Arizona State

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Snuffing a Sport Icon, Nike Style

He said Arizona State like the Leprechaun says Notre Dame, Bevo the Longhorn says Texas, Bucky Badger says Wisconsin and Tony the Tiger says Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes®.

He was Sparky, the Sun Devil logo & mascot.  For generations of ASU fans and Pac-10 followers Sparky was Arizona State University.

Created in 1948 by Walt Disney artist and ASU alumnus Bert Anthony (Wikipedia), the animated Sparky was fashioned in desert colors gold & fire-brick while wielding his pitch-fork with a dash of whimsy and a devilish grin.

But Sparky is no more.  In April, AD Lisa Love teamed-up with Nike cufflinks to stick a fork in the Western icon: “(A)s times changed, the feeling that Arizona State’s look was stagnant began to grow ( / “ASU Football” / Brad Denny / 4-12).”

You needn’t have been a fly on the wall to know who planted that seed of change in the minds of ASU elite.  Let’s just say, democracy rarely ascends the steps of an ivory tower.

A new design and theme (“Fear the Fork“) will greet ASU football fans this fall.  Though temps in Arizona can still reach 90°+ in October, school officials bought into that over-macho, tiresome trend in black uniforms.  There’s a reason Mother Nature excluded the color black from her palette when painting the Southwestern desert.  It’s damn hot!

What does Disney know about commercial art anyway?  They’ve only earned, what, two trillion over 80 years?  And Nike’s claims to fame: Air Jordan and Just Do It.  Terrific.

Sparky was born in that golden age of illustration, a period running from the 1930s up to the psychedelic 60s.  There were clunkers to be sure but many images, including much of Disney’s work, remain timeless.  Like the voice of John Facenda (NFL Films), a Douglas / Tyson replay (‘90) or Charlie Brown Christmas, they may be old, but they never get old.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  For years it’s been sound advice, especially when your talking about a production team as talented and successful as Walt Disney Enterprises.

But not for today’s hot-shot MBA.  No sir.  To them it’s just laughable lexicon.

If left in the hands of Sparky‘s liquidators the “stagnant” Mickey Mouse would sprout a beard and sport a diamond earring.  Donald Duck would don a black sailor suit, an eye-patch and a tattoo that says, Quack You!  Iconic logos for the Habs, Chiefs, Spurs, Red Sox, Trojans and Seminoles would be gone quicker than you can say Jack Robinson.

Given how sportswear giants seem dedicated to scraping every logo in North America that pre-dates the Reagan White House, it only follows that the Big Shoe finally give the boot to its own pedestrian Swoosh® symbol (’71) in favor of something, I don’t know, creative?  That‘ll be the day.

The fact that some fans couldn’t care less about team logos & uniforms makes it easy for the Suits & Skirts to toss ‘em aside like so much trash.  To many, sport is merely a diversion: fantasy for the kids, betting-lines for the bored and bragging rights for the rest.

But if recent history’s any indication (Giants, Phillies, Packers, Saints, Bruins, Blackhawks, Auburn, Alabama), sticking with a classic and resisting the push to re-vamp might actually boost your chance of hoisting the hardware, psychologically speaking.

That’s one side of the coin (continuity).  The other side: Nike’s pitch that ‘change brings success’ (Broncos, Pats)…AND boosts merchandise sales 39% over 5 years.  Cha-ching!

With the snuffing of Sparky it’s a fitting time to look at the damage that’s been done by the Nikes, Reeboks, ADs, GMs and all the other agents-of-change who’ve been bumping-off our beloved logos.

Here then are some of the best and the (What were they thinking?) worst logos in sport.

Collegiate: Texas, USC, UCLA, Mich, Ohio St, Neb, Ark, AL, FSU, WY, CO (football)
NHL: Original-six, plus: Oilers (oil-drop), Penguins (skater), Blues
NBA: The few, the proud: Celtics, Lakers, Spurs, Bulls
MLB: All the classics
NFL: All the classics, plus Jaguars
CFL: Stampeders, Tiger-Cats, Eskimos (Packer-esque)

Bring it Back
Collegiate: Sun Devil Sparky
Soccer: black & white ball
Milwaukee’s Bango-the-Deer
Washington “Bullets”
Mavericks (original)
NHL logo (black & orange)
LA Kings (royal purple & yellow)
Bills’ real buffalo
Patriots (original)
Buccaneers (original)
Chargers (powder blues)
Browns’ Brownie
Falcons (red helmet, early bird)
Astros A-on-a-star
1964 White Sox
1968 Oakland Athletics

Instant Classics
Brewers (only took 40 years)
Bengals’ stripes & tiger-head

Send it Back (to the drawing board)
Collegiate: ASU, Iowa, KSU, Miami, N’Western, WI, Auburn, Oregon, WSU (football)
NBA: Gotta’ go: Rockets, Wizards, Jazz
NHL: Predators, Wild, Devils, Avalanche, Ducks, B-Jackets, Canucks, Flames
Mets’ black cap
Astros’ open star
Blue Jays (35 years)
Diamondbacks (all of it)
Falcons (cutting-edge bird)
Ravens (nice idea, bad draw)
Texans (buy back “Oilers”)
Bills’ bar-buffalo
Patriots’ streaming-head
Panthers (staple-puller with whiskers)
Titan flaming-T (shouldn’t have to think about a logo)
CFL: Montreal Alouettes, Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Keys to Sport

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A native of the old Northwest Territory (IL), my wife and I have lived in four Midwestern states and Arizona. Today we live in Duluth, Georgia. I have a history / legal background.

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In response to “Snuffing a Sport Icon, Nike Style”

  1. cbona Jul 10 201111:59 am


    Do you think sparky intimidates? As an ASU alum, I am glad to see him on the sideline, and off the helmets. I wanted an alternate helmet in 2005 of a pitchfork, and its great to see the athletic department went that route.

    Do teams like to be modeled after disney characters or would they rather be “more intimidating?” Well, what about…

    -The Detroit Lions and their revamped logo to look “cooler:
    -The Anaheim Ducks went away from disney, you’re saying go back to the drawing board…surely you wouldn’t rather have that design.
    -The Arizona Cardinals added a pointed beak among other things to make it “look intimidating.”

    This is about selling a brand. The Sun Devil had no national brand. Next time you walk down the street and see someone with an ASU shirt, ask if he/she is an alum or AZ resident. Then ask the same question to someone wearing Texas, Duke, UNC, USC, or Umich gear.

    I see your a traditionalist and do not think outside of the box. But let me end by asking you one question, where would Oregon be if they didn’t have “Nike damaging/bumping-off” their logo and brand.

  2. Steven Keys Jul 10 201111:34 pm


    So which is it, cbona: logos are designed to “intimidate” (that‘s news to me) or “about selling a brand” (not news to me: “Cha-ching!”)?

    And you oughta’ Google your phrase “think outside of the box.” Black uniforms and borrowing someone else’s idea (Bert Anthony’s pitch-fork) don’t qualify.

    Write your own piece, cbona. I’ll read it if you come up with a title. Run it past your friend Lisa Love or the “Nike cufflinks.” Together you should think of something original.

  3. Christopher Rowe Jul 11 201112:52 am


    Spell it out… A-S-WHO? Isn’t the point of a logo that is stands the test of time? If one changes the image constantly then there is no image to speak of really!

    The Irish leprechaun is classic because he has stood the test of time… along with Mickey Mouse… Fleu de Lis and even the damn evergreen tree from Stanford…

    1. cbona Jul 11 20118:02 am


      “A S Who”….I haven’t heard that before…

      “If one changes the image constantly then there is no image to speak of really”…ASU’s logo has been the same since ’51….

      Look into President Crow and how he has “re-branded” the entire university. From a school known for its party image to a school that puts out some pretty solid research ( ASU has been moving up every year since ’06. Why not take it a step further and re-brand athletics?

      The Sparky is dead. In reality, this is about national exposure.

      As sad as it sounds, 17, 18, and 19 year old HS kids choose schools based on cool uniforms and logos. Look at what Oregon is doing up there. In fact, ASU solidified commits this year just due to the new “buzz” surrounding the uniform change.

      I guess you don’t intimidate by the logo alone. The black on black on black is pretty sweet, and players have increased swagger wearing sharp uniforms. So, in a roundabout way, yes, uniforms do matter. I am sure if Eastern Michigan adopted some better uniforms they’d have a better chance to turn it around.

      You originally said, “if it aint broke, dont fix it”..I think it was broken. ASU Football and Basketball have been sub-par…(basketball uni’s are still pretty plain) The question becomes, will the change “fix” it. I don’t know, I guess we will see in a couple of years if this becomes a national brand.

      It is all about the almighty dollar, more money in equals more money to build lavish facilities which also attracts top recruits. College athletics is an arms race.

