College sports programs no longer need recycled football players to run the show. Instead of athletic directors who understand the spread offense they should want administrators who can sell beef jerky and convince customers they need a cellphone that’s smarter than an outside linebacker.
Look at Auburn. In one week’s time the athletic department renewed a $78.1 million contract with Under Armour that will dress Tiger athletes in their sports wear for nine more years and announced they were ditching marketing giant IMG in favor of a $120 million deal with Fox Sports to handle the branding and promoting of Auburn teams.
These arrangements were reported in magazines and websites that specialize in business and financial news, not sports. This reminds us that college football is the biggest industry in East Alabama and that it can no longer be treated like a mom-and-pop operation where good ol’ boys in orange and blue make decisions.
Unfortunately, Auburn is run by a walk-on tackle rather than a marketing pro who understands the nuances of today’s world. Jay Jacobs is dealing with big city businessmen who have never had a selfie made with Aubie or felt shivers when the eagle soars around Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Back in the day, football game programs were produced in-house, and play-by-play announcers were hired in Montgomery or Birmingham. Someone threw together a network of stations and sold sponsorships when they had time. Signage in the stadium didn’t make much money, and it wasn’t hard to get a local car dealer to provide an automobile for the head coach.
A decade ago the world began to change. IMG was a national powerhouse, and they sold the name of Auburn in all 50 states. The university received about $6 million a year.
Auburn ventures into the uncharted world of Fox Sports, a new family of brands that includes Southern Cal, Michigan State, Georgetown, Villanova, Kentucky and the Big East Conference. Alabama is represented by IMG and Learfield, which account for $16 million every year.
Seeing the income coming into other athletic departments, you wonder if Auburn is leaving money on the table. Two hundred million dollars is a lot of money for an athletic department that has struggled. But could it have been more?
That’s a question for a professional, not an old offensive tackle.
Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org