SBJ/Dec. 20-26, 2010/This Week's Issue

Big 12 hires Austin firm GSD&M Idea City to help evaluate conference’s name, branding

The Big Ten has 12 teams and the Big 12 has 10 teams. So what’s in a name?

That’s what an advertising and marketing agency in Austin, Texas, has been hired to determine. The Big 12 recently retained GSD&M Idea City to help the conference evaluate its old name, potential new names, and the best way to position the conference’s brand going forward after the loss of Colorado to the Pac-10 and Nebraska to the Big Ten.

Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe said at SportsBusiness Journal’s IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum that Idea City is interviewing school presidents, coaches and athletic directors within the conference to provide direction.

“We’re looking at how we position ourselves, our name and whether we need a name change,” Beebe said.

The agency also will look at the conference’s brand position.

“It’s bigger than just a name change,” said Idea City account director Jeff Orth. “With all of the changes they’ve had, we’re working with the conference with where they should go with their brand and how they should talk about themselves as they move forward.”

Idea City began working on the Big 12 project during the football season and sent its staffers to several games to interview fans. The agency is analyzing the feedback from the fans and school officials to create a brand position for the conference in the first quarter of 2011. Any recommendations on a name and logo change would be made in time for the Big 12 to act on it before the 2011 football season.

The Big Ten went through a similar process recently and said that it gave practically no consideration to changing its name, even though its number of teams will grow to 12 with the addition of Nebraska. Design firm Pentagram created a new logo for the conference, which it unveiled to mostly negative reviews last week. The Pac-10, which formerly was the Pac-8, has said it will change to the Pac-12 to accommodate the addition of Colorado and Utah.

The Big Ten has had its name since 1917 and decided it had too much equity to change. By contrast, the Big 12 (a combination of the former Big 8 and Southwest conferences) has been around for only 15 years in its current form, making a name change a stronger consideration.

That’s where Idea City comes in. The agency has worked on such projects as the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup ad campaign in sports, and outside of sports its clients have included Southwest Airlines, John Deere and the U.S. Air Force.

In determining new name options for the Big 12, the agency is expected to look at monikers that don’t include a reference to the number of teams in the conference. But they’ll also consider keeping the current name.

“The Big 12 doesn’t have the history of the Big Ten, but there is still some brand equity there,” said Orth, a former college baseball player at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette.

“The fact that the Big 12 has 10 teams could be confusing, but at the same time the name stands for other things and those other values have not gone away.”

Idea City and the conference got together earlier this year when it became apparent that the Big 12 would survive with 10 teams. The agency had worked with the University of Texas and Texas A&M, giving it a level of familiarity with the conference, so Orth reached out to Beebe.

“Unlike some of our clients, the Big 12 doesn’t have $150 million to put a media plan together and buy units everywhere,” Orth said.

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