A Deeper Dive Into Jersey Branding Strategy

Would Duke ever abandon its name on uniform for its initials — ‘D.U.’ ? 

Our recent story about the DU administration’s overall branding decision to perhaps move away from the full “Denver” name on sports jerseys in favor of a new logo with an abbreviated “DU” has clearly touched some nerves, so we thought we’d share a deeper dive on the subject, comparing this strategy to other universities.

Rather than going through the jersey branding for every team in the country, we examined the current top 10 hockey programs, the top 10 lacrosse programs, the top 10 basketball programs, the Summit League members, and ten metro/urban universities to better understand jersey branding practices.

What did we find?

In nearly every case, schools branded their uniforms with the University name/location and not an abbreviation.

If DU moves forward with its intended name/logo replacement this fall,  Denver would be the only hockey or lacrosse team in the current top 10 to be identified on their jerseys by only their initials.  Almost all of those teams go to battle with the university name for branding purposes. Minnesota-Duluth is the outlier and uses a Bulldog depiction, but the other 19 schools use the school name on the primary uniform, with the University of Pennsylvania using its shortened (but official) moniker, Penn, which is not an abbreviation.

Next, we examined the top 10 basketball programs, a group that includes public and private universities. All of them show university names on the front of the uniforms. Nary a one abbreviates their name or location, while Arkansas was the only one to also include a mascot on the jersey front.

The Summit League has two teams that recently dropped university abbreviations of ‘UNO’ and ‘UMKC’ on athletic jerseys to adopt the home city names of ‘Omaha’ and ‘Kansas City,’ respectively when studies showed city-named brands would be more compelling and relevant. In both cases, these are commuter-driven, branch campus schools that are both part of larger university systems (with more famous parent universities).  Claiming the city name helps these schools compete for geographic relevance in this scenario.

Three other Summit teams do abbreviate school names on uniforms. Oral Roberts displays ‘ORU’ on the front of its uniforms, South Dakota State competes under ‘SDSU’ (ceding “South Dakota” to the University of South Dakota, the state flagship university), while North Dakota State University competes under the abbreviation “NDSU’ (ceding ‘North Dakota” to the flagship rival University of North Dakota). SDSU and NDSU also both have long university names, which also is typically a catalyst for abbreviation. Even so, six of nine non-Denver schools wear the name/location school on their jerseys.

Finally, we examined some urban-named universities around the USA to better understand how the university name appears on basketball uniforms. We randomly selected 10 relatively high-profile universities, eight private and two public. Only one school out of the 10, UNLV, abbreviated the school name on uniforms. As a long name, the abbreviation makes sense, especially when UNLV is also the only school in the nation using those specific letters.  In contrast, there are eight other NCAA D-I universities with either a ‘DU’ or ‘UD’ designation — DePaul University, Drake University, Drexel University, Duke University, Duquesne University, University of Dayton, University of Delaware, and the University of Detroit-Mercy, and of course, the University of Denver, making such abbreviation far more problematic and confusing.

So, out of 38 schools we reviewed here, 34 schools display their school names and/or locations on uniforms while only four use their initials. The state universities in North and South Dakota essentially had little option when their state’s older land grant universities (UND and USD) snatched their state name as primary on uniforms. UNLV is rare in that it is essentially built on a unique abbreviation, but again, is shortening a very long name. Oral Roberts is the only private that seems to prefer initials to its location or name of the 38 schools we studied – and given the issues with its televangelist founder’s name (Oral Roberts was one of the most controversial religious leaders of the 20th century) you can see why “ORU” might prefer using its initials these days.

Stranger yet is a nearby D-II school, Metropolitan State University, a school that, back in 2012, wanted to rename itself “Denver State University” to get its Denver location into its brand name. DU publicly fought back hard on that threat to keep its “Denver” primacy, citing potential public confusion. Metro then relented and renamed itself to what it uses today: Metropolitan State University of Denver. The “of Denver” was a compromise that DU allowed.

If DU now moves away from “Denver” on its jerseys, is DU willing to potentially abandon and cede ‘Denver’ to Metro State? Would the Roadrunners elect to adopt the shortened ‘Denver’ moniker on its jerseys? Sound crazy? You can bet that the Roadrunners would love to have “Denver” on the front of their jerseys…

To sum up, the future uniform answer is simple for DU athletics:

Run the new interlocking DU on shoulders in hockey and shorts in basketball and lacrosse and other sports,  but keep ‘Denver’ on the chest as the university identifier. One option is to abandon the arch but spell Denver in the new interlocking typeface on the front of team jerseys. This is not an argument to resist change. It is a common-sense solution to a disastrous and poorly thought-out branding change.

Again, 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 chancellor@du.edu, and don’t forget to share your thoughts here in the comments below, too.

4 thoughts on “A Deeper Dive Into Jersey Branding Strategy”

  1. Why are the “Powers that Be” at DU so hell-bent on fixing stuff that isnt broken? How many people created how many committees to come up with this new great idea? Maybe they should focus more time on academics instead of inventing new logos and making sure to keep far behind the rest of the world on pandemic protocols. This should be a time of celebration and enjoying the moment, not re-creating the wheel.

  2. Put Denver loud and proud, front and center. Fucking admin has the reverse Midas touch, everything they touch/decide turns to shit!

  3. DU was right in the initial premise that the “University of Denver” has very poor name recognition outside the state of Colorado, but they jumped the shark thinking that emphasizing “DU” was going to solve the problem.

    The two best things DU can do to improve recognition nationally is rise up the US News Academic Rankings (Currently tied for #93 with 6 schools) and maintain or improve excellence in Athletics.

  4. Perhaps DU got a little ahead of itself in thinking “DU” is the future of the brand with the 2016 “Battle on Blake” and 2019’s 70th anniversary DU jerseys hockey jerseys that had just “DU” letters on the front and were popular. The popularity of those, were, I believe, a novelty one-off thing for a largely local audience.

    DU’s everyday future must be “Denver” across the chest.

    Anything other than that is brand malfeasance…

Leave a Reply