If nothing else, Arizona State deserves credit for one thing: In an information age devoid of secrets, the athletic department did a nice job building up suspense and preventing leaks before unveiling new uniforms.
And with the buzz reaching its crescendo, the rebranding effort was met with a positive reaction after the public got its first view of the new threads on Tuesday afternoon.
The addition of black helmets and black uniforms, along with a redesigned pitchfork, has juiced up the program during a relative dead period. In fact, Sparky was trending on Twitter following the announcement.
“It gets the interest back,” Arizona State basketball forward Carrick Felix said. “It keeps it up tempo.”
However, a clever marketing tool only goes so far.
There will be some temporary excitement now and then again before the first football game, but in the long run, this won’t have any significant effect on the football program.
With the Sparky mascot, the maroon-and-gold color scheme and the pitchfork, Arizona State’s uniforms and branding have never been the problem. Despite the mediocre results in football and basketball, Sparky is still one of the more recognizable figures in college sports.
“That‘s the best mascot in the United States,” athletic director Lisa Love said.
The problem, as it’s always been, is money.
Arizona State is trying to combat that with a renewed focus on its booster club and the likely boost in merchandise sales, but the Sun Devils’ fickle fans don’t have enough loyalty to contribute consistently unless the team is winning.
No uniform is going to change that.
Several current Sun Devil athletes compared this transformation to Oregon’s, but it‘s not in the same ballpark. It’s true the Ducks rebranded themselves and are known nationally for their distinct uniforms.
But they also win. A lot.
“It’s impossible to say what the impact (of the new jerseys) will be,” Arizona State men’s basketball coach Herb Sendek said. “I don’t think anybody picks a school because of the logo.”
Many of Oregon’s uniform combinations are downright ugly, but the product on the field makes it work.
And why does Oregon win? Again, it goes back to money.
First and foremost, there is Phil Knight. The Nike co-founder and chairman has helped turn the Ducks into a major player in football, and men’s basketball may not be far behind. He has helped equip the school with state-of-the-art facilities that make 17- and 18-year-olds fawn. All told, Knight has spent more than $300 million on Oregon athletics, according to Sports Illustrated.
Truthfully, the flashy jerseys get more credit than they deserve. It’s his wallet that turned Oregon into an elite program.
Arizona State, meanwhile, is hoping the uniform upgrades result in a $1 million increase in licensing fees in the next few years. In college athletics, that’s chump change.
Oregon also has a rabid fan base. Autzen Stadium has sold out 74 straight times dating back to 1999.
Arizona State, meanwhile, was only filled at 65.1 percent capacity last season, which was the lowest percentage among Pac-10 teams and near the bottom nationally. Fewer tickets sold, of course, means less money for the perks that tend to wow recruits.
Will the new uniforms have any noticeable effect on attendance? Not likely. The Sun Devils have always had an uphill battle for this state’s bandwagon fans, and while new uniforms will create some buzz, it’s not sustainable.
Tuesday’s production was put together well and definitely made Arizona State a central focus on the day, but it’s only a slight tug in the battle for the almighty dollar.
Like always, results on the field are the only thing that will improve attendance and lead to more monetary support. No amount of black on the jersey can conceal that fact.
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