There is now, finally, one true Carolina blue – one, at least, that starting in the fall of 2015 will be used in all of UNC's athletic uniforms and in all of the athletic department's signage and promotional materials.
Finding consistency – in colors, in lettering, in numerals on different uniforms – was among the primary of objectives of a project between UNC and Nike, the university's longtime apparel partner, that began 18 months ago.
“I think the main goal was to build on our tradition, and then come up with something that is exciting for recruits and current student athletes, and then gain some consistency across all of our sports and across the university,” Bubba Cunningham, the UNC athletic director, said on Monday before UNC unveiled its refreshed logos and color scheme. “It's really hard trying to get the same Carolina blue on all kinds of different product – whether it's a paper product or clothing product or helmet.”
That will be different now, though, starting in the fall. The rebranding project – which UNC has described as a project “to refresh the Tar Heels' brand identity” – will comes with several changes, some more subtle than others.
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In addition to the color consistency – all 28 of UNC's varsity teams will now be wearing the same shade of Carolina blue in their uniforms, which wasn't the case before – the changes include:
--consistent fonts in lettering and numbering across the uniforms in all sports.
--an updated interlocking “NC” logo, which is the primary logo and one that will be adopted by all sports teams. The “NC,” which dates to the 1800s, has been “rebuilt to balance its size and scale.”
--the use of the argyle pattern, best known for its appearance down the side of UNC's men's basketball uniforms, as a “secondary identity” that can be used by all teams.
Alexander Julian, a well-known fashion designer and UNC alum who in 1991 designed the argyle pattern for the basketball uniforms on the request of Dean Smith, consulted Nike and UNC during their collaboration over the past year and a half.
“We've been talking for 10, 12 years about other applications of argyle here,” Julian said on Monday. “And so it's a dream come true for me. I have drawn different versions of that football uniform over there at least five or six times.”
Julian nodded toward a mannequin that was dressed in UNC's new football uniform: Carolina blue with white numbering, with an argyle pattern around the neck line. The blue helmet also featured an argyle stripe down the middle.
UNC unveiled that uniform – along with others – on Monday night during “The Rammy's,” the university's annual athletics awards show. Before Monday, the university had released various videos teasing to the impending changes to its branding and color scheme.
Those videos all began and ended with the phrase: “Our Blue.”
“Color is one of the most powerful communicators of your brand,” said Todd Van Horne, a Nike Vice President and Creative Director for football and baseball. “And I think with such a signature color like Carolina blue, you need to be consistent with that over time.
“And that's one of the hardest things to do as you have multiple sports and multiple materials and multiple partners and everybody trying to execute that same color. So that was part of the (refreshing) process.”
During the project, UNC and Nike sought feedback from current athletes and coaches. Athletic department administrators and alumni also provided input.
Nike has worked with other schools in recent years – Florida State and Georgia are two – on similar projects to build more consistency in athletic logos and marks and in the fonts used in uniforms and athletic department publications and marketing materials.
Both UNC and Nike were interested in refreshing UNC's look. Cunningham said “Nike came to us,” while Van Horne said that UNC approached Nike with the idea. For years, though, officials within the athletic department at UNC talked about the need to become more consistent with colors and lettering.
Two years ago, before UNC played at Georgia Tech in football, Cunningham and others from the athletic department visited the headquarters of Coca-Cola in Atlanta.
“They were talking to us over time about what they've done over time to maintain their brand at Coca-Cola,” Cunningham said. “And then we were trying to think, 'Well how does that apply to us?'”
Less than a year later, UNC and Nike began working on a project that saw its completion on Monday. Nike didn't charge UNC for the project, Cunningham and Van Horne said, because it was already included in their contract. Nike has been UNC's athletic apparel partner since 1993.
The men's basketball uniform won't change, Cunningham said, other than to include the updated interlocking “NC,” which will be slightly different than it was before. In addition to the primary colors of Carolina blue and white, nevy blue, black and metallic silver will remain secondary colors in all sports.
Both Van Horne and Cunningham acknowledged the criticism from traditionalists surrounding the use of black in UNC uniforms – and in particular the football uniform – but black will still be used occasionally.
“We've heard that loud and clear,” Van Horne said of the criticism surrounding black. “We also know that black's an important part of the story of the color palette, just in terms of what the Tar Heel is. So I think it's how you use it, not if and when.
“I know certainly the student athletes talked about, hey we like to have a little bit of a mix-up, so the use in some sports of a black uniform every now and again is something that they truly desired.”