The Transformation of University Sport in Canada Discover the new brand

The Canadian university sports scene is well overdue for much earned and deserved recognition. Sport at the university level in Canada has been underappreciated and undervalued for too long, and that is a problem Graham Brown, David Goldstein, and the rest of the U Sports team intend to fix. In hopes of creating a positive change, this group launched a rebrand of the organization formerly known as the Canadian Interuniversity Sport – Sport Interuniversitaire Canadien (CIS-SIC), will now be known as U Sports, a brand recognizable by both French and English speaking individuals. The new brand’s main intention is to give student-athletes in Canada visibility and appreciation which they deserve, and they intend to do this by using the means of technology in a digital era. The U Sports team has claimed that they want to revitalize Canada’s place in the national sports, but many people are skeptical after not hearing much since the official brand launch. University sport in Canada has undergone two rebrands in recent history from the CIAU, to the CIS-SIC, and now to U Sports. The question is will this new brand have what it takes to put Canadian university sport on the map, or will it fall short of the goal once again? U Sports Chief Operating Officer sheds some light into the reasoning behind decisions made by the U Sports organization, as well he reassures the new brand will make a difference.

Official U Sports rebrand video, "Introducing U Sports"

Canadian university sports have grown significantly over many decades, but the CIS-SIC will no longer be a part of its progress – instead, the brand transitions under a new name: U Sports. U Sports Chief Executive Officer, Graham Brown, announced the launch of the new brand on Thursday, October 20, 2016.

“There is a ton of professional sport in Canada, there is a ton of high-level amateur sport in Canada, we are just trying to be more present, be more top-of-mind, and that’s a constant challenge, to be a part of that sport landscape,” said David Goldstein, Chief Operating Officer of U Sports.

Now under a new name, with a new logo, and ongoing reconstruction of their new website, U Sports is the future of university sport in Canada. U Sports replaces the Canadian Interuniversity Sport – Sport Interuniversitaire Canadien (CIS-SIC), which replaced the Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union (CIAU) in 2001. The new name is identical in both French and English, representing both of Canada’s official languages.

“I think one of the interesting things about the new branding is that it seems to be student centered and athlete centered, and I think that is really positive,” commented Carleton Ravens head football coach, Steve Sumarah. “In the CIS, one of the challenges has been that they haven’t promoted the student athlete, so there is no connection between fans, and who these athletes are.”

One problem which appeared after transitioning from the CIAU to the CIS-SIC, was that the brand lost the human-interest aspect of varsity sport. Rather, people associated the name as more of an administrative body. The new brand hopes to keep doing the tasks which people associate them with, but also wants to be a more athlete-centered organization.

“Our student-athletes are doing their job – they excel academically, […] they are doing their job athletically, the level of play across the board is far better than I think the casual sports fan realizes,” explained Goldstein. “Our job is to do all of the things that we are already known for – we need to keep a level playing field, keep recruiting fair, keep a strong eligibility and compliance framework – but more than anything we need to shine a brighter spotlight on these student athletes to get the causal sports fans to recognize university sport in Canada, and really change how it is viewed. It is not just an administrative body, but a sports property.”

U Sports oversees 56 different schools, so launching an entire rebrand cannot be expected to happen overnight. With little resources, the executive team is working to make the transition process as quick and smooth as possible.

For a map of Canadian University's which are members of U Sports, click the following link.

“In large part, because of resources, we can’t do what they call a turn-key rebrand,” stated Goldstein. “If a national restaurant wanted to change its name, they would have all the resources in the world to do something, and execute it so that overnight, every sign is changed, every reference is changed, and by the next day, you can’t find the old name, because it has been obliterated. One of the challenges is that we don’t have those resources. We also have 56 schools that we have to engage, and they need to make the changes as well.”

"We also have 56 schools that we have to engage, and they need to make the changes as well."

This is one of the concerns which was expressed by University of Ottawa Communications Representative, Carlos Verde, upon hearing of the rebrand.

“The thing is because each individual institution has a unique budget, and place in the local media picture, it really depends on a school-to-school basis. I don’t think there will be an across the board pick up from this,” Carlos Verde explained. “It is tough to get all of the schools, and members of the institution on message, especially on the budgets that exist in Canadian Interuniversity Sport today. I think overall the idea was right, but the execution was lacking for just the decision to unveil it on a random Thursday in the middle of October.”

One of the negative remarks made surrounding the rebrand was in relation to the launch, and the timing of it. Goldstein explained that there never truly is a perfect time for something as big as a complete rebrand. He shed some light on how the team came to the consensus of launching during the football season:

“I think there is never a perfect time for something that big. If you look at a month before, our athletic departments and students are completely distracted with orientation week, the starting of their seasons, and there is very little time in terms of bandwidths as far as efforts to be given. If you do it later, after Vanier and New Years, we’ve lost the momentum of our biggest event, which is Vanier Cup. Obviously if you do it in the late spring or summer, you are missing students. We looked at a lot of different places, there was never a perfect one, and we just determined that getting it done in advance of the Vanier Cup to help build up to it was the best scenario for us.”

While this may make clear the reasoning for launching late October, some people still are not fond of the rebrand. Much of the negative feedback has been about the new name, U Sport.

“I think there is a lot wrong with the CIS and how it’s been marketed or branded for a long time,” said fourth-year McMaster University quarterback, Asher Hastings, “but, the name certainly was not the problem.”

A lot of individuals feel that if the company aspires to be more like professional leagues, then they too should have an acronym for their name. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is a company which U Sports looks up to in terms of recognition in the world of post-secondary level sport, and their name has an acronym.

“It was viewed as critical to create a name that was bilingual and concise, get a logo that was easy to use, easy to identify with, and U Sports was all of those things. It’s just one part of changing what we are doing, but it is a big part,” explained Goldstein.

Overall, the feedback has been mostly positive, and people are looking forward to seeing what the future holds for Canadian university sport in the hands U Sports.

“It’s tough to get four people to agree where to go to dinner, let alone hundreds of thousands of people to agree what a logo and name should be. We never expected it to be unanimous, but it has been overwhelmingly positive.”

“People are fired up, people are psyched. It was so much work to get it there, and so validating to hear from people that are excited to wear the logo, to say the name […] There are some people that don’t like that we changed it at all, some that don’t like what we changed it to,” said Goldstein, “It’s tough to get four people to agree where to go to dinner, let alone hundreds of thousands of people to agree what a logo and name should be. We never expected it to be unanimous, but it has been overwhelmingly positive.”

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