The Business Side

An inside look at how the new LSU logo got its stripes.

We've all heard the joke about the definition of a camel, right? It's a horse designed by committee. On behalf of our readers who felt that the new LSU Tigers logo was the subject they would most like to discuss, I present to you…art by committee.


First, a disclaimer. I was on that committee that spent one year and $85,000 to come up with it. (The Collegiate Licensing Company paid the first $20,000 because of the potential for increased merchandise sales, and LSU paid the rest.)


Do I like the new logo? Not really. Do I hate it? No. It is what it is…art by committee.  


Since athletic departments are within universities, which are by nature the most bloated of all bureaucracies, they follow the same rules that are followed when purchasing test tubes for the chemistry lab.


Ever heard Henry Kissinger's quote about politics? He said of all politics he was ever involved in, university politics were the worst.


Why? Because the stakes are so low.


You see, in most political skirmishes, there are things to be won or lost. In university politics, debates are over things like who reports to whom, whether someone has been sufficiently published…or who will control the design of the athletics logo.


The chosen design firm has done some outstanding work and enjoys a strong national reputation for sports design. But have they ever worked in an environment as difficult as ours? No.


The local advertising federation is quietly fuming that no Louisiana designers were invited to compete for the LSU logo project, but sports logos require specific expertise - a process that brings together many opinions through research, focus groups and facilitating meetings: knowledge of how the logo works on everything from letterhead, t-shirts, floors, uniforms, television, etc…how it will look in embroidery or painted on grass.


It's not just a design project. Management skills are almost as important as creative skills. After all, we're creating art by committee!


Louisiana designers deserved the opportunity to prove they had that expertise and could in fact design given those requirements. In hindsight, I think it was a mistake to exclude them. But that decision was made early and a request for proposals was sent to a short list of design firms with experience in college and professional sports.


If you work in sports, you probably believe it's better to hire sports professionals and let them run the business rather than make college athletics conform to academics. But if you're charged with running a university, you probably feel a firm hand must be kept on this high profile asset to assure it's run the way you want it. Both arguments have merit.


The LSU logo was designed to represent the university as a whole. Coaches were invited to give input at various stages, as were other campus representatives. Prevailing opinions were held by some who don't regularly attend LSU football games or other athletic events.


In the end, it was a group of about eight people – half from athletics and half from the university business office -- meeting regularly to critique the designer's work, give feedback and in some cases take liquid paper to designs in an effort to show how tigers growl or pounce.


Did I tell you this was art by committee? Did you think I was kidding?


It may surprise you to learn that LSU is the only SEC school whose athletic department has never received any revenue from the sale of logo merchandise. At LSU, logo licensing is controlled by the Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administrative Services, and those sales benefit the university's general fund.  


Experts on the national level say this contributes to LSU being one of the lowest in the SEC in merchandise sales – and the lowest with a highly successful sports program. This year, for the first time, the athletic department will receive royalties in excess of last year's record high $690,000. At most schools, athletics receives at least 50 percent and schools like LSU can expect to make $1.5 - $2 million in royalties.


If LSU's football program continues its tremendous success, the athletic department should begin to see a small percentage of the school's royalties.


Of course, you can help by purchasing an item with the new logo on it. Most schools see a significant rise in merchandise sales when a new logo is launched.


Unfortunately, the most excitement so far surrounding our launch came when Atlanta alum Drew Wilkinson pirated the logo and posted it on a fan website, creating a virtual uproar two days before the official unveiling.


Even if the athletic department doesn't see any royalties this year, go ahead…buy something. Help your university. Trust me, somewhere, as you read this, there's a committee at LSU working on something you'd want to support.


Best of the e-mail bag: Sorry, but I won't be writing a Business Side column about sex in the Athletic Department. I'm saving that for my book. (Just kidding.) Thanks for all your calls and e-mails. Keep them coming.   


Send Rannah your questions or comments for The Business Side and look for answers and feedback in upcoming columns.


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