Amid a sea of college football bowls awash in corporate-led identities, last year’s introduction of the College Football Playoff not only provided a fresh perspective for the sport, but also for the bowl season’s graphics.
“We knew back when we were starting the College Football Playoff, in the discussion of the formation and event, the postseason was moving in a new direction,” Gina Lehe, senior director of communication and brand management for the CFP, tells HOW. “We knew we had to create and design a logo to change that postseason look.”
With the debut of the four-team bracketed playoff system last season, the storied bowl season of college football received a completely fresh perspective.
The CFP logo gave that perspective an identity.
Designed with the assistance of Pentagram, the CFP wanted a mark to signify the modern age of the college football postseason. And they wanted the public jazzed about the process. So, once the final four logos were developed, the CFP put them out for a public vote in April 2013, ultimately landing on a gold symbol football as the distinguishing mark (after sidestepping a now-humorous hacking attempt that flooded the least popular mark with thousands of votes).
Related: Check out the winners of the 2015 HOW Logo Design Awards.
“It was a really good process for all of us and a fun way for the fans to touch and feel the developing new postseason,” Lehe says. “All of the designs presented achieved what we were looking for: clean, simple, something with the ability to become an iconic mark and represent college football.”
Upon the final selection there was the predictable social media displeasure over the simple look of the mark.
“Anyone who has been in a logo design brainstorming process knows it looks a lot easier than it really is when it is all said and done,” Lehe says. “There is a lot that goes into color, orientation of lines, spacing, it is all important when establishing a new brand identity.”
As the mark has lived on, though, the naysayers have dissipated. Lehe says the final logo has deeply-embedded symbolism embedded, with the four laces of the football signifying the four teams that qualify for the playoffs and the gold spheres that hold the football serving as the brackets of the playoff structure.
With the obvious goal to get to the where the mark stands on its own, the early years have also seen the CFP use text next to the mark. But never in it. “A big goal I have personally and professionally with our sharp and simple design is the proper execution, and one we will continue to strive for is that when people see that gold football symbol, they know the College Football Playoff is present,” Lehe says.
And that serves as another reason that “as of right now and in the foreseeable future” there is no corporate identifier with the logo. To protect the landscape of the logo, anytime ESPN or title sponsors use the CFP logo, it is set apart from other logos with a think black line to “maintain separation, to maintain integrity of the mark.”
“It is very important from where I sit,” Lehe says. “It helps maintain the brand presence regardless of whatever element or atmosphere you are in.”
And while many brands must create a mark based off the history of the organization, the CFP was able to help use the mark to build its own history, including using the logo to help design the tournament’s trophy.
“It really started to come together in such an organic way,” Lehe says. “It was a lot of fun to be a part of.”
Another byproduct of starting new was the ability for the CFP to step back and review the existing bowl game landscape. So many bowl game logos use the shield format, so Lehe says doing something different would prove striking and unique.
But the ability of the CFP to distance itself from corporate sponsors is an anomaly in the bowl season. Roughly a year old now, the new Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic mark worked to put a modern twist on this relationship, Michael Konradi, chief marketing officer, tells HOW.
Going away from the shield look for a “totally different approach,” Konradi says the new logo played up both the Goodyear sponsorship and the roughly 80-year history of the Cotton Bowl. While following in Goodyear’s color scheme and playing the corporate identity at the top, the cotton boll—in the shape of a tire at the bottom of the logo—takes a larger role in this logo than in the past.
“That was important to not lose the fact that the cotton ball was very much an integral part of who we are,” he says. “If you look at the other bowls out there, each one takes a different approach and for us it was trying to find that balance, and sometimes that gets lost and the bowls. Some of them over the years, unfortunately, have sold out a little bit when it comes to title sponsors and not protecting their brand and their bowl name as part of the graphic design.”
The Cotton Bowl, which was at the mercy of ESPN to secure their title sponsorship, used Torch Creative out of Dallas to quickly create the new logo last year when the deal with Goodyear started to come together, allowing the Cotton Bowl control over the process.
With the CFP mark leading the way, we can expect bowls, such as the Cotton Bowl, to continue to find new ways to distinguish their identity within the ranks of college football’s postseason.
Tim Newcomb covers sports for HOW Design. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.
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