Fixing an Athletics Identity Crisis

by Patrick Stone
Bristol Community College
Fall River, MA

Let’s start at the beginning.

We had a brand crisis at Bristol Community College in Massachusetts. This brand crisis led to an identity crisis and, subsequently, a communications crisis. Since 2007, our athletics program had been named the “Bristol Bees,” a college mascot that predated athletics and, oddly enough, won a naming contest when the program was revived in 2007 after several decades on hiatus.

Before long, BCC athletics started to take off as a statewide power in men’s and women’s soccer and basketball. It should have been a great recruitment and retention tool. Something to engage students both old and new. Too bad the brand identity was shoved in a proverbial locker and the key was thrown away.

Turns out, our student-athletes, coaches, and – yes – some administrators really didn’t want to be bees. From day one, they ignored the brand, the name and the logo. For a long time, the college treated athletics and our student-athletes like that guy who works down the hall whose name you’ve forgotten. “Keep up the good work…you!”

College communications decided to step in and address the need. And that’s what it was: a need. Athletics is far too important from a student engagement, recruitment and retention standpoint to have a brand identity that they didn’t use or enjoy. The brand identity, in many ways, has the potential power to create college pride among all our audiences. Our goal was to speak with stakeholders at the college and rebuild the athletics brand into something everyone on campus could rally behind.

For 18 months, we met with everybody. And I mean everybody: students, student-athletes, coaches, assistant coaches, faculty, staff, administration – anybody who wanted to give us feedback on what our athletics brand could and should be.

Many (many, many) team name suggestions and conversations about fierce-looking animals later, we had an answer. We would become the “Bristol Bayhawks.” New name, new logo, new color palette, new style guide, new everything. What we have now is, hopefully, something students can be proud of and a brand that can grow with the athletics program and the entire college community. It’s already been a massive hit with students, staff and faculty in just its first few weeks – a huge turnaround from where we came from.

What started as a frustrating exercise in hearing about how wrong our brand was turned into a remarkably rewarding communications success story. Brand crises, especially large ones, can loom over our heads like a leaky ceiling. You know it’s eventually coming down, it’s just a real pain to do something about it

Consider this a reminder that those long-avoided projects that make you roll your eyes and clench your fists are, at least sometimes, worth it.

Patrick Stone is associate director of marketing and communications at Bristol Community College in Fall River, Massachusetts.

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