The Beavers have teamed up with the sports marketing mogul to help in a rebrand, cementing a partnership that has grown over the years
By Colin Huber
When current Director of Equipment Operations Steve McCoy was hired by Oregon State Athletics in 1998, the Beavers weren’t a Nike school. At least not by today’s definition.
“It was a handshake agreement; that was it. It was very minimal,” said McCoy, laughing. “I think we had a shoe program, a buy two, get one free thing. It’s not like that anymore.”
It’s not even close.
That was 15 years ago, before Facebooking and Tweeting and worldwide live-streaming. The world has changed. Children born in 1998 are now high school students, preparing for college. They enjoy different stuff: styles, looks, flash and a thing called “swag”.
The same changes have affected Oregon State. Since McCoy walked through the doors of the university, the brand has evolved, and so has the relationship with Nike.
In 1999, Dennis Erickson replaced Head Football Coach Mike Riley, who left for the NFL. Erickson brought a fresh, modern outlook with him.
“He had an existing relationship with Nike, so he picked up the phone, made some calls and slowly we got more involved,” McCoy said.
The partnership continued to grow during the 2000-2001 football season. That season, the Beavers won the Fiesta Bowl, launching the university into a national spotlight.
“That’s when we established ourselves as a reputable group,” McCoy said. “Then, in 2002, (newly appointed Athletic Director) Bob De Carolis came to me and asked, ‘What’s it going to take to get better?’ We had to keep building that relationship with Nike.”
From there, the tie grew stronger each year, and in 2009, with the help of back-to-back baseball national championships, Oregon State became a “Tier-1” program with Nike. At the time, the Beavers were one of just a handful schools that enjoyed Nike’s exclusive perks including the widest range of products, design, gear, programs and product testing.
This brings us to 2013. This year the university teamed up with the sports marketing giant in an athletic rebranding effort.
A new brand
Oregon State began its rebranding process just 18 months ago, but the idea has been around much longer.
“This has been a long time coming,” McCoy said.
Finally, the department found reason to change its look — uniforms, lettering, a logo — Benny’s outfit.
“We had to ask ourselves, ‘What does Oregon State University need to advance the athletic brand? What will help us recruit prospective students and student-athletes?” Senior Associate Athletic Director John Rizzardini said. “We needed distinctive. We needed contemporary.”
Rizzardini joined the Beavers shortly after pushing the Seattle Seahawks through their own rebrand with Nike in early 2012. He knew he was jumping into a big task on the fly. Rebranding projects, especially at institutions rich with tradition, have to be done delicately. Oregon State’s process started with homework, involving as many people as possible, Rizzardini said.
“We (Oregon State and Nike officials) had to listen, talk with young people, talk with administration, talk with student-athletes,” he said.
The rebranding process at Oregon State included a broad scope of leaders. In addition to the Athletics Department, the university’s central marketing team, headed by Steve Clark, Vice President for University Relations and Marketing, was included throughout. Coaches weighed in. Student-athletes had a part as well, offering advice about what potential recruits might want to see. All were answering the same question: How should the school be represented?
“Nike came to campus and did interviews with administrators and students-athletes,” said Melody Oldfield, Director of University Marketing. “They wanted to get a feel for what Oregon State was about.”
Recruiting talented student athletes, becoming even more nationally recognized and the desire to connect with fans are all factors that drove Oregon State’s rebrand.
“We wanted to make an intimate relationship between fans and this university,” Rizzardini said.
Together, the university and Nike put together a string of words — or themes — that best represented Oregon State as a whole:
Heritage. Strong. Victorious. United. Innovative. Tenacious. Dedicated. Integrity.
From there, it was time to create.
After a concept was constructed, it was a no-brainer to hand the design reins over to Nike. After all, the relationships were already in place.
“I think we already had a very special relationship, different from a lot of schools,” McCoy said. “Former Beavers work there (a large number of alumni). If I have a problem with equipment, I’m on the phone and they’re there. They have the same dedication and desire we do.”
“They understand athletic performance at the top tier,” Rizzardini said. “They’re right in our backyard (Beaverton, Ore.). They come to games. They visit with coaches. They’re not just a group that flies in every once in a while.”
The team at Nike dedicated months constructing art, focusing on a logo.
“The design team at Nike, it’s amazing to see how bright, detailed and innovative they are,” Rizzardini said, mentioning that part of the planning was to incorporate attributes of a Beaver, the animal, into the brand.
After months of work, Nike came back to Oregon State with a pitch.
The University had a look in mind, and officials weren’t just going to take the first thing they saw. They wanted something that was perfect for the school. It wasn’t about slapping a logo onto a table and saying “That’s it.” Oregon State was part of the process.
“We were given every opportunity to agree or disagree,” McCoy said.
That’s how things went. Nike showed the designs. Oregon State critiqued. Nike went back and adjusted, over and over for 18 months to get it just right.
A signature mark
The process of finding the perfect logo hinged really on one thing: identity. What is Oregon State’s — and only Oregon State’s — identity? That answer came from within.
“We didn’t look at other schools,” McCoy said. “We’re not trying to be like other schools. We’re trying to be like Oregon State. We’re our own personality.”
The new logo might not last forever, but it will be around for awhile — as long as the Oregon State brand remains contemporary, unique and recognizable.
“We want people from all across the nation to see our logo and know, ‘That’s Oregon State,’” McCoy said.
That was the goal from the beginning. For Oregon State and Nike, the target was university-wide representation — something everybody could relate to.
“This represents the whole school. Logos, color combos, everything,” McCoy said. “We don’t want the team to look good. We want the university to look good. We want our students to represent it and walk proud.”
“It’s a big change. It’s what we were missing here.”
Yes, a big change indeed. A long way from the days of 2-for-1 Nike shoes.