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Arizona Football: A subtle way to tell nation, 'Bear Down'

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UA considered a copper-colored turf or a desert motif for its new $1 million field. "But we wanted to do green," AD Greg Byrne said. He thought the faint lettering would hook viewers.

The school's historic catchphrase 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 who 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 fans and their computer search engines - 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 1 1/2 years, 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.

"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."

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 has 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 has found a good balance - a nod to tradition, in a non-traditional way.

"It's 'Bear Down,'" Francis said. "It's not like we were coming up with some new, crazy thing."

On StarNet: Keep up with the Cats on reporter Daniel Berk's blog at

Field of design

The Arizona Wildcats have put their catch phrase, "Bear Down," across 75 yards of Arizona Stadium's new artificial turf. Here's a look at three other college playing surfaces with unique designs.

Boise State's Bronco Stadium

• What it is: "Smurf Turf" - an artificial turf football field in blue, not green.

• Since: 1986

• How it happened: When BSU was set to spend $750,000 on new turf in 1986, athletic director Gene Bleymaier bemoaned the fact that no one would notice. So he suggested blue, and BSU has kept the hue with each new installation of turf since.

• It's a fact: The Broncos went 143-32 on the turf in their first 25 years.

• It's a fun fact: Boise State owns the international trademark for blue football fields; it was featured as one of the Idaho State Historical Museum's list of 150 state icons.

Oregon's Matthew Knight Arena

• What it is: A forest design - from the perspective of someone lying on their back - stenciled on the court.

• Since: 2011

• How it happened: When the Ducks built their new arena, they installed the floor, which salutes the 1939 national title-winning "Tall Firs."

• It's a fact: The court was designed by Tinker Hatfield, Nike's vice president for design and special projects who also crafted Air Jordans and the world's first cross-trainer.

• It's a fun fact: Almost 2 miles of stencils were used for the court's graphics, which took 2,500 man hours to complete.

Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid

• What it is: A design featuring four yellow palm trees with a script "The Beach" at center court.

• Since: 2012

• How it happened: When Long Beach State wanted to give its court a unique look, it chose a design based on the nickname the school uses on its jerseys: "The Beach."

• It's a fact: LBSU went through 50 iterations of the design during the process.

• It's a fun fact: LBSU is the 49ers, but "The Beach" stems from the fact it is the only Division I-A team in America with a beach in the proper name.

Patrick Finley

By the numbers: A Look at the Renovated Arizona Stadium

75 yards

Size of the "ghost lettering" on Arizona Stadium's new artificial turf

$1 million

Cost of Arizona's new synthetic CoolPlay surface, manufactured by FieldTurf

15 to 20 degrees

Temperature difference between regular FieldTurf and its CoolPlay surface

$74 million

Cost to build the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility, which is scheduled to open in July

Aug. 30

Date of Arizona's 2013 season opener against Northern Arizona

Contact reporter Patrick Finley at or 573-4658. On Twitter @PatrickFinley

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