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Rutgers Football: Building the brand

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Who are we? CHOPNation....F.A.M.I.L.Y....and then what?

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last couple of weeks, our Griffin Whitmer posted a couple of pieces about RU's best and worst football uniforms.  And it attracted more than a little bit of interest from readers. So, obviously the way a team looks means something.  Hey, just ask Oregon.

Or, for those of us wishing to vomit, you can watch this piece from ttfp:

Regardless, the brand means something. And like it or not, ttfp does a pretty good job of promoting who they are.  There is an image, a mindset.  There is Kool-Aid to drink, and they do a very good job of getting fans to swallow it.

But the "most recognizable uniform in the country"?  Really?  Your Honor, I offer the jury Exhibit M....

Just sayin'.....

The "R"

Prior to the ubiquitous block R that Rutgers uses now, there were any number of logos and marks used by athletics.  But none seemed to grab the attention of the public...or even die-hard fans.  The "old English" font and the full knight just didn't seem to garner much attention.

But then Greg Schiano came along and pretty much on his own created his own logo for Rutgers football.  Which clicked, and the rest is history.

Beyond the "O", the "U", or the "R"

Oregon made changing uniforms its trademark.  And it became a national trend as Nike (and Adidas and Under Armour) created unique and, in many cases, unusual (not to mention horrific) uniforms.  But does that make a brand?

Think about Notre Dame: what comes to mind?  The golden dome -- and, yes, the gold helmets.  Knute Rockne and the Gipper.  The Fight Song: "Wake up the echoes cheering her name".  There is something there that has created a large and passionate "subway alumni"That is a brand, in the true sense of the term.

The impact on recruits?

In a Sports Illustrated piece online, Andy Staples makes a few interesting points about how uniforms can attract a recruit, something that our commenters said in the OTB uniform articles.  As an example from the SI post:

As Royce Freeman entered his sophomore year at Imperial (Calif.) High in 2011, he began to get recruiting letters, so he figured he should begin paying attention to college football. The biggest game the first Saturday of that season featured a team in white jerseys with purple-and-gold trim (LSU) against a team wearing black uniforms with neon-yellow highlights and a matching O on the side of the helmet. "I wanted to see who would win," says Freeman, now a sophomore tailback at Oregon. "The neon team or the regular-colored team." The neon team did not win, but a seed was planted.

But it can't just be fancy helmets and day-glo uniforms, either.  Even if the kids seem to like them.

The "recruits love the uniforms" argument is the weakest one I’ve ever heard. I’m all for thinking outside of the box when it comes to attracting talent, but Jarrett Guarantano didn’t love our uniforms enough to choose Rutgers over more traditional Tennessee (to name one of hundreds). 18 year old boys love lots of things; that doesn’t mean that you remake yourself to suit their ever-fleeting tastes.

by hydecablecar on Jul 17, 2015 |

Oh, and as for Tennessee?  They're doing a little re-branding themselves under Butch Jones.

But branding is more than the uniform.  It's tradition, it's history.  It's what you stand for.  It's what you've done and where you've been. Andy Staples' comments about the aforementioned Fighting Irish says it all:

The brand: Gold helmets, high expectations and—fair or not—outsized coverage.

What it should be: Thank Fielding Yost [looking at you, Michigan] for Notre Dame's football brand. Had Michigan's Yost not started the blackballing of the Fighting Irish in the Midwest in the early 1900s, Notre Dame might have remained rooted to the region instead of traveling for games against Army, Penn State, Texas and St. Louis. As college football's popularity grew, so did the prestige of the program from the Catholic school in northern Indiana that would seemingly play anyone, anywhere.

So what, exactly, does Rutgers stand for as a brand?

The Chop....and then what?

Let's go back to that SI piece.  It has a great interactive map with their take on what makes a brand.  For Rutgers, they make an interesting observation. "While the Scarlet Knights still seem married to the Greg Schiano-era idea of chopping wood, they have the opportunity to forge a new identity in the Big Ten." And what exactly would that be?  If you read tweets about Rutgers, you constantly see #CHOPNation.  The team still comes out with an axe.  The Chop still says something about who we are.  But SI has more thoughts on the issue, and it has to do with where we are.

What it should be: New Jersey's team. There is so much good high school football in the state that if the Scarlet Knights can secure their borders and supplement with players from Florida and other hotbed states, they can be competitive even in a division that includes Ohio State and Michigan State. As a Big East member, locking down the state would have been too much to ask. As a Big Ten member, it's possible.

