ESPNU College students and fans across the country like ESPNU. But they r-e-a-l-l-y like their respective teams.
So, the folks at ESPNU went on what they called “a safari” to see how their network could tap into that parochial passion. Rosalyn Durant, VP ESPNU, programming, Dan Steir, Sr. CP, and Dan Margulis, director, programming & acquisitions, visited campuses and discovered what “U” may not have known: while folks watch national telecasts on ESPNU, they also get a home-team perspective via lap tops, Twitter and local blogs.
“We were asked how we could refresh our brand – take a strong national brand to the local level,” said creative director Mark Groeschner. “Everyone who sees our standard red ‘U’ totally gets it, but they wanted to hit the hyper-local level: how could we make them feel like it was their brand, too; how could we make them feel recognized?”
The answer was simple: video of a “U” getting an elephant’s trunk; a “U” getting pin-stripped pants; a “U” becoming a badger; and a “U” turning into an ant eater.
So, Groeschner and Sr. creative director Chris Mantzaris got to work customizing ESPNU’s “U” into individual school designs. It takes 10-15 seconds for each “U” to morph into a school’s colors, mascot or theme. About 140 have been created.
“It was a blast,” Groeschner said, noting that turning the “U” into Florida’s Gator jaws and chomping, “Was one of the first ones. It just clicked and got us excited about the project.” It’s no surprise Indiana was among the early designs – Groeschner was a Hoosier, but admits, “Sean Murphy (Charlotte-based Sr. Coordinating Producer) is from Indiana, so he accurately embellished that one with the pinstripes.”
While the designs originated in Bristol, Groeschner & Co. worked with National Television in Los Angeles in what he calls “a great collaboration.” Some of the designs were “pretty in-depth,” he says, using words like “character animators” and “articulating parts,” to explain why early logos took several weeks to complete, until National “got it down to a science” and could complete one in just several days.
The morphing “U”s can be seen throughout ESPNU programming, including the simulcast of ESPN Radio’s The Herd with Colin Cowherd. Some can also be seen on the computer screens of ESPN employees.
“Every month or two I’ll get a call, ‘I’d love to get a frame grab for my wallpaper,’” Groeschner says of obliging loyal alum who are apparently following ESPNU’s mantra: “Never Graduate.”