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The Importance of Building a Brand in High School Sports Programs

By Daniel W. Uszaki, EdD, CMAA on November 10, 2021 hst Print

Why is the concept of “branding” so important? It’s just a mascot, a logo or a set of letters, right? Wrong. Simply put, branding is essential. Effective branding improves recognition within a school district’s extended community, creates a sense of trust, establishes consistency, and streamlines potential advertising and sponsorship efforts. The path to building an effective brand can often be daunting during the initial stages, but it’s a critical step in the ultimate success of any high school athletic department.

Improving Community Recognition

Successful branding should be infectious, which is the goal. Establishing a recognizable brand and allowing a surrounding community to embrace it can help connect a fanbase that may have been previously alienated. Allow community leaders, youth recreational coaches, and essentially the future students of the school district to relate to the school’s logo. Encourage its presence at activities which serve as an extension to the school district’s athletic programs. Reassure program leaders who display a different brand, or who are interested in re-branding, that the school district is there to assist with certain stages of the changeover process.

Creating Trust

Building a brand is more than creating a clean art file or throwing a logo into empty spaces. The brand must have a deeper meaning. An effective brand serves as a representation of what the overall school district, not just the athletic department, desires in all its student-athletes. This is an important step in creating education- based athletic programs.

However, athletic administrators need to move beyond promoting the school brand as something solely for athletic use; it needs to be a school-wide commitment. Also be aware of clubs and other activities that are branding their programs, and encourage the proper use of school logos, mascots and colors. Take pride in the school district’s brand being a part of important messages, including, but not limited to, welcoming advertisements, new projects and organizations like No Place for Hate. Incorporate the brand in all these endeavors and start to incorporate the idea of “this is who we are.”

Establishing Consistency

Unless there is a special circumstance or pre-approved event, the best brands do not deviate from their intended colors, format or message. The brand is aligned with core values, promises and the overall student experience. Any major departures from the brand can subconsciously communicate inconsistencies, which can lead to others thinking that it is acceptable to go “off-brand.” The brand is the identity of the school district and with it comes a certain set of guidelines for its usage. Keeping all aspects of a school district’s brand consistent means keeping it recognizable and reliable.

Advertising and Sponsorship

Having an identifiable brand can equate into regular advertising. A well-developed, accessible brand allows individuals to get past initial details of a project and do what the brand is intended to do – promote. Individuals proudly displaying the brand at games, meet and greet activities, and all school-related events, are essentially “advertising” the school district’s message. It is free and subtle, but the message is apparent and recognizable – this is who the school district strives to be and this is who the school district wants to be associated with. The target audience then becomes anybody who strives to be a part of that community, and as it creeps into younger generations, it instills a growing sense of pride leading up to the high school experience.

Additionally, there are monetary benefits to having a distinguishable brand. Local businesses and companies want to support something that is dependable and safe to their own image. As a brand transitions to a permanent staple in the community, ironically enough, school districts will ultimately see sponsorships flocking to them. It is more than money; it is about being associated with the message that has been built and supported over a long period of time.

The Stages of Branding Guidelines

Athletic administrators can take a page from the NFHS with regard to some of the stages involved in building a brand. The NFHS publicly posts its own branding guidelines. When viewing the document, school districts can see the evolutionary process and proper procedures to establishing an effective brand. The “Past, Present and Bright Future” of logo creations needs to be considered as a foundational tool to building a brand.

School districts should form a branding team and make sure that key stakeholder input is included throughout the process. Once the team has been established, an audit needs to be completed that assesses any previous branding patterns. Decisions can be made on what historical aspects of the brand are important to maintain, and what needs to be updated to reflect a more modern vision. As the team moves into securing a new or revised brand, it is important to gain the perceptions of other stakeholders one last time. This reassures the entire school community that the process was open, two-way and validated.

Defining the school brand means more than the message that is being delivered. School personnel should appoint someone who is going to be in charge of defining the actual characteristics of the brand, including recommended pantone colors, overall size and dimensions, and how the logo would appear across various backgrounds. Schools can go as far as defining typography, and other keys aspects of the brand.

It is important to remember that consistency is the key. In addition, and most importantly, the more defined the logo usages are, the less individuals will be willing to alter it which could change the overall message that the district is trying to communicate.