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Volume 20 No. 42


The Big 12 Conference is expected to officially roll out its new logo on Tuesday, along with a marketing campaign titled “One True Champion” that highlights the distinctiveness of the 10-member conference.

The logo, which the league introduced last year, features the Roman numeral for 12, but is more stylized and curved compared to the older, rectangular mark.

“It is to position ourselves based on everything that has been happening on the intercollegiate landscape of late, both directly within the Big 12 and outside the Big 12,” said Bob Burda, Big 12 associate commissioner of communications. “To position ourselves with a mark that would resonate in the marketplace and reinforce us as a progressive, forward-thinking thought leader within college athletics.”

The rebranding process took roughly two years with the help of GSD&M, an Austin, Texas-based advertising firm. The Big 12 spent $415,000 on the design and implementation of the logo for the league offices, but costs at individual schools vary depending on the number of teams and venues.

Accompanying the new logo will be a style guide to serve as a comprehensive manual of how and where the new mark can be used. For the first time in league history, the logo will be required to appear on football uniforms. The majority of uniforms will feature the mark on the chest opposite the side of the manufacturers’ logo. The mark also will be required to appear below the free-throw line on basketball courts. The new logo goes into effect on Tuesday and the style guide regulations will be implemented for the 2014-15 seasons.

“In the past we haven’t had any rules or any policies around such things as where does the mark go on the basketball floor, where does it go on the football field or where does it go on your helmet or where does it go on your baseball uniform,” said Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby. “The style guide helps us annunciate how we’re going to do that.
“In the new day, there’ll be standardization of what the mark looks like, what colors it can be used in, how it is positioned on various uniforms and fields and venues.”

In addition to the logo roll-out and the regulations regarding its use, the league will debut a new marketing campaign titled “One True Champion.” The league copyrighted the phrase, which emphasizes the fact that Big 12 members play every other school during the regular season — which is not the case in football for the other major college conferences: the American Athletic, ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC.

“It represents what we think is a real differentiator for the Big 12 in that our teams all play everybody in the league,” Bowlsby said. “We think that is the right way to determine who wins your league.”

The conference bought full-page ads in a half-dozen preseason college football publications for the campaign and will launch the microsite on Tuesday in addition to roll-outs on social media platforms.

The league plans to give every incoming freshman student at Big 12 schools a T-shirt with the Big 12 logo in their school colors on the front and the school logo on the back. Even though the league now features 10 members and the logo still indicates 12, Bowlsby said the new mark tested exceptionally well with the 18- to 35-year-old demographic, and tested first with every age demographic overall.

“It isn’t as much a numerical representation as it is expected to be an iconic logo, and I do think we embrace the traditions we have,” Bowlsby said. “We think there is cachet in the Big 12 brand.

“This is really intended to be an iconic piece of art as much as it is a numerical representation of our membership.”

When the University of California, Berkeley, late last year agreed to a stadium naming-rights deal with video game company Kabam, it broke new ground. The 15-year, $18 million deal to create Kabam Field at California Memorial Stadium marks the first time a college sports facility will carry the name of a video game company.

But for Kabam co-founder and CEO Kevin Chou, the partnership with Cal had a natural fit. Chou, 34, is a 2002 Cal graduate. And while Kabam may not be a household name, the company doubled revenue to $360 million in 2013 and forecasts up to an 80 percent increase this year. