[Ed.: “I Have An Idea…” is a series written for College AD by the author of Brands Win Championships, Jeremy Darlow.]
“This business is all about being seen, and the more people see you the better.” – Debra Wilson, Actress
Jerry Jones. Al Davis. Mark Cuban. George Steinbrenner. Four of the most well known figures in sports for the last twenty years. Four of the most talked about figures in sports for the last twenty years. Four of the most notorious owners of sports teams in the last twenty years. Jones, Davis, Cuban and Steinbrenner all made a name for themselves as front office figures. Not as coaches. Not as players. You know them from their days in the ivory tower of their respective organizations. Love them or hate them, they knew how to drive buzz, which regularly puts their teams in the spotlight. Each brandishing a championship ring (or several) for their troubles.
You can argue the way in which these individuals have handled themselves, but what you cannot argue is their ability to generate conversation. As I always say, love me or hate me, but feel me. In this case, talk about me. If people are talking about your program, they’re thinking about your program. But one thing I can say with confidence as it relates to the majority of universities across the country is that people are most certainly not talking about your athletic director (AD). The head athletic director at a university acts as a team owner. When someone is hired, who’s at the podium? The athletic director. When a new building is unveiled, who’s at the podium? The athletic director. They are the CEO of the athletic department, yet we only see them at press conferences. It’s like the athletic department version of Four Weddings and a Funeral.
The question I want answered is why are athletic directors hiding? These are individuals of great power, great intellect and the potential to have great influence in the public eye. Yet in most cases, the athletic director stays behind the scenes. The coaches are the faces. And team-by-team, they should be. But the athletic director should be there too. The more well known and influential the people representing a program are, the better.
Jerry Jones is a great example. Some would say he’s too involved and he’s too often in front of the camera. I disagree. Jerry Jones is an icon. And what we’ve learned is that people love icons. Mark Cuban is no different. I remember attending a Dallas Mavericks versus Golden State Warriors game in the mid-2000’s, before the Warriors were the phenomenon they are today. I couldn’t tell you who won the matchup, but I’ll never forget the game for one reason. I was sitting just a few rows behind Mark Cuban. I could see him. That was the highlight of my night. I’ve been to a number of NBA games over the years. To this day, this might be the only game that I remember for something other than the outcome. Cuban is an icon. They all are. Al Davis has his own catch phrase: “Just Win Baby.” George Steinbrenner stories are some of the best in sports. Absolutely legendary. These are four individuals who have used their personal brands to drive their athletic brands. And it’s worked.
Athletic directors have the same opportunity. People want a show. Jerry Jones gives everyone who attends a Dallas Cowboys game a show, and he’s one of lead actors. As a result the Cowboys, despite having not won a Super Bowl in twenty years, are the most valuable team in the NFL with an estimated worth of $4.2 billion.
Sometimes the individuals are actually a stronger draw than the sum of the parts. Imagine what happens when you combine the two: compelling figures with compelling performance. Revenue. A lot of revenue.
You want our money? Show us your AD.
Jeremy Darlow is a brand marketing professional who, during his time at adidas, has worked with schools like Notre Dame, Michigan, and UCLA, and athletes like Jimmy Graham, Dwight Howard, and Lionel Messi. He works to help NCAA athletic programs and athletes build and elevate their brands to elite levels.