On a lovely Thursday morning, while leaving Vanderbilt’s football practice, I walked down Jess Neely Boulevard and looked around, noticing something I hadn’t before.
There were so many “Star V” logos.
They were everywhere. Small, big, enormous.
They were atop the Hawkins Field scoreboard, on each of the College World Series and national championship banners, all over the front and back of the football stadium press box, over the team’s entrance to the football stadium, on the side of the football facility, on the football practice field and on every bit of signage in every venue.
And so, it occurred to me, someone is eventually going to have to replace every one of those “Star V” primary logos. Can you imagine how much time and money and manpower will be wasted for that purpose?
And why? For what?
Who was asking for such a change?
These questions weren’t answered by Vanderbilt’s rollout this week of a new primary logo – for the university and its athletics program – to supplant the iconic “Star V” for which the Commodores sports teams are internationally known. In its place will be a single letter “V” shaded gold.
They weren’t kidding, either. The logo was introduced Tuesday, and by Tuesday night the scoreboard at Xavier had the new logo beside Vanderbilt’s name for a men’s basketball NIT game.
Best I can tell, the new logo has been greeted with chuckles or anger depending on whether you’re against or in support of the Commodores.
That’s not surprising. Sports fans almost always dislike a new logo.
But something about this switch at Vanderbilt felt especially misguided. Administrators and trustees weren’t just fixing something that wasn’t broken. They seem unaware of the damage being done to their own unique brand for no apparent reason.
For the record, originally, I didn't have a problem with the new Vanderbilt logo. I was just unmoved by it.
It's unoriginal and a weak substitute for an established logo that is so widely associated with Commodores sports teams. Anyone, anywhere, if they see the “Star V,” they think of Vanderbilt.
No one is doing that with a nonspecific, gold-shaded “V.” Not now. Not ever.
“Vanderbilt University gave a small but passionate fanbase a change they did not ask for,” wrote Vanderbilt grad Christian D’Andrea while torching the change in a For The Win column. “They eliminated a recognizable icon of their faith with a generic, video game create-a-team, Microsoft Word-looking logo that is the opposite of special. It’s rote. It’s cliché.”
Indeed, a high school computer class probably could have come up with the new logo in half an hour. Goodness knows what Vanderbilt paid “renowned design studio Upstatement” to put the school's colors to the first letter of the school's name.
Vanderbilt said this process took two years.
Not sure I’d have admitted that.
Or that the effort to come up with this “identity refresh” involved more than “500 completed surveys” and “70-plus one-on-one interviews.”
Perhaps it’s time for survey No. 501.
Except, this time, you might walk down Jess Neely. Start counting the stars. Maybe ask a few random alumni or athletes who’ve sweated and bled for that logo how they feel about it being discarded “to reflect the university’s forward momentum and to build pride and visibility across the institution.”
A point that hasn't been mentioned enough by Vanderbilt is that the familiar "Star V" logo – only with the "V" in the newly standardized font – will become a "secondary" logo behind the plain "V" as the primary logo. So it isn't going away entirely.
Yet in a media call Friday, three days after the logo's release, Vanderbilt officials remained adamant that the new "V" is to be front and center in all aspects.
"We learned about this concept called the invisible square (for a logo)," said Steve Ertel, Vanderbilt's vice chancellor for communications and marketing. "So in athletics, the more you can own the real estate of the invisible square, the more strength your brand conveys. ... There was a sense that the 'Star V' was good, but it wasn't owning the real estate. It didn't have that sense of boldness and forwardness that we were looking for and that we wanted to convey."
Vanderbilt's leadership wants to claim ownership of the single "V" as a brand for its university. And it expects that to happen, despite the existence of Villanova, Virginia and many more.
In other words, the Commodores just created years of work for themselves to try to accomplish something that had already been accomplished.
If the "Star V" is still going to be in circulation in some form, which is a good thing, then what is the point of all this?
There was a moment of clarity in Friday's call, I believe, in which athletics director Candice Storey Lee hit that bullseye.
"If you look at our merchandise sales," Lee said, "there's great opportunity to improve."
Bingo. This change, to me, is about slapping a new logo on T-shirts and hats and other memorabilia and selling it at a rate better than the old "Star V" has been moving.
Maybe that happens. Maybe not.
I really want to give Chancellor Daniel Diermeier the benefit of the doubt here. Because I do think he gets it more than his predecessors have. He has been much more of a friend to Vanderbilt athletics.
The Vandy United campaign hasn't just been lip service on his watch. It has been a much-needed and long-overdue effort to upgrade facilities – largely for football and men’s and women’s basketball.
Lee has been better supported in her role, and she has fared well. She has steered the Commodores through some dark times, and there is now an emerging light at the end of the tunnel.
They didn't need this foolishness with the logo right now.
Diermeier should think long and hard about why he is surrendering a valuable and meaningful athletics brand like Vandy's "Star V" at an unnecessarily high cost.
Sports programs need available funds to boost facilities and their staffs, not to replace signage in a pointless rebrand. Emotionally, fans who bitterly hate this new logo aren’t going to change their minds once they are force-fed it at every turn.
This is new Coke. It’s a poor-tasting substitute that wasn’t wanted or well-received.
I hope, for Vanderbilt’s sake, that it acknowledges its mistake as quickly and sticks with a classic.
Reach Gentry Estes at email@example.com and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Vanderbilt logo change is a sorry substitute for the old 'Star V'