Brand and Culture

Part 3



At this point the joke is old.  There are fourteen teams in the Big Ten and ten teams in the Big 12.  Why not just renumber the names, right?   Stupid conferences, why don’t they?!

Simple; branding.

A lot of money has been spent in name recognition.   In the Big Ten’s case it has been that way for nearly a century.

I’m reminded of a story I heard of Big 12 alum, Alan Mulally, from Lawrence, Kansas, who went on to become the CEO of Ford Motor Company.  When he took over the reins they were struggling from decades of horrible executive decisions; one of which was they over sold the Taurus so they ran from the name, creating the Ford 500 instead.

Well, as he was being toured, the engineers took great pride in showing off all the new gadgets and paint they developed for the 500, which was struggling to sell.  Stopping them all he turned to the head of marketing and asked, “How much have we spent branding the Taurus?” When a half billion was the answer, he turned back to the engineers and said, “You have two years to make this car amazing. Oh, and it is now called the Taurus.”

Is it true?  I don’t know, but it is the major reason why you don’t see these conferences adapting from their name.  The Big Ten is not going to hand over the value of decades of branding to the Big 12, just because they have fourteen teams.

Brands are important in sports too.
It takes years, if not decades, of success to build a brand.

This also applies to individual schools.   How you are viewed by the world has a value.  Quantifying it is nearly impossible however.   Q Scores have been developed to measure the amount of mentions a particular personality or property is receiving in media, however, while we could use it to measure NBA players, this statistic is not applied to college sports yet.

Culture is even more difficult to quantify, but is also extremely important in these conversations.   Where a universities brand may be how they are viewed in the nation, their culture would be defined as how they support their local market or what makes them stand out in the crowd, their individuality.

The Grove is a great example of this.  The culture of Ole Miss flows through the location and concept of the Grove. It is part of what it means to go to Ole Miss Football games.  Since most of the universities in the Power Five are large state schools, most of the culture of a university reflects the region they serve.

It is this culture and brand that defines the exposure a team receives in the media.   While success is probably 70% of the equation, the rest is brand marketing.  Do you want to know why the SEC isn’t worried if it is paid much at all for the SEC Network?   Because branding is far more important than the revenues.   If you have two similarly successful teams, one without much brand marketing and the other with a lot, the one with the greater brand will get the most attention.  Media maters.

Ohio State verses TCU/Baylor in the football playoffs this year was driven primarily by brand.  Kentucky and Virginia were both undefeated for large portions of the 2014-2015 basketball season, however Kentucky got substantially more press.  The brand and culture of Kentucky basketball is far and away greater than the University of Virginia and most casual fans will bandwagon in some way.

Speaking of Virginia, if I had a dollar for every person who said Virginia to the Big Ten made the most sense I’d never have to work, but those same people don’t have a clue about the culture of the area.  I talked to a booster for the Cavaliers about these same rumors and if there was any legitimacy to these talks.  The response was akin to a chuckle into a drink.  First, the point was made that Virginia isn’t Maryland, they “know how to handle money”.  And, from what I can tell, this seems to be the case.   Their finances are extremely strong even with programs that are not successful year in and year out.  The second point that was made repeatedly is they have nothing in common with the Big Ten.

Virginia’s world view revolves around two groups.   Due to being founded by Jefferson there is a connection with the colonial universities of the Ivy League and the old world plantation economy of the southern states.  This area is known as the Tidewater and includes their peer, the University of North Carolina; who was founded over a decade prior to UVA.   Everyone talks about Tobacco Road running the ACC, but the power connection is UVA and UNC.  The general consensus in the Tidewater is that Maryland made a mistake by abandoning their roots and aligning themselves with a “western” conference.  Their culture derives from prior to the founding of the country and if someone wants to join them, great.  But they are not doing the same.

multi logo slant lgThe culture of the Big 12 is similar to that of the SEC and Big Ten in that the majority of the schools are larger land-grant state schools who were founded alongside their expansion territories becoming states.  The majority serve rural states and focus on agriculture and technology.  No matter how large, rich, or successful they may be, they don’t share any culture with the Tidewater.  And neither does the Big Ten.

One thing of note here, even though the bulk of the Big 12 are large state schools, they do have two private schools.   Baylor was included originally to have one private school to keep conference records out of the public eye.  TCU was added during realignment because they made the most logistical sense to replace Texas A&M.  It would be extremely surprising to see another private school make the cut if the Big 12 expands.

At the end of the day, culture and brand run hand in hand with success, including historic success, being able to quantify the brand of a universities athletic department is rife with issues.   To keep it simple, for now, I am going to use two data points.   To determine brand I will use the revenue each athletic departments makes in rights and licensing, e.g. the revenue they receive for their imaging.  To determine culture I am going to look at the undergraduate population to determine potential size of a university’s alumni base and combined attendance for Football, Men’s basketball and Women’s basketball.  I’ll also add penalty if the school is private.  The thought process being the greater the number of undergraduates a university has the more individuals are available to multiply an athletic department’s culture. Attendance figures in because it doesn’t do you any good to have a large population if it doesn’t support your programs.  Differences in culture due to distance, like the Tidewater example, will be handled under Location.


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