United States: Roll Tide And Go Cards: The Phenomena Of College Sports Branding

Last Updated: March 23 2015
Article by Jack A. Wheat

That great month-long United States collegiate sports spectacle, the 68 team NCAA BASKETBALL® championship tournament, known as MARCH MADNESS® or THE BIG DANCE® is again upon us. This is the 77th year of the event. NCAA BASKETBALL® and MARCH MADNESS® as well as THE BIG DANCE® are registered trademarks of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

The perspective on the event readily apparent to us here at TRADEMARKOLOGY is the ubiquitous role trademarks such as college nicknames, slogans, mascots and other brand insignia play in collegiate sports. The title of this blog, Roll Tide and Go Cards, is a flashback to 2013 when the University of Alabama "Crimson Tide" won the collegiate national football championship and the institution where I attended law school, the University of Louisville "Cardinals" won the NCAA BASKETBALL® championship.

In addition to winning the respective collegiate national championships in 2013, the Crimson Tide has won more football championships than you can count on one hand and the Louisville Cardinals (affectionately referred to as "UofL" or the "Cards" for short) have won 3 of the 76 NCAA BASKETBALL® championships leading up to the 77th MARCH MADNESS® now unfolding in basketball arenas across the United States.

A book could be, and probably has been written on the history of sports team nicknames and slogans. Legend has it that in 1907, Hugh Roberts, a Sports Editor for the Birmingham Age-Herald bestowed the Crimson Tide nickname on Alabama following a 6-6 tie in a football game between Bama and its now arch-rival, Auburn University. The game apparently was played on a quite muddy field in which the red clay so prevalent in the south stained the Bama athletes' white jerseys. So the pack of Bama players running across the field, according to the sportswriter, resembled a "crimson tide." From there, the legend continues, as the players were running onto the field before games, the fans starting cheering, "Roll Tide."

UofL's adoption of Cardinals as their mascot is easy to presume. Cardinals are the official state bird for the Commonwealth of Kentucky of which Louisville is the largest city. (Actually children in Kentucky are taught that the state bird is the Kentucky Cardinal,which caused me a bit of grief during my undergraduate days as a student at Hanover College, located in Indiana. There, I once referred to such a bird as a Kentucky Cardinal and was ridiculed by my classmates from Indiana. Apparently the Cardinal is also the state bird for Indiana, as well as other adjoining states: Illinois, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina.)

There is something fearsome and unique about the UofL Cardinal. This was pointed out to me when I was in Arizona back in 1991 to attend the Fiesta Bowl football contest in which my Cardinals whipped the Alabama Crimson Tide by a score of 34-7. The day after that game, I met a Phoenix local who pointed out to me that unlike the National Football Team known as the Cardinals, the Louisville Cardinalhas teeth. Compare –

This Cardinal "with teeth" insignia has been the principle UofL athletics mark for as long as I can remember. The University has done a splendid job capitalizing on the mark and has a long history of utilizing this principle mark as what we trademark lawyers refer to as a "fluid mark." That is to say, UofL has leveraged this mark into an interesting assortment of other marks which include variations on the principle mark. For instance, a common contemporary variation on the mark is one I refer to as the "Angry Cardinal" shown here –

Other "fluid" variations on the principle Cardinal "with teeth" mark merchandised by UofL in the past have included the "Prancing Cardinal" and the "Football running Back Cardinal."

And, of course, there is the "Basketball Dunking Cardinal." The Cards are, after all, known as the "Doctors of Dunk," a tribute to the University's 1980 NCAA BASKETBALL® championship team which featured the John Wooden Award winning national player of the year, Darryl Griffith, "the Griff."

As an aside, I might as well admit that another reason I selected Bama and the Cards as the theme of this blog is a tribute to my cousin Chuck Wheat who lives outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Cousin Chuck is a bigtime Alabama football fan. Cousin Chuck is a wise man, he loves to support winners, so I have turned him into a UofL Cards basketball fan. He in turn, has inspired me to be a Bama football fan (at least for the time being until they ever again play my Cards). He has memorialized this pact in the creation below—that's me on the left, Cousin Chuck on the right.

Back to the subject at hand, it's time for MARCH MADNESS®, the 77th version of which has just begun. My Cardinals' opening game is Friday afternoon against the University of California Irvine. We salute UC Irvine which this year is making its first appearance in THE BIG DANCE®. I don't know what to think of their nickname though, the Anteaters? This author has not a clue why they selected such a critter as a mascot. Oh well, let the madness begin, and–


The lawyers at Trademarkology provide trademark registration services backed by the experience and service of one of the nation's oldest law firms. Click here to begin the process of protecting your brand name with a federally registered trademark.

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Jack A. Wheat
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