My fellow Longhorns, and you Aggies, Cougars, Owls, Spiders (U. of Richmond) and anyone else who attended an institution of higher learning — I don’t think the University of Phoenix counts — stand by for the blitz, and I’m not talking football. Well, in a way I am. The new athletic director at The University of Texas at Austin, Travis County & NFL Lite, aka UT, has announced that the school’s “brand” is up for sale.
The new AD, Steve Patterson, wants to spread the school’s name, colors and reputation far and wide — for a price. He’s looking at endorsements, more ads in sporting facilities and more corporate sponsors. He is thinking of the Longhorns playing a football game in Mexico City, going international, finding at least three fans who can receive the Longhorn Network. (The Longhorn Network’s rollout must have been handled by the same wizards who brought us the opening of Obamacare.) “Do I think we’re maxed out? Absolutely not,” said Patterson. “College athletics is a largely underleveraged asset. The potential here is even bigger than I expected.”
Not maxed out? UT Inc. is certainly the current maximum. Texas led the nation last year with $165.7 million in athletics revenue, a whopping $22.3 million ahead of second-place Alabama. A major source is the corporate sponsorship, which currently includes Nike USA, Coca-Cola and Joe Jamail. It is interesting that one of the sponsors is Gatorade which was invented in 1965 by researchers at the University of Florida College of Medicine for the football team, the Florida Gators. Today that university receives 20 percent share of Gatorade royalties.As of 2009, it came to more than $150 million, approximately $12 million per year. Hey, UT researchers, How about Burnt Oranges and Bevo Beef?
The school initially was going to limit the sponsors to six, starting at around $300,000 each per year. But it quickly discovered that lots of deep pockets wanted in on the action, so today the number is 20 and growing. Business profs call this “maximizing the marketplace.” Others might call it “greed.” Patterson said he’s not simply selling the UT football or basketball teams. He’s selling everything about being a Longhorn. Right you are. Barnes & Noble would like to donate $300,000 to get some street cred with the UT Library Science Dept. Go ask Hearst and Fox for $300,000 each so the Dept. of Kommunications & Speeling Gud can endow a journalism chair. They’d like a desk, too.
On the other hand, athletics, not academics, is where the fame lies. T. Boone Pickens has given the athletic department at his alma mater, Oklahoma State U., more than $400 million, the largest donation to a university’s athletic program in collegiate history. At halftime during a game at (what else?) T. Boone Pickens Stadium, he was asked by a TV reporter, on the air, why he hadn’t given some money to, for example, the school’s English Department. “Because if I had given that money to the English Department you wouldn’t be interviewing me now.”
Back at the Forty Acres, during sporting events orange bloods needed a suite or know someone who had one to start hitting the liquor when the Horns were behind four touchdowns and three field goals. But now UT has found yet another way to turn a buck. It has decided to sell booze at its athletic events. (They’d probably do a lot better to copy Colorado and Washington State’s examples and sell weed.) This bar-keeping is not a bad idea since one of the department’s new corporate sponsors is MillerCoors. Then there is the new head football coach who is named Charlie Strong, so Austin has T-shirts reading “We are Texas, We are TEXAS STRONG, We are Texas StrongHorns!!” And more marketing is on the way. Look for the Darrell K. Royal-Memorial Stadium to be called the Ty-D Bowl. Athletes’ uniforms will sport sponsors’ patches like NASCAR drivers. “Students, today we are taking up the next generation of iPods, but first this word from Apple.” We’ll see coin-operated desks. Just call it the Comcast Power Tower with antenna sticking upwards 100 feet, and instead of the Tower lighting up orange after a victory, the bells will ring out theme songs from Concast/NBC’s new comedy series. The last words in “The Eyes of Texas” will be slightly changed to “till Buick blows its horn.” “This commencement our speaker is Bose. Surround your sound with Bose.” Oh, yes, and tuition will still go up.
At this point you may be thinking about longhorning in on this bonanza. Don’t, because UT has always protected its brand. A few years ago the City of Fort Worth came up with a new logo: the burnt orange silhouette of a longhorn’s face and horns. It didn’t last long. The best school-brand flap came when the Seattle Seahawks launched a unique campaign to woo their fans with the catchy title, the 12th Man. Well, the Aggies who can grow moss on a rolling stone, didn’t just fall off the turnip truck, although if they did you can bet they would be world-class turnips. They went to court. The Seahawks paid Texas A&M $100,000 and another $5,000 annual licensing fee for five years. In 2011 the Seahawks renewed the agreement for another five years, taking the deal through 2016. A lousy $100,000? Johnny Football spills that much.
A Houston Chronicle columnist, Richard Justice, once wrote: “Texas is divided into two kinds of people: those who went to UT and those who wish they had.” That is undoubtedly true, but while Patterson is looking into new marketing, other schools are looking at Patterson. Other colleges may soon be following his lead. SMU has a slam-dunk on the Ford Mustang. Yale has a lock on locks. Horned Frogs? Good luck, but Rice is a natural for Uncle Ben. Finally, it isn’t clear whether anyone has had the nerve to tell Bevo there will be more branding.
Ashby is burnt orange at email@example.com