The strongest brand in the MAC
It’s January 2, 2017, just minutes before the clock hits noon.
Fifty percent of AT&T Stadium, perhaps the modern mecca of the sport of football, is enveloped in brown, gold, and black. After pregame warm-ups and festivities conclude, this large allotment of spectators begins chanting three words. Each reiteration of the chant — “Row the Boat” — was deafening. Something special was brewing for a football program playing on its grandest stage in history.
It was chilling. 1,100 miles away from Kalamazoo, an upstart program from the Mid-American Conference lured thousands of spectators into the heart of the Dallas metroplex. Outside the stadium that morning, fans were greeting each other with “Row the Boat” to prepare for Western Michigan’s most crucial game in program history. A community was formed, a common language was understood, and a new brand was infiltrating the college football universe.
The “Row the Boat” moniker was concocted by former head coach P.J. Fleck, who originally began using the three words as a “never give up” mantra to persevere through a moment of grief in his personal life. When Fleck left to Minnesota, the slogan traveled with him.
The oars and canoe-themed uniforms were removed from the locker rooms, signifying it was time for change. Western Michigan unveiled a simplified set of helmets, jerseys, and pants to rock on gamedays to usher in the 2017 season. Even the beloved Buster Bronco mascot — whose headgear was donned by Lee Corso in a College GameDay episode in 2016 — was revamped. After a historic 13-1 season which drew national recognition, Western Michigan’s image rapidly changed.
Significant changes on the way
After four years of searching for a new identity, the Broncos are committing to a new rebranding effort. Western Michigan University’s official YouTube quietly released a video explain its visual identity refresh on Dec. 6. The video has under 1,300 views at the time this article was published, so the Broncos’ revamped identity definitely is flying under the radar.
“Over time our marks and colors have fractured and strayed from a core and consistent identity,” Tony Proudfoot, the Vice President of Marketing and Strategic Communication of Western Michigan University, states in the video. “Using multiple versions of our logo and a variety of colors weakens our overall brand.”
Proudfoot announces in the video that Western Michigan reduced its number of official colors from seven to two — brown and gold — the colors which are cited in the fight song and alma mater. However, the “gold” referenced strays from the shade of gold used in recent years. The gold is now a hue of Vegas gold (similar to the Pittsburgh Steelers) instead of metallic gold (similar to the New Orleans Saints).
In addition to reducing the color palette, a new logo was rolled out — not only to represent the university, but also to serve as the primary logo for athletics programs. Instead of a Bronco, the new logo will be a gold “W” enclosed in a brown circle.
“Moving forward, this mark will represent all of Western Michigan University, including athletics,” Proudfoot says in the video. “It will unify our brand, bringing together all aspects of the institution.”
Western Michigan is not completely disposing of its bronco imagery. The university redesigned the bronco head icon using the new color scheme to be a secondary logo for athletics. The bronco may not be at the forefront of things anymore, but here is a look at the reimagined “Ghost Bronco” logo, with Vegas gold accents and a border around the equine creature. Additionally, the bronco now faces to the right, as most animal head logos in college football and the NFL currently do.
Proudfoot states that transitioning to the new marks will be done as “cost effectively as possible, because all the design work and testing was completed internally” by a team of seven Western Michigan alumni with 200+ years of combined graphic design experience.
The video concludes by hinting that the new marks are expected to fully take over the campus by next fall.
Branding changes can be difficult for fans. Even when Buster Bronco’s design was altered in 2017, a petition was released to bring back the old Buster.
Similarly, it doesn’t seem like too many Western Michigan fans, alumni, and athletes are thrilled about the use of the gold “W” in the brown circle as the primary icon for athletics, as demonstrated by Twitter reactions.
I wish WMU would stop pushing their "W" logo down the athletic department's throat. We are the Broncos. If you don't allow the Bronco, you are destroying the athletic department's identity. pic.twitter.com/REw84XpSQF— Michael Monitz (@MichaelMonitz) May 29, 2021
Couldn’t agree more. As players we take pride in representing the Western Michigan Broncos. We take pride in our Bronco logo and I’m sure our fans do too, this unfortunately is not it. https://t.co/2qzYsmS9oa— Jarred White (@1whitey8) May 31, 2021
I don’t know when Western Michigan went with this very plain W in a brown circle for a logo but I am not a fan. The athletics logo is way more boss.— Karen Zaruba (@kzannarbor) April 8, 2021
As shown in one of the tweets above, the new primary logo has already been emblazoned on center ice in Lawson Arena — Western Michigan’s on-campus hockey rink. Barring increased backlash from the fanbase, we should see a new batch of uniforms released this fall for the football team incorporating the new color scheme and logos. However, backlash has prevented rebrands before. In 2010, Michigan State’s attempt to change their spartan logo was thwarted by the outcry of fans, students, and alumni.
One other issue referenced on Twitter is that the branding may not be recognized as Western Michigan. After altering the color scheme and replacing metallic gold with Vegas gold, Western Michigan shares its palette with Wyoming, which, unfortunately for Broncos’ faithful, also begins with “W”. For college football fans unaware of this quiet rebrand, is that brown and gold “W” going to be recognized as Western Michigan when the Broncos take the field this fall?
Chime in MAC fans and Bronco fans — what are your thoughts on Western Michigan’s current rebranding process?
Reaction to Western Michigan’s rebrand?
This poll is closed
Love the simplified colored scheme, love the W logo
Love the simplified colored scheme, hate the W logo
Old color scheme and logo were better