This article is part one of two in a series on BYU's decision to change its colors in the late 1990's from royal blue to navy blue. In this article, Ryan Teeples examines the history behind BYU's decision and how BYU arrived at where it is today in terms of branding and marketing.
BYU fans are passionate about their teams.
And they’re passionate about the colors those teams play in.
Recently, an editor suggested that an article on the business side of BYU’s color changes over the years would make an interesting story. But it was a tweet from BYU fan Zach Bloxham (@zbloxham) that really sold the idea.
His tweet included a 2005 picture of again-offensive coordinator Robert Anae at practice with an assistant in the foreground sporting the 1999-2004 team gear. (It's the photo at the top of this article.)
The image caused an instant double take. It was incongruous to see a coach who represents BYU’s recent tradition of winning in the navy oval Y gear, juxtaposed in the same frame with that what-in-the-heck-were-they-thinking?, tan-accented train-wreck apparel. It was gear that spawned BYU’s worst football seasons since Richard Nixon was in the White House. Not to mention that frightening logo that looked like the BYU Y trying to hula hoop.
The pain of those years behind, questions remain to be considered: Why did BYU change the school colors in 1999? What has been the overall effect of these moves from a business standpoint? Have fans fully embraced the navy blue?
It’s important to note that BYU football wore a navy blue color for most of the 1950s and '60s. It was during the '70s that royal blue uniforms made their debut, which coincided with the beginning of a winning football tradition.
That winning tradition and corresponding use of the royal blue continued unabated until that fateful 1999 season.
Legend has it that it started when BYU played at Alabama in August 1998. BYU brass attended the game in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and witnessed 83,818 men, women and children all decked out in crimson.
When making the comparison to the “Skittles” rainbow of colors evident on game day at then-Cougar Stadium, it was evident BYU and its fans had much room for improvement.
So BYU embarked on a thorough market research study.
"The decision to move to a darker blue was not entered into lightly," Deseret News BYU beat writer Jeff Call reported John Lewis, BYU associate advancement vice president of alumni, as confirming back in 2004. Lewis was heavily involved in research related to changing the colors.
"Over a 24-month process, the school conducted numerous surveys and focus groups. BYU also retained the services of a New York City-based firm,” Call wrote.
The result of those studies was a change of the BYU school colors to pantone 648 (“Cougar blue”) and a tan accent color.
Say what you want about the execution of the colors in regard to football uniforms — I’ll say it: It's awful — the numbers show navy blue has been a winner.
"The gauge we look at is the number of fans who are wearing the new colors," Vale Hale said back in 2004. "From all indications, it's been a huge success. People are wearing the dark blue not only at games, but also around town. The problem before was, we couldn't get people to wear royal blue."
Despite the poor performance of BYU football in those new colors, fans bought the gear. And it wasn’t because of the new logos or tan trimmings.
Enter Bronco Mendenhall in 2005. Bringing a call to uphold the tradition of BYU past, the new head coach and subsequent athletic director Tom Holmoe brought about change yet again.
The team made a return to the uniform style and logo of its winning history, electing though to keep to the university’s official color, resulting in the navy blue unis fans see today (minus the tan trim, mercifully).
Today, the school’s official colors do retain that tan accent, but certainly not as it was in those dark early days of this millennium. In fact, the official BYU web style guide states that “tan should be used very sparingly or (even better) not at all.”
This article is part one of two in a series on BYU's decision to change its colors in the early 2000's from royal blue to navy blue. In part two, Ryan Teeples takes a closer look at the impact the color change has had on BYU's culture and how the branding change could affect the future of BYU athletics.