SPOTLIGHT: Sayonara Southland? Conference reconsidering its brand

CHANGING LABELS?:  The Northwestern State Lady Demons won the 2021 regular-season and tournament Southland Conference soccer titles. They may defend their crown in a rebranded league, one with a new logo and perhaps a new name.

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

What’s in a name? Southland Conference athletic directors discussed that this morning, probably before you read this.

They were getting updated, in a 7 a.m. Zoom call, by new Southland commissioner Chris Grant and his staff, discussing a rebranding initiative announced April 11 after months of consideration.

The conference’s statement a couple of weeks ago said the rebranding will include “a new name for the conference and its sub-brands and properties” and a “new logo that is uniting and inspirational.”

Not so fast, said the AD who has emerged as the league’s most influential athletic leader.

McNeese AD Heath Schroyer told The Journal Monday afternoon that the name, at least, might remain the same.

Troika Media Group is managing the process. TMG (not TMZ) has been involved in branding Apple, Hulu, UFC, Peloton, CNN, HBO, ESPN, Yahoo, Netflix and Coca-Cola, and collegiate-sport-specifically, the four Power 5 conference TV networks (SEC, ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12) along with ESPN College Football, ESPN College Basketball and CBS Sports.

Northwestern’s new AD, Kevin Bostian, is approaching his three-month anniversary May 7 and admittedly is not up to speed on the rebrand. After this morning’s call, which will include other topics as well, he expects to have a much better understanding.

“We are excited for the direction the conference is taking,” he said. “We will follow the conference’s lead and support the administration in the steps it plans to take.”

Bostian and the other ADs met individually with TMG during the Southland’s basketball tournaments in early March in Katy, Texas. Bostian shared his outside perspective as a newcomer to the league, having noted its status from afar, in the eastern time zone, most recently at UNC-Greensboro.

Many longtime fans, veteran administrators and coaches have posed a simple question as the league nears its 60th anniversary in 2024.

What is wrong with sticking with “Southland Conference?”

“It’s a great question. All of us as AD’s have actually pondered that,” said Schroyer. “We have to take a step back and look at it. We want to be aggressive as a league, we want to be proactive in recruiting members, but we also want to be strategic in everything we do. If a rebranding takes place, what does that look like, and how does that help us? I think those are all questions that are still on the board.”

It’s a process of exploring a new brand, he said, not necessarily creating an entirely new one with only one newcomer in the fold at this stage (Texas A&M-Commerce joins July 1, moving up from Division II).

The widespread expectation is whatever is decided, it will be unveiled in July at the Southland Football Media Day in Lake Charles. But Northwestern is among league members who need a new logo sooner – a new turf playing surface is being installed this summer at Turpin Stadium for NSU football, and a new court is going in at Prather Coliseum, which houses volleyball and basketball.  Those facilities need to be ready in late July for preseason workouts.

Timelines were doubtlessly a focal point of discussion during this morning’s call.

“I’m not sure exactly where it’s at (as of Monday afternoon),” said Schroyer. “It’s still in discussion and there’s a lot of things being floated around, but I don’t think we’re close to having a definitive answer on that.”