June 29, 2013 10:00 pm • Patrick Finley Arizona Daily Star1
The school’s historic catch phrase stretches across 75 yards of Arizona Stadium’s new artificial grass field.
“Bear Down” is imprinted In a fainter shade of green than the rest of the newly installed, $1 million FieldTurf project.
The school calls it “ghost lettering,” and it’s meant to appeal to both fans and those that don’t know boo about the UA.
That’s the point, actually.
Imagine someone flipping through TV channels while sitting on a couch in Arkansas, and seeing “Bear Down” across the Arizona Stadium field.
“In a perfect world, I think it leads them to ask the question, ‘What is that?’” said UA senior associate athletic director James Francis. “It leads them to do some research.
“But in general, like anything else, it makes them think about, and talk about, Arizona.”
That conversation — be it among people, or between a fan and their computer search engine — is the essence of marketing.
“People remember things that are different and unique,” UA athletic director Greg Byrne said.
Soon, the UA will have a way to chart who is grabbed by the “Bear Down” field logo.
The Wildcats’ website tells the story of “Bear Down,” the phrase uttered by football and baseball star John “Button” Salmon on his deathbed in 1926. Before this football season, the UA wants to make that page the top choice when one searches “Bear Down” on the Internet.
On game days, the UA plans to use Google analytics to see how many fans nationwide looked at the page, presumably intrigued by the phrase they saw on their television screens while watching football.
For the past year-and-a-half, the UA has been stressing “Bear Down” as a part of a specific marketing plan. The phrase is on lightpost banners and printed materials, on the front page of the UA web site and hashtagged on Twitter.
“We want to make it more consistently used,” Francis said.
UA administrators compare “Bear Down” to Auburn University’s “War Eagle” cheer, which gained further national recognition when the Tigers won the BCS national title in January 2011.
Both “Bear Down” and “War Eagle” might confuse the uninitiated, in that the phrases contain mascot names that have nothing to do with their teams.
But both slogans are unique, and unique sells.
“I think this gives us a great opportunity to get that discussion going again,” Byrne said. “At Auburn, they say ‘War Eagle,’ and for us, it’s ‘Bear Down.’ It has special meaning and significance for us. This will be an idea to reinforce that …
“We wanted to do something that fits our history and our university, and, at the same time, was something new and different.”
Members of the UA athletic department considered different ways to make the new turf unique — the way blue turf has become synonymous with Boise State or Oregon’s forest pattern has made Matthew Knight Arena unmistakable.
The Wildcats wanted to be eye-catching, but not gaudy.
In creative sessions, they looked at, briefly, using copper-colored turf or a design with a desert motif.
“But we wanted to do green,” Byrne said.
The UA considered alternating shades of green every 5 yards, like Oregon’s Autzen Stadium; putting “Bear Down” in the north end zone; and positioning the “Block A” inside an outline of the state.
Football coach Rich Rodriguez liked an in-house design with the word “Wildcats” painted in navy, length-wise, across the field.
Splitting the word was odd, though, and administrators wanted to keep the “Block A” in the middle of the field.
“Bear Down,” however, could be positioned on either side of the “A.” The color was switched to faint green.
“Subtle and classy,” Francis said. “Yet it’s prominent.”
Rodriguez “was very open” to the design, Byrne said. Fans seem to be too — the athletic director said reaction to the lettering been 90 percent positive. Most of fans’ concerns have to do with Arizona playing on artificial turf for the first time in program history, not what’s painted on the new field.
The cost of the “Bear Down” job was folded into the field’s bill of about $1 million, and, Francis said, wasn’t a significant cost.
There’s no way to quantify the marketing value.
The UA believes it’s found a good balance — a nod to tradition, in an non-traditional way.
“It’s ‘Bear Down,’” Francis said. “It’s not like we were coming up with some new, crazy thing.”
Contact reporter Patrick Finley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4658. On Twitter @PatrickFinley.