Celebrating 50 years of the Longhorn logo

Benjamin Smith

It’s probably fair to say that most of the nearly 102,000 people that walk through the gates of Darrell K Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium on Saturdays have no idea who Darrell K Royal is. Born in 1924 in Hollis, Okla., Royal was an athlete for the University of Oklahoma, playing both defensive back and quarterback for the school’s football team from 1946 to 1949. Taking over the reins as head coach of the University of Texas in 1957, he coached the team for 20 seasons — winning national championships in 1963, 1969 and 1970, and compiling a career record of 184-60-5, making him the winningest coach in Texas football history.

Royal was also one of the first people to understand the importance branding could play in managing an athletic team’s image. In 1961, he asked local sporting-goods merchant William “Rooster” Andrews to design a logo for UT’s football team. The crayon drawing Andrews returned to Royal is the same logo that has graced the side of University of Texas football helmets ever since — 50 years this past Friday.

The only change made to that logo in its half-century of existence was a slight change in color in 1962 from the lighter orange previously used by Texas athletics to the burnt orange of today. The lighter orange had a tendency to fade to a washed-out, yellowish tinge, which resulted in UT teams being referred to as “yellow bellies” — a term Royal sought to do away with by shifting to the deeper shade. Burnt orange, or Pantone 159, was adopted as the official color of the University in 1967.

The September-October issue of the Alcalde, UT’s alumni magazine, features an article on the history of the Longhorn logo by James I. Bowie. In the article, the Hall-of-Fame coach discusses the proliferation of his innovative “flip-flop” blocking scheme. Royal’s forward-thinking understanding of the intersection of advertising and sports is explicitly clear: “The flip-flop gained national prominence not because of its explosive results, but because its name is a form of advertising,” Royal said according to the article. “And who says it doesn’t pay to advertise? In Colorado, there are 30 mountains taller than Pike’s Peak. Name one.”

Michael J. Cramer, senior lecturer in the Department of Advertising and program director of the Texas Program in Sports and Media, says that the conceptualization of a sports team as a brand was virtually unheard of at the time Royal was UT’s head coach.

“I was a kid growing up in New York, so I was a Yankees fan, and I loved that ‘NY,’” he said. “It was the pinstripes and the history, but you couldn’t buy a hat. You couldn’t buy a jersey with the ‘NY’ on it that you see all over the place — you couldn’t get it. You could get programs, you could get bobblehead dolls, you could get pens, little tiny bats, you could get pennants — you couldn’t buy a hat or anything of consequence with the logo on it right through the 1970s. Sports didn’t market their brands or understand how to market their brands. Some of them, like the Yankees and Texas — and we couldn’t say that about a lot of them — some of them, like the Yankees and Texas, had these unique logos, and it was just something you latched onto.”

Cramer, a former president of the Texas Rangers and Dallas Stars, explained that it wasn’t until the 1980s that sports marketing really came into its own with the advent of cable television. Networks such as ESPN, which became one of the first cable networks in 1979, helped sports teams transcend their local markets to become national entities, and in 1981 the Collegiate Licensing Company was founded to provide trademark and licensing services to collegiate institutions looking to market their brand. Today, nearly 200 colleges, universities, bowl games and athletic conferences use its services. According to financial information released on the CLC’s website, the University of Texas has been the company’s No. 1 source of income (by way of trademark royalties) for every fiscal year since 2005.

In 2009, an article published in Forbes magazine valued the Texas Longhorn football program alone at $119 million, making it the most valuable NCAA team in any college sport. The same article reported that the team turned a $59 million profit that year. The University itself earns more than $10 million annually from merchandise sales, nearly all of it branded with the distinguishing Longhorn logo.

“Texas, they’ve got that burnt orange that’s different than anybody else, and you combine that with that simple logo,” Cramer said. “Nobody else has got burnt orange, and nobody else you know has that great logo. When you combine that with TV, marketing and being good, it’s amazing what that logo has become.” 

Printed on Monday, September 26, 2011 as: Darrell K. Royal's influence remains evident 50 years later