Troika Design Group Rebrands ESPN’s College Football

ESPN’s college-football coverage has a new look this season as the network builds to its exclusive coverage of the Bowl Championship Series. The design, by Troika Design Group, premiered with the football season’s first College Gameday and will culminate with new elements to be created for each of the network’s five BCS games.

ESPN wanted “a strong concept that could not only cover College Gameday but further extend into what we do when we get to the bowl series,” says Troika Design Group Creative Director Gilbert Haslam. “The first challenge was, how do we create this evolving story that is going to unfold as the year progresses.”

He describes the conceptual development, beginning with brainstorming by Troika staffers. “We’ve got quite a few people here who are not only creative types and love to do design and concepting but are also huge college fans,” he notes. Everyone with any experience with college football was asked to weigh in, bringing their perspectives as college football players and fans. “We simply said, ‘what’s going to take us through this journey?’ Everybody had their stories. When you are on campus, there is a journey that takes you through campus. If you’re alumni, what is it like to drive in and show up at the game? And what happens for the team? They are on a journey from day to day, week to week, game by game.”

That process created what Haslam calls a “good conceptual foundation, the journey of the season.”

The designers were after more than visually representing this journey, he adds. “If you’re at a game, you know what it feels like. But we’re not talking to the people at the game. We’re talking to everybody who wishes they were at the game. We want to deliver the same type of experiential feeling that you get when you are going to the game.”

Capturing the Passion
The resulting concept has been named Mania, which Haslam says has two parts: “Outside [of the stadium], it is all the handcrafted signs, the color, and the pageantry and passion for team and team spirit. Inside, you still have as much color, pageantry, and spirit, but there’s much more formation to it.”

The title sequence for College Gameday visually carries the viewer across campus and into a stadium where “we said, let’s take it to a place that gives you a sense of ‘no end is up’,” Haslam explains. The result is what he calls an “Escher-esque look. Everywhere you look, whether it was upside down, left or right, there is some kind of visual barrage that is coming at you. What’s the net takeaway? It’s this frenzy of elation and color, a little surreal, so many visual plays.”

To create the package, Troika involved a team of nearly 50 people from original-concept development to delivery. To create the visuals, the company used a “split-delivery” process, creating on two platforms: the Maxon Cinema 4D and Maya. Adobe After Effects was used for compositing, and design and development work was accomplished using Photoshop and Illustrator.

Haslam says the team “created 100%-original models. There must be at least 60 different typesets for text. We created all the helmets. Everything was double-sided.”

Personal Touch
He admits there was some temptation to put some “secret” messaging in the material. “Everyone said, ‘We gotta put something in there’.” The “something,” he adds, was to pay homage to the development team’s favorite college teams. So, for the Penn State alum, there’s the White Out and a little cardboard standup of legendary coach Joe Paterno. “We represented the Tennessee Vols. And we had one guy whose family was a divided house between Florida State and the [University of Florida] Gators. There are those two helmets in the scene.”

There are also hand-painted signs, including one reading “We Love ESPN.”

“ESPN is a partner [in this project],” says Haslam. “Nobody can take on a package of this scale and magnitude without a great creative collaboration. [ESPN] put us in the right place to solve the problem and put more soul into college football. They set us up for success.”

As the season progresses, Troika will be creating additional elements and team-specific specialty graphics, ultimately focusing on the teams playing in the BCS bowl games. Troika will “develop a few of the signature elements. [ESPN’s] internal team is so robust and so talented that they will take what we do and they’ll ripple it through a series of elements,” Haslam says.

“This is going to continue to grow,” he adds, “so it feels exciting every week.”