New Jersey's team?  Maybe we need to bring back an old helmet?

Rutgers does not really have the history (longevity, yes) nor the tradition of many of the P5 schools.  But we aren't the only school that needs, well....something....to boost its image.  And others are just set in who they are.  Let's look at how SI viewed the neighborhood gang.

Indiana

The brand: Just wait until basketball season.

What it should be: Kevin Wilson...has been unable to get the Hoosiers to bowl eligibility....It's tough to peg a brand for the Hoosiers because they haven't sustained success of any kind since back-to-back eight-win seasons in 1987 and '88

Maryland

The brand: The Terrapins wear funky uniforms but otherwise don't have a recognizable identity.

What it should be: Maryland should be Under Armour's Oregon....There is no reason the Terps can't be the coolest team on the eastern seaboard. In fact the biggest difference between Maryland and Oregon is Maryland's much easier access to good players. A program that dominates recruiting in the DMV (District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia) should be capable of competing regularly for national titles.

Michigan

The brand: To be determined, but judging by his Twitter feed, Jim Harbaugh is actively molding it.

What it should be: Winning with character and cruelty worked for Harbaugh at Stanford, and there is no reason he can't do the same thing at Michigan. Harbaugh is keenly aware of the importance of creating an identity, and he works very hard at staying on message. He didn't tweet at all as the 49ers coach, but he was active on social media as the Cardinal coach and came roaring back when he took the Michigan job.  Why? He didn't have to recruit to the 49ers. He does have to recruit in college. In interviews, Harbaugh gives expansive answers to questions about topics that advance the brand and terse responses to questions about topics that have no brand-building value.

Michigan State

The brand: The Spartans are happy to let everyone else grab the headlines. They'll just continue out-evaluating their rivals on the recruiting trail and playing superior defense. Who else offered quarterback Connor Cook? Akron and Miami (Ohio). Who wants Cook now? About 25 NFL teams.

What it should be: Mark Dantonio has it figured out. And while Urban Meyer at Ohio State, James Franklin at Penn State and Jim Harbaugh at Michigan will make Dantonio's job much tougher, the system is in place at Michigan State to keep the Spartans competitive no matter how good their rivals get.

Ohio State

The brand: The best program in college football at the moment.

What it should be: It doesn't get any better than what the Buckeyes have now. They have a storied history, a fun offense, an opportunistic defense and an endlessly interesting group of excellent players. Coach Urban Meyer's off-the-charts start and hard crash at Florida will produce questions about how long the Buckeyes can maintain this level. But if Meyer has mellowed a bit, Ohio State—which is 38-3 since Meyer arrived—could sit atop the sport for a while.

ttfp

The brand: This one is awfully complicated. The Nittany Lions were inextricably linked for so long with Joe Paterno, and because of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, that association will forever mean different things to different people. But what is indisputable is the dedication of the Penn State fan base, which never wavered even after the NCAA levied crushing sanctions in the wake of the Sandusky scandal.....The packing of Beaver Stadium no matter the circumstances has played and will play a huge role in Penn State's return to football relevance.

What it should be: Franklin and predecessor Bill O'Brien had to walk a tightrope honoring the past while also trying to bring the program into the modern era. But both have pushed the Nittany Lions forward after a period that could have completely decimated the program....my friend Spencer Fordin offered what I still believe is the perfect description of Penn State's brand when he discussed the 1983 Sugar Bowl. "Georgia had big, bad Herschel Walker," he said. "Penn State just had a stripe down its helmet. Guess who won?" If the Nittany Lions have those 107,000 roaring and those stripes down their helmets, they can be great again.

The bottom line for Rutgers

Reading all the comments in the stories on our uniforms, our brand certainly does not revolve around them.  We talk about playing Rutgers defense (well, we used to and maybe we're getting back to it), but what is that these days?  It isn't like Virginia Tech's Beamer Ball, though we have done well in blocking kicks.  We don't have the elite 4 and 5 star athletes.  So what is Rutgers' brand?  If Kyle Flood can turn the tide of Jersey players looking beyond the state's borders, then perhaps we can and will become New Jersey's team.  But it's going to take a huge effort and some time.

What do you think?  Does Rutgers have a brand?  An identity?  See you in the comments section.

Up next: The brand and marketing - getting fans into the seats