Design Wins!

In the late 1990s, there was a collegiate football team with a losing record, low stadium attendance, and a dismal recruiting program. Two years ago, that same team, the Oregon Ducks, played for the National Championship and appeared in the Rose Bowl this past season. The natural question that follows is how? The answer may come as a surprise. The catalyst for this newfound success was not a new game changing coach or athletic director, but design.

Phil Knight, the co-founder and chairman of Nike, graduated from the University of Oregon in 1959 and today his net worth is estimated at over $13 billion. In 1996, he wanted to help his Alma Mater’s struggling football team and he asked the Nike staff, “How can we make teenagers who are good at football want to come to the University of Oregon?” Since then, he has spent more than $300 million on stadium additions, luxury boxes and new locker rooms.

More noteworthy than the stadium additions and locker room renovations, is what the team at Nike has done with the uniforms. Nike’s designers were given free rein to do whatever they could dream up, and they dreamed big. They designed dark green uniforms with a modern wing design on the jerseys. The paint for the dark green helmets were even made from glass beads and costs $2,400 a gallon. When the players enter the field, they look more like an army of futuristic soldiers than a football team. All in all, there are over 500 different possible combinations of uniforms that the team can wear. Too bad there are only 12 games in a season. Michael Smith wrote in the SportsBusiness Journal that this was part of “Nike’s 15-year project to build Oregon football into a national power largely on the strength of marketing and branding.”

After several years, it is clear that marketing and branding worked. Oregon is now recruiting players from all across the country due to the fact that teenagers want to come wear these amazing uniforms. I don’t blame them! I’ve never played a down of organized football in my life and I want to wear those uniforms. Two seasons ago Oregon played in the National Championship game and this past season won the Pac 12 and beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.

The investment is paying off for Nike as well. Thanks to the on the field Oregon showroom, college football programs all over the country are coming to Nike to rejuvenate their uniform designs so they can be cool like Oregon. Nike also takes their first shot at NFL uniforms this 2012 season.

In terms of your brand, take a lesson from Oregon and Nike. If your brand is struggling to attract consumers, take a look at your current brand design. Is it intriguing, unique, and for lack of a better world, “cool” or is it stale and bland? In today’s world, consumers not only demand a quality product and attentive service, but great design as well. As Oregon’s turn around has taught us, design, simply put, wins.


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