  4. Christopher Rowe Jul 11 20119:58 am


    It IS about the almighty dollar. Does one attract interest with “cool uniforms” and “intimidating logos” or with a solid educational institution which happens to put a good product on the field? While the answer may come BACK “both” the ratio is aboit 10/90 in favor of the latter.

    I am an alumi of a school that has a solid foundation but simply couldn’t get support for its football program – and summarily dropped them after 50 years of existence and a lot of money had been sunken into the facilities, the staff, the program, etc. Was that because suddenly the players were no good or people weren’t going to the games? No. Was it because they weren’t branded properly? No. It was because doing business in college football became too cost prohibitive. Sweetheart TV deals per conference or the dichotemy between Division I & II (let alone III) made it impossible to compete on a balanced playing field for student athletes, coaches, facilities or funding.

    College athletics should not be an arms race. Even if it is whether we like it or not, what happens in an arms race? Either of two outcomes…

  5. cbona Jul 11 201110:28 am


    Well, if power conferences (like the big ten) start paying their players (like some want to) NCAA football will turn into a 30 team semi pro league. The other schools will go the “way of the ivies.”

    College athletics shouldnt be an arms race, but it is…

    I guess about 26 schools ran in the black last year. All of the schools in the red, where did they recoup the money from? Probably the university’s general fund. You know, the fund for improving academic buildings among other things. The fund that promotes the mission of the university.

    I think we are sliding down a slippery slope…it’s not good.

  6. Steven Keys Jul 11 201112:54 pm


    Cbona: Higher education and collegiate sport are big business, to be sure. But to characterize all of it as an “arms race” and “all about the almighty dollar” is an over-simplification that the Arizona Board of Regents wouldn’t appreciate or validate. It also sounds like it’s straight outta’ the Nike Executive Training Manual (circa 1982).

    Sparky is dead, but only because a small group of decision-makers stuck a fork in him. Winning on the gridiron again as in the days of Jake Plummer and Frank Kush (State’s showcase sport) is what will move the merchandise.

    If enticing high school prospects with a logo or uniform is a serious carrot on the end of the recruitment stick, that program ain’t going anywhere good. But I expect it’s all part of the Nike sales-pitch…right?

    Changing standards (“almighty dollar“) like Oregon, Ohio State and Auburn can win games and make big money for a handful. But it can be done another way, a balancing of interests: Alabama, Duke (b-ball), Wisconsin, Boise State (so they all appear).

    Cbona & Chris Rowe: thanks for reading and the lively comments.

    1. cbona Jul 11 201112:59 pm

  7. cbona Jul 11 20111:01 pm


    I’m not sure I understand the balancing of interests piece of your last post…..

  8. Dan Fulton Aug 2 201112:42 am


    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the Nike Pro Combat Uni’s that college teams have been sporting the last couple of seasons. They are wearing them this yr too. I did an article on my blog about them if anyone wants to check it out.

    But ya, ASU Sparky was cool and the new logo is egh…. ok i guess, but sparky was better

    1. Steven Keys Aug 2 20113:32 pm


      Dan: Visited good site, good articles.

      I Googled “Images for Nike Pro Combat uniforms.”

      My impressions: overall, straight C grade.
      1) Most aren’t worth the change (design-wise), but making someone change ($$$-wise);
      2) I like Miami Hurricanes (need contrast)…big nyet on Boise State’s helmet;
      3) Need contrasting pants / shirt. Otherwise, look like long-johns. Too many here;
      4) Black can be beautiful (Iowa / Raiders / Bears), but childish for intimidation. NPC’s retaining / respecting original colors in many cases;
      5) NPC (and like lines) will sweep the nation…make stylish ‘remainders’ appear dated.

      Two caveats:
      1) Off track: Boise’s ‘pushing the envelope’ off the table with blue field (fair-competition wise);
      2) Florida State’s traditional look…top shelf. You know me: if it works…

  9. Dan Fulton Aug 3 20113:30 am


    Thx, ya, most NPC uni’s need to go back to the drawing board and start over. Ohio states were awful. Miami’s are ok, and West Virginia’s are decent. VTech were by far the best in my opinion.

  10. Dan Fulton Aug 3 20113:36 am


    And Florida State’s traditionals are top shelf for sure. I heard today talking to one of my friends, that ASU had an all black uni with the red new logo. He was raving about how awesome they were. I haven’t seen em yet.

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