|Thursday, January 8
Exposure for coaches finally ads up
By Darren Rovell
The names on the arenas have been bought, as has the rotating courtside signage and the jerseys and shoes of the players that play the games.
Corporate America hasn't been bashful about tapping into high-profile schools, seeking to grab some of the large captive audience that watch its basketball teams play.
Snazzy sideline dressers with clipboards beware -- the corporate logo could be heading straight for your lapel sometime in the near future.
Bobby Knight became the first college basketball coach to "NASCAR-ize" his courtside wardrobe two weeks ago when he walked out of the locker room at the American Airlines Center in Dallas to coach his Texas Tech Red Raiders against the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Christmas Classic.
The game was sponsored by O'Reilly Auto Parts, its embroidered logo appearing on the right chest of the sweaters worn by Knight and his assistant coaches. But the endorsement agreement wasn't just for that game. O'Reilly purchased the sweater rights to Knight for the next two seasons.
"Coach Knight made it available to us and we jumped at the opportunity," said Ron Byerly, vice president of advertising and marketing for the company, which invests most of its sports advertising dollars in the motorsports industry. "It's really one of the last places you can put a logo, not unless some company signs a deal with a coach to wear a logo tie."
Byerly, who declined to disclosed terms of Knight's endorsement deal, said his company doesn't plan to stop with the General. He is exploring the idea of inking other college basketball coaches to lapel deals with O'Reilly, which has more than 1,000 stores in 17 states and four stores near the Texas Tech campus in Lubbock.
"The promotional opportunities are endless," said David Carter, principal of The Sports Business Group, a sports marketing firm. "If Bobby Knight gets tossed from a game, O'Reilly could give fans $10 off a muffler!"
Coaches who wear suits can sport embroidered company logos with adhesive on the back, just like the college bowl representatives that have affixed their logos to their threads over the years. And there are even more options. Knight, for example, now has adidas logos on his shirt collar.
Logos on sweaters and lapel pins on suits have been around for a long time. Converse used to pay basketball coaches to talk at clinics in exchange for the rights to outfit the team in its shoe and perhaps a logo plastered somewhere on the coach's outfit. In 1979, Nike signed up its first coach, UNLV's Jerry Tarkanian.
"The difference between then and now is that O'Reilly has no intention of outfitting the team," said Sonny Vaccaro, who signed Tarkanian to the deal nearly 25 years ago. "O'Reilly is saying that Bobby Knight alone is worth the money they are paying him."
Much has changed in the past quarter century.
Vaccaro used to negotiate with the coaches themselves. Today, not only does almost every Division I-A college coach have an agent, many assistant coaches do as well. Coaches' television and radio shows are major money generators and a handful of coaches can supplement their seven-figure salaries by doing commercials.
Over the past couple of years, as more college basketball players have left for the NBA before graduating, coaches -- in lieu of the players -- have become the face of the school's athletic program.
Case in point: NCAA regulations forbid video game companies from using the names and likenesses of specific players, but this year, Electronic Arts' NCAA March Madness 2004 features 13 coaches, including Utah's Rick Majerus, Florida's Billy Donovan, Oklahoma's Kelvin Sampson and Bill Self of Kansas on the sidelines.
"The coaches are the stars of the college game," said Bob Williams of Burns Sports, a company that matches athletes and coaches with corporate endorsements. "And something like this could put more dollars in their pockets."
If the coaching world needed a pioneer to ink a lapel deal with a company outside the shoe industry, oddsmakers would have certainly tabbed Knight.
Not only is Knight a maverick coach on the court, but he's earned plenty of dough for Texas Tech since being hired in March 2001. In less than three years, his presence has been credited with helping to bring in approximately $8 million in additional revenue to the school thanks to increases in season tickets, television deals and sponsorships, according to the school's athletic director Gerald Myers.
Last year, an event featuring Knight and Dallas Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells generated almost $50,000 toward the men's basketball scholarship endowment fund. Knight typically receives about 1,000 pieces of fan mail each month. Those that request his autograph must pay $25. About 800 fans have sent in money since July, which means $20,000 more has gone into scholarship fund coffers, according to Bobby Gleason, Texas Tech's senior associate athletic director of business.
Verizon nearly beat O'Reilly to the punch in placing its logo on a college basketball coach. One basketball industry source told ESPN.com that Verizon once floated the possibility of having every coach whose team was playing in March Madness wear a Verizon lapel pin on their suit jackets. No deal was ever consummated.
"Soccer teams in Europe wear corporate logos on their jerseys and boxers get paid to wear corporate tattoos on their back because it's well known that you can't zap out the athletes in the same way you can cut out a 30-second commercial," said Gil Pagovich, a partner in Maxximum Marketing, a sports marketing firm. "It's the same thing with a coach. Part of presenting the game on television involves showing the coach in the huddle, shouting instructions and arguing with the referee. That's why doing a deal with a coach could definitely work well."
"In the beginning, many people feel that a new way of advertising is somehow cheapening things," Chown said. "But over time, they embrace it and that makes it easier on companies that are looking for a new vehicle to reach a specific consumer."
Patch deals have long been a part of the tennis world. Companies such as Lycos and Geico have even invested in one-match contracts with players who are playing marquee matches against top talent. TV exposure for a five-set night match in the U.S. Open could be worth more than $100,000 in equivalent advertising time.
And that doesn't take into account the exposure gained from replay footage and wire photos, said Jeff Bennett of Bennett Global Marketing, a sports buzz marketing firm that strategically placed Dunkin' Donuts patches on players and logoed hats on some of their coaches at this past year's U.S. Open. Bennett also says that companies who sponsor coaches might be able to get additional advertising should video game companies virtually replicate the company's logo on the coaches in their game.
"We would try as hard as we can to make everything as authentic as possible," said Jennifer Gonzalez, spokesman for EA Sports.
How much coaches can make if lapel deals become standard is not yet clear. Price would depend on fame of coach and the nature of the contract, said Rob Ades, a prominent agent who represents Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim and Providence's Tim Welsh, among others.
"If a company came to Tim and said, 'We'll give you $20,000 just to wear a lapel pin with our company logo on your suit' and that company was a good company, he'd most likely do it," Ades said. "But a lot of these companies could want two golf outings, a commercial and a speech or two and then the price goes up."
"Coaches should be able to capitalize on their name," Ades said. "As long as it's Hanes T-shirts and not Hanes pantyhose."
Coaches are usually allowed to supplement their income with endorsements, providing it is approved by the school. If the athletic department has a deal with McDonald's, they likely won't allow a coach to sign an endorsement deal with Wendy's. In that case, however, McDonald's would have to come close to what Wendy's is offering, Ades said, because the coaches he represents have language in their contracts that provide that the university cannot "unreasonably uphold" permission for the coach to earn outside income.
Knight has only coached three games in the Texas Tech sweater sponsored by O'Reilly. They've won all three and so far the return is good. Local radio talk show hosts have been talking about it and Byerly said he had 20 e-mails on Monday morning from Red Raiders fans interested in when the O'Reilly Knight sweaters were going on sale.
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.firstname.lastname@example.org