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Snuffing a Sport Icon, Nike Style

Posted By Steven Keys On Jul 9 2011 @ 11:15 pm In Arizona State | 13 Comments

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 (Bleacherreport.com / “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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