In 2014, the University of Oregon, led by star quarterback Marcus Mariota, fielded arguably the best team in school history. Mariota and the team’s efforts culminated in the university being awarded its first Heisman trophy award in school history. The award is granted based on individual performance, but it doesn’t hurt to be on a great team. It was a monumental accomplishment for the program because it was another step in national prominence for a university whose football history isn’t as decorated as some of its peers. Lost in the storybook timelines, impressive displays, and a lavish building proposal, is a P.R. campaign that finally found measurable success 13 years after it ended.
A school known for inventive ways to market itself, Oregon hasn’t shied away from taking on the phrase “by all means necessary” to draw attention. In 2001, the athletic department showed just how far it was willing to go when it erected an 80-by-100 foot billboard of Joey Harrington in New York City. The $250,000 10-story tall billboard located across the street from the Madison Square Garden was a bold and blatant call for attention for a program quick to be overlooked at the time. Harrington’s Heisman competition that year came from some of the most prestigious programs in the nation in the University of Florida, University of Nebraska, and the University of Miami. Each program had at least two previous trophy winners, and each had claimed a national championship in the last decade (Miami would win the title that year as well.) Oregon had neither. The athletic department at Oregon knew it needed to do something to garner attention from voters. Putting a billboard in the same borough of New York where the presentation happens was just the call it made. The strategy certainly did put the program in the spotlight, but the goal it set out for was simply not in the cards. Harrington would go on to finish fourth in votes (last of those invited to the presentation.) The striking tactic did find some lasting success as a campaign. It spawned a parody campaign by Washington State, which gave Oregon free advertising, and Oregon expanded out-of-state billboard campaigns to Los Angeles and the Bay Area the following year.
Ultimately, Mariota told the University of Oregon to not run a campaign for him and in the end, it was clear he didn’t need one. But the lasting effects of Joey Harrington’s campaign certainly played a role in Mariota’s buildup toward being a star around the country.
With the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers set to square off in San Jose in two weeks for Super Bowl 50, I think it is time we talk about the issues revolving around the NFL’s image.
Recently, a former player was found dead in jail in what investigators are calling a suspected suicide. Leading up to his death, Lawrence Phillips had a history of violence and criminal activity. It is another unfortunate event for a league that continually finds itself engrossed in these types of issues.
Just last month, the NFL celebrated its longest arrest-free streak in 11 years when the league had no reported arrests of an active player in a whopping 67 days. That streak would come to an end four days later, when, on Christmas morning, two Cleveland Browns players were taken in following a traffic stop that uncovered a gun and Adderall in the car. The NFL doesn’t seem to comment on these types of issues and leaves public responses up to the franchises to handle individually.
As a matter of fact, the NFL would gladly trot out an August study that found NFL players were arrested at lower rates than the general population in their age bracket. I think that this study is entirely too broad and severely lacks economic logic behind its conclusion. NFL players make at least hundreds of thousands of dollars, with the average player income last reported at $2.11 million per year. I think it would be much more telling to compare the numbers between tax brackets.
Alas, a sport as violent as the NFL will continue to harbor aggressive personalities and arrests will continue to happen. For the time being, the NFL is more concerned with the direct implications being made by Hollywood at the moment. It would be a shame if the public knew just how common that beast was.
In the traditional sense of the word, Oregon doesn’t care much for tradition.
I’ve always been captivated by branding and communication in the sports world and the different cultures they breed. Some of the best examples you can find come right out of college football in the United States. You can place the University of Alabama, where simplicity and history reign supreme, on one end of the spectrum, and the University of Oregon, where innovation is held in highest regards, on the other. Whenever Alabama tweaks its football uniform, you will almost always read the words “tradition” or “historic” in its press release. If they don’t mention at least one of those words, Alabama fans might just burn everything to the ground. These two schools have completely different approaches in their marketing and advertising that work specifically for both schools respectively because of strategic research and communication with their target audiences.
Explaining the reasons why athletic companies, franchises, schools, youth organizations, etc. in the sports universe come to the decisions they make and why the techniques they use are effective is why I am writing this blog. Why do professional teams relocate and change everything about their brand? How come sometimes they don’t? Why does the NFL have an official yogurt, why is it Dannon Oikos, and why do I know this? These are all things that can be explained by public communications.
I’m a little inexperienced at blogging. One time I tried to start a daily NBA-specific blog focusing on teams underrepresented by media juggernauts with a couple of buddies, but that floundered for about a week until we killed it off for good. Here I am though, a fifth-year student at the University of Oregon hoping this blog lasts me at least 10 weeks this time.
Beyond that, I’m just a guy with a passion for sports and sometimes I try to do public relations related things. This blog will hopefully be a bridge between the two for both of us.