Sunday, August 30, 2009

Virginia Tech and UVa: Trademarks and tradition before the football begins

The current University of Virginia and Virginia Tech logos were commissioned by a couple of coaches and designed by former students.

"I wish I had a penny — just a penny — for every piece of apparel sold with that logo," Chris Craft said of the "streamlined" VT.

In 1984 Chris Craft and fellow Virginia Tech architecture student Lisa Eichler shared first prize in a competition to design a new logo for the Hokies. The 2009 season will represent the 25th anniversary of the

JAY PAUL Special to The Roanoke Times

In 1984 Chris Craft and fellow Virginia Tech architecture student Lisa Eichler shared first prize in a competition to design a new logo for the Hokies. The 2009 season will represent the 25th anniversary of the "streamlined" VT logo.

Chances are, some University of Virginia fans are familiar with Matt Welsh, son of former UVa football coach George Welsh.

Less recognizable to Virginia Tech supporters is William Christopher "Chris" Craft, a former Roanoker and 1983 graduate of Patrick Henry High School.

"If you did a Google search for my name, probably the first thing to come up would be a boat," said Craft, now the business manager for a Richmond catering company.

Yes, Chris-Craft is among the first names in powerboating, but, when it comes to brand identification, the other Chris Craft has notable credentials of his own.

In 1984, Craft and fellow Virginia Tech architecture student Lisa Eichler shared first prize in a competition to design a new Hokies logo.

"I wish I had a penny -- just a penny -- for every piece of apparel sold with that logo," Craft said. "Maybe I signed something that gave Tech the rights to it. I can't remember. I didn't think there was too much to it at the time."

No celebrations are planned, but the 2009 season will represent the 25th anniversary of that logo, originally described as the "streamlined" VT. Another anniversary takes place in Charlottesville, where the V-sabers logo was conceived in 1994.

Remarkably, the logos were commissioned by a couple of football coaches, Welsh and Bill Dooley, who won a lot of games and helped change the football culture of their respective programs, although neither was known for a sense of fashion.

"I don't think my dad was naturally inclined that way," Matt Welsh said.

However, his father had never been wild about some of UVa's traditions. He didn't like the nickname "Cavaliers" and was turned off by the extensive use of orange in athletics gear.

"I wanted to change the uniforms," said George Welsh, who had come to UVa from the Naval Academy. "I wanted to go to predominantly blue. I wanted to change the helmets. I never liked the helmets. So, I talked to Matthew and said, 'See what you can come up with.' "

Matt Welsh, then 25, had graduated from UVa with a degree in studio art.

"I probably rolled my eyes," he said. "I'd run a few things by him over the years, but he never liked them, so I was like, 'Are you really going to consider it?' "

Crossed sabers beneath a block "V" was an immediate hit with the old man.

"I liked it a lot," George Welsh said. "I don't think our president [John Casteen] liked it, but a couple people in the administration told me, 'I think your son hit a home run.' "

Merchandising wasn't the multimillion dollar industry in 1994 that it is now. Virginia Tech now has an office of licensing and trademarks, but in 1984, there were just a few guys and gals sitting around a table.

All they knew was, they wanted to get rid of the design that had a small "T" inside a larger "V." To this day, it's known as the "TV" logo.

"We weren't on television very much in those days," Tech sports information director Dave Smith said. "A [television] producer came in here once and said, 'Look, they're so happy to see us that they put the initials "TV" on the middle of the field."

Dooley, also the athletic director, had hired Jeff Charles as the Hokies radio voice and added "promotions director" to his job responsibilities. With Dooley's support, Charles staged a promotion to come up with a new logo.

On the other side of campus, Bob Fields, a professor in the visual arts school, got wind of the campaign and thought it would make an interesting assignment for his graphic design class.

It was Fields' recollection that the contest offered a $500 prize and that the winner's share was split between Craft and Eichler. Fields was responsible for the final version, a slanted "T" attached to a "V," that had elements of both Craft's and Eichler's designs.

"We were both trying to win the prize," Craft said. "I don't remember exactly, but I think hers had a curve at one end and, on mine, the original VT was a little bit flared out on the left side."

What Craft does remember, very distinctly, is that the reward was not $250.

"It was $50, a whopping $50," he said. "The total prize was $50 but since the two designs were so alike, they gave us each $50. I should have held out for season tickets."

Craft said he hasn't seen Eichler, a former architecture student, in more than 20 years. He doesn't know where to find her and neither does Fields, who came to Tech in 1976 and remained on the Tech faculty through the 2008-09 school year.

Craft describes himself as a "huge" Hokies fan who has season football tickets.

"Every once in awhile, somebody new will come to our tailgate, and it will come up, 'This is the guy that helped design the VT logo,' and people are like, 'No way,' " Craft said.

"I have to say, 'Well, yeah, and I got $50 for it.' "

It could have been worse. Welsh said he received no compensation for designing the V-sabers logo, although he later turned it into an online business venture,

Carolyn Davidson, the Portland State student who designed the Nike "swoosh" in 1971, got $35 for her efforts.

"Yeah, but I hear she went back and got a bucket of money," Craft said. "You know, I held onto that project for a long time. God only knows where it is now. I got a B-minus on it."

Merchandising was such a novel concept that, in 1989, then-Tech athletic director Dave Braine asked for a meeting with Fields to see if the logo had been copyrighted. Turns out, it hadn't.

Part of Locke White's responsibility as Tech's director of licensing and merchandising is to protect against trademark infringements related to the VT logo and close to 10 other trademarked items, including the Virginia Tech seal and the Hokie Bird.

Nine ACC athletic programs belong to Collegiate Licensing Inc., while Tech and such programs as Ohio State handle their own licensing. Texas headed the CLI rankings in 2007 with royalties from merchandising and apparel estimated at $8.2 million.

"Shows you what a lame businessman I was," said Fields, poking fun at himself. "I should have requested 10 percent up front."

Ten years ago, when White came to Virginia Tech, yearly licensing revenues were in the $250,000 range. Last year, that figure was $1.5 million. UVa was slightly over $800,000, but that should change with an increase from 8.5 percent to 10 percent in its royalty rate.

"I couldn't tell you how much revenue comes in from the VT logo," White said. "We don't have it broken down that way, but the vast majority [of sales] involve the logo.

"I don't think we'll be changing it anytime soon, but there's a lot to be said for the success of the teams and people's love for the university. I imagine, if we were using the quote-unquote 'TV logo,' it would be doing pretty well now, too."

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