FEATURE: Designing Yale Athletics
Director of Athletics Vicky Chun has made branding a top priority since arriving at Yale in 2018. The News explores the world behind Yale’s brand, and the people working to elevate it.
A towering “Y” stands on the wall in the lobby of the Ray Tompkins House, the administrative home of Yale Athletics. Approximately 6 feet tall and 5 feet wide, the navy “Y” — outlined and emboldened by a thick stripe — represents an institution. It pops. Along the floor of the lobby runs a carpet printed with the rallying aphorism, “For God, For Country and For Yale.” Championship trophies — the 1936 Heisman Trophy, the Elis’ 2018 NCAA Division I Men’s Lacrosse National Championship hardware and more — line the pathway like palace guards, encased every few paces in glass display cases.
Director of Athletics Vicky Chun, who works at the end of the hall, has made it a priority to reinvigorate the University’s athletics brand. Since assuming her position in July 2018, Chun has initiated several design changes in the Ray Tompkins House’s main entryway, repainting walls, removing trophies from storage and installing the emblazoned carpet. Chun has also tweaked the University’s athletic emblem, adding the outline to a thick, navy “victory Y” insignia that has become the primary logo for Yale Athletics.
“I was coming in fresh, so there’s certain expectations I thought of Yale,” Chun said. “Because it’s so clean, that ‘Y’ is recognizable around the world. The ‘Y’ is Yale, so we just added a stripe and that would be our mark.”
In her first 18 months at the helm of the Athletic Department, Chun has sharpened Yale’s athletic branding with the help of new hires. Last February, Nina Lindberg became the department’s first-ever director of creative services and digital strategy, while Broc Hazlet joined Yale as assistant athletic director for brand management in March. For both, branding has been a top priority.
Crafting the Look
In 2016, before Chun arrived in New Haven, Yale signed an all-sports deal with Under Armour, making the Baltimore-based company the exclusive apparel provider for the Elis. According to Bloomberg News, Under Armour paid Yale $16.5 million for the 10-year contract. Since then, the Bulldogs have selected their gear from the same pool of options available to Under Armour-sponsored athletics powerhouses like Auburn ($78.1 million over nine years), UCLA ($280 million over 15 years) and Notre Dame (more than $90 million over 10 years).
Hazlet serves as the primary liaison officer between Yale Athletics and Under Armour. He works with the company to design and order the gear that Yale’s 35 Division I squads wear, choosing colors, logos and styles for uniforms, practice gear, travel suits and conditioning shoes.
After a year of working with Georgetown Athletics, Hazlet moved to Colgate to serve as assistant director of equipment services, where he mainly dealt with football equipment and also helped to develop uniforms for other men’s teams. At Colgate, where Chun served as director of athletics for five years before making the move to New Haven, Hazlet spent almost two years creating a throwback football uniform to pay homage to the school’s 1932 football team and its bicentennial in 2018. The jersey earned a spot on ESPN SportsCenter’s “Gear Up” uniform segment for Week 4 of the college football season in September 2018. Though the Raiders recently signed their own contract with Under Armour this past summer, the Bulldogs’ uniform guru had worked with Nike when he worked in upstate New York.
Now, in his unadorned office off the Ray Tompkins House foyer, boxes of Under Armour gear clutter Hazlet’s workspace. Crisp logos adorn the foyer and polished trophies line the hallway around the corner. Two weeks before Thanksgiving, Hazlet is already finalizing 35 teams’ worth of gear orders for the 2020–21 academic year. Catalogs from the company scatter his desk, a spreadsheet is open on his Windows monitor and a colored sheet of Yale logos sits near his keyboard.
The sheet includes the Bulldogs’ five different logo options: a pure, stripeless “Y”; the outlined “Y”; YALE spelled in sans-serif block letters; a bolder sans-serif YALE arched at an angle; and a longer, small-caps YALE BULLDOGS. Logo number two, the so-called victory “Y” that also adorns the Ray Tompkins House entryway, has become the gold standard for Chun and her team.
Chun met with University Printer John Gambell — Yale’s chief graphic designer, whom she warmly refers to as “Mr. Font Guy” — to inspect the history of Athletics logos and discuss the details of a potential branding adjustment. Last year, when Yale plotted a redesign of its athletics website that relaunched last August, Chun pointed to apple.com for inspiration.
Chun also tapped creative consulting firm Global Prairie to hone the final vision for Yale’s visual branding effort and its centerpiece, the victory “Y,” Lindberg said.
“When you ask people, whether they’re Yale students, Yale alums or outsiders, ‘What do you think of when you think of Yale?’, the first thing that comes up is tradition, academia and history,” Lindberg said. “So that’s where you see that blue stripe. It’s called the victory stripe, and that comes directly off of that victory ‘Y’… [We want to] make sure that victory stripe is on there, so that when anyone’s looking at our stuff, they don’t even have to read it before they know, ‘Oh, that’s Yale.’”
Lindberg began employing the victory stripe in graphics for Yale’s social media feeds last spring For Lindberg, maintaining consistency with colors, fonts and the victory stripe for content across all Yale Athletics platforms was key. A textured background, designed to evoke the aesthetic of old, crumpled paper, featured in many of her first graphics. The victory stripe has played a role in almost all of her designs, printed across a corner or beneath a graphic’s primary image.
The graphics used by Yale Athletics continue to evolve, and Geoff Bell joined the department’s creative team in August. Bell, Hazlet and Lindberg all worked at Colgate before coming to Yale.
“I love visual stuff,” Chun said. “Instagram to me was the best thing ever because I’m just so visual.” The Colgate alumna has over 2,000 followers on the platform and over 3,000 posts, the contents of which range from photos with family and friends to phone footage of Eli wins and selfies with Yale student-athletes and University President Peter Salovey.
Although Hazlet’s responsibilities differ from the creative content role Lindberg and Bell assume, much of Hazlet’s and Lindberg’s early work at Yale revolved around the Bulldogs’ trip to Jacksonville for March Madness last spring. Lindberg crafted online content and created videos with Yale Athletics video producer Evan Ellis ’12, while Hazlet oversaw the ordering, embroidery and delivery processes for Yale’s March Madness gear. Less than a week after starting at Yale, he flew down to Jacksonville, found an embroiderer, and delivered the attire to the Elis during a team breakfast the morning after they arrived in Florida. Hazlet’s local newspaper — The Citizens’ Voice of Pittston, Pennsylvania — even ran a story on his expedition.
— Yale Men’s Basketball (@YaleMBasketball) March 21, 2019
“The timing was perfect [in] that it aligned with men’s basketball,” Chun said. “When the team came, everything was all set for them. Our student-athletes and coaches [should] feel really supported when they achieve such success and they’re representing us on the national stage. I said we have to have our Yale logo because there’s going to be millions of people watching. That’s something we’re trying to do to make the student-athlete and coach experience better.”
Manifesting the Design
Hazlet’s responsibilities at Yale range from the grand endeavors of uniform design and creative strategy to the gritty task of ordering gear. On a rainy Tuesday afternoon in November, he ordered the bulk of the football gear for 2020’s Team 148, sifting through catalogs in his office and pumping Stock Keeping Unit (SKU) numbers, which identify specific items of apparel, into Google spreadsheets.
Even as Team 147’s 2019 football season is ongoing at any time, Hazlet has already ordered shoes, cleats and gloves for all sports for next year. All the footwear — including Under Armour’s newest HOVR Rise, which 32 teams will wear as their lift shoe for the 2020–21 year — will remain in storage at the Smilow Field Center until July. When November arrives, he is responsible for ordering the bulk of the apparel: Yale football T-shirts — a navy Under Armour T-shirt, color code 410, with the third Yale block logo cast over “football” across the chest — as well as practice shorts, hoodies, sweatpants and more.
Once Under Armour receives the order, the company processes all of Yale’s gear before shipping bundles of navy apparel to Buffalo in early July. Yale outsources its embroidery and wholesale screen printing to a company there called Adpro Sports, one of Under Armour’s biggest wholesale distributors on the East Coast, said Hazlet. Adpro also prints gear for the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and NHL’s Buffalo Sabres.
“July 4 at midnight, your email, your phone just go ‘ding ding ding ding’ for the 700, 800, 900 orders you have,” he said. “It’s every email coming through confirming shipment.”
Adpro applies the Yale branding — one of the five logos on Hazlet’s cheat sheet — to each piece of apparel before repackaging the gear for shipment to New Haven.
Hazlet says he always considers the bigger picture, thinking about how different pieces will fit within each team’s set of gear and among Yale Athletics as a whole. The goal is consistency, and he and Chun see eye to eye in their pursuit of it.
“We think very similarly,” Hazlet said. “But we really try to keep it consistent. Most sports are going to be walking around with a navy or gray backpack with the Yale or the ‘Y’ over the sport name, and when you see lifting T-shirts, you’re going to see a lot of locker tees with Yale over ‘softball’ or Yale over ‘soccer.’ It highlights what team you’re on, but it’s consistent. It’s all Yale.”
Hazlet also aims to order trendy gear, including joggers for the football team’s sweatpants and travel suits with grayscaled logos that depict color intensity with shading. When Hazlet watched Monday Night Football earlier this season, he was pleased to see grayscaled logos on San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan’s jacket and hat appear on the television broadcast. “As long as I can stay cool, I’m happy,” Hazlet says as he fills in his spreadsheet with order info for travel suits.
Hazlet takes feedback from student athletes into account when ordering new gear. Yale kicker Sam Tuckerman ’20, for example, helped inspire a short-sleeved hoodie that Team 147 sported this fall. Miniscule, emboldened navy “Y”s spelled out “147” across the chest of the white hoodie. In late October, Hazlet also hosted an “Armour day” for coaches to browse gear options for next year (a box of sample Notre Dame hats from Under Armour still lives in the corner of his office).
As the Elis posture for a more prominent athletic status, Yale’s traditional aesthetic still reigns. But there’s always room for a creative flair.
Last fall, Hazlet added a unique spin on the Elis’ pregame warmup top for the 136th iteration of the Yale-Harvard football game. Small lyrics from one of Yale’s fight songs — “Goodnight, poor hahvahd, hahvahd, goodnight” — outline a large “Y,” the primary victory “Y” insignia. (Hazlet said he got this idea in the shower, where he often produces his best ideas.)
From afar, however, the warmup top looks like any classic piece of Yale gear: A large, navy “Y” serves as the piece’s centerpiece. Hazlet simply found room for a small flourish of creativity.
“There’s nothing more important to Yale than its tradition,” Hazlet said. “I want to keep tradition on the field, and I’m focusing on how we can make our off-the-field apparel — our extras, our warmups, our shooting shirts — unique and different. I’m never going to change the football uniform. That is Yale. But what guys are wearing on the sideline and what guys are wearing pregame? We want to wear everything else that Auburn, UCLA, Notre Dame are [wearing too].”
William McCormack | firstname.lastname@example.org