The true gauge of program recognition is not fans, potential fans, nor past fans. The true gauge of a program’s recognition is, never been, never going to be, don’t want to be, fans. The term brand has become increasingly sexy, but its underlying definition remains – your brand is your reputation and recognition – what people remember (or don’t remember) you by. And, in the case of college football, brand recognition and reputation are very important. College football’s visibility and popularity continues to grow – perhaps it’s regional/school pride, perhaps it’s great marketing, perhaps it’s a convenient excuse for a Coors – who cares. The reality is, at 8pm EST on 9/9/2017, an overpriced TV package from Charter Spectrum (formerly, Time Warner, formerly Insight, formerly…..), had nine games airing live. With so much air time devoted to what appears to be America’s future past time, why not run a little experiment related to the brands of college football?
My sample is one (1), thus my validity and reliability are non-existent. Conclusions have value based on the qualifying criteria - classifying my subject as a non-fan:
Researcher: Who won the championship last year?
Subject: “Don’t know, don’t care”
Researcher: What is a bowl game?
Subject: “Didn’t the Hoosiers make one last year?”
Researcher: What is the BCS?
Subject: “Before Christian Scientists?”
We then flipped channels for two hours while I asked random question and observed the following:
Researcher: Where is Clemson located?
Subject: “New York, I think”
During a close-up on Bob Stoops:
Subject: “Why do they keep showing some old fat guy in a suite with two blonde ladies?”
During Boise St at Washington St:
Subject: “Is this the team with the blue turf? I hate that stupid blue turf”
During Alabama highlights at halftime of another game:
Subject: “Who is that grouchy mean guy?” referring to Nick Saban
Mike Tirico: “lots of Georgia fans here”
Subject: “Duh, everyone likes to play Notre Dame.”
Based on these highlights, and other interactions that night, by far, the most powerful brand in college football (for non-fans) is still Notre Dame. She even asked if Notre Dame is on TV because of “Rudy”? Admittedly, we are in Indiana, but not really, it’s 2 minutes to Louisville and over 250 miles to South Bend. During my non-empirical experiment, the only other team with any brand identity beyond semantics was Boise St. Alabama is wildly successful, but so was Nebraska, for about 50 years, and now they can’t even steal a sub-par coach from Oregon State. Obviously, winning is important, but winning is not guaranteed, even for Alabama (see team W/L record between Saban and Stallings). To build a brand with staying power and mainstream appeal, programs need to find organic points of differentiation and share those with the masses in authentic capacities.