‘front-porch’ of our school.”
Indeed, there are three great visual traditions that link 70+ years of Denver hockey teams together – the Pioneer nickname, the Crimson and Gold colors, and the traditional graphic structure of the DU hockey uniform, with the word “Denver” spelled proudly across the chest. This hockey tradition has also been applied to DU’s other sports uniforms. These three elements, to DU fans, are sacred and they should be protected.
As you can see in these photos below spanning 70 years, the uniform designs may change, but ‘Denver’ across the chest is always there:
The new (2022) DU logo interlock (above) is an updated, more modern (and less collegiate) version of the 2008 “interlocking DU” logo that is now seen on the current hockey uniform shoulder sleeve:
While we like that DU sees value in using an (updated) athletic mark by elevating it to a University mark, the new logo’s big, glaring weakness is that, on its own, it lacks context when seen without the word “Denver”. For example, if you wear a golf shirt with just the interlock logo in a U.S. airport outside of Denver, someone will come to you and invariably confuse this logo with either Oklahoma University’s famous “OU” interlock (especially when wearing it on a red shirt) or may try to guess which of the eight other D-I schools uses the “D” and “U” letters. That’s why it needs to remain a secondary identifier.
Why is DU doing this?
Back in 2012, DU introduced its current overall university logo, the DU shield (below). Ten years ago, DU was trying to elevate its prestige, as all Ivy League schools and many other US private colleges use heraldic shields to communicate prestige and authority.
“The…distinctive shield, will more clearly identify and differentiate the University as a prestigious academic institution which provides inspiration from our geographic setting as well as strength and endurance from our history,” said Kevin Carroll in a 2012 DU Press Release, back when he was DU’s Vice Chancellor for Communications and overseeing DU’s previous logo development. That shield logo was not imposed on athletics.
In 2022, DU is clearly trying to move away from elitism toward a more “inclusive” future, and they likely see the new interlocking DU as representing a more approachable style.
The University of Denver Vice-Chancellor for Communications Renea Morris attempted to justify the use of the new logo for Athletics in a Dec. 8th, 2021 internal letter saying “this work is intended to increase the visibility of the brand to aid in revenue generation and recruitment activities. With marketing buys split across the institution and critical but limited athletics visibility, unifying our marks will allow us to leverage and gain the benefit of every interaction and experience audiences have with our brand as we move into new markets and engage new audiences.”
While one could applaud such brand thinking, it has a fatal flaw. DU sports teams – the university’s single most visible piece of marketing – are seen online, on TV, and in newspapers across the country and beyond. Without the word ‘Denver’, the school loses the opportunity to make itself identified and noticed. Rather than viewers and readers seeing an identifiable team from an identifiable place, they will see simply a random sports team with a confusing logo. Thus, DU loses brand impact every time the Denver name is missing. The school, which has sought to make itself nationally and internationally relevant, will lose its brand presence. DU quite simply cannot afford that.
Indeed, in the world of Division I college athletics, unified brands, (where the university and the sports teams use the same logo) are still very much in the minority – perhaps for this very reason.
For example, in the BIG EAST Conference, DU’s lacrosse affiliation, only Xavier uses the same brand for athletics and university purposes (a big “X”) and still uses the word ‘Xavier’ on their uniforms. All other 10 Big East schools maintain different and separate logos for the University and for sports.
In the Summit League, only Omaha, Western Illinois, and St. Thomas have unified their athletic and university brands. In Omaha, this unified brand includes the name “Omaha.” Western Illinois and St. Thomas continue to use either place names or team nicknames on their uniforms. The other seven Summit schools maintain separate sports brands.
In the NCHC, only Miami, St. Cloud, and most recently, Western Michigan, have adopted this unified logo strategy, and the recent results have gone very poorly for the Broncos. The other five NCHC schools maintain separate brands.
DU’s new sports uniform direction strategy will become evident with new hockey (and other DU sports) uniforms next fall. Let’s hope they heed our input before they make changes:
- Don’t lose the word “Denver” on the chest. Without that city word on the chest, we’re just one of eight other D-I schools that use the ‘D’ and ‘U’ letters. Update the font to match the new interlocking DU if you must, but do not, under any circumstances, lose the Arched Denver.
- If the new “interlocking DU” logo must now be used on Denver sports uniforms, use it in a secondary position on the shoulder or pant, not in the dominant position on the front. And if it must be on the front, make sure the city name is there, too. Below is a visual example of an interlocking letter logo used well, at Baylor University in Texas. As shown, the world “Baylor” is usually the prominent identifier on most of the uniforms and the interlocking “BU” letters are used on headgear (or on the pant leg) and not used as the primary identifier.
Don’t like DU’s senior administration messing with DU athletic uniforms?
We encourage you to (respectfully) let DU Vice Chancellor for Communications and Marketing Renea Morris know directly at Renea.Morris@du.edu
And please also share your thoughts with DU Chancellor Jeremy Haefner at email@example.com, and don’t forget to share your thoughts here in the comments below, too.