New Arizona State U. Mascot Goes Back to the Publicly Juried Drawing Board

Three weeks after introducing an updated costume for its Sparky the Sun Devil mascot, Arizona State University is going back to the drawing board for a new new look—this one to be determined by popular vote.

Last week the university was still playing down the protests against the new mascot costume, rolled out on March 1. ASU attributed the outcry against the anime-ish redesign to a small but vocal minority of students, alumni, and fans whose displeasure was amplified by social media.

But on Tuesday the university announced that it would redesign the mascot costume’s head based on the votes of “members of the Sun Devil community,” according to a written statement. The new new look will be unveiled at Arizona State’s first football game this fall.

Software is being designed to allow those on the university’s mailing list to vote online in about four weeks on specific features of the mascot’s costume. For example, the statement says, “the program is expected to offer a choice between maroon and black horns, different sizes and shapes for the eyes, face-shape choices that include a less prominent chin, and options for the moustache and goatee.”

Terri Shafer, associate vice president for marketing and strategic communications, acknowledged that an online vote on individual features amounted to a referendum on the new mascot’s look versus the previous Sparky costume, itself an updated extrapolation of the original 1946 character’s design.

“If you want the updated costume to stay completely true to the 1946 image and not have any updated features, that’s what we want to know,” she said.

The Sun Devils agitating against the new Sparky on Facebook and other social media didn’t make the university reverse course, Ms. Shafer said. Nonetheless, despite conducting a number of focus groups as part of the redesign process, university officials were concerned “that there might be a larger group that wasn’t being vocal and had concerns about the costume and were not expressing those opinions directly.”

Asked what lessons there might be for other institutions pondering a new look for an old tradition, Ms. Shafer said, “Sometimes you can be surprised. You think you do the most diligent work you can based on the information you have, and with social media and the power of communications, you can still have a reaction that was unanticipated. And maybe it is exaggerated, but maybe it’s not.”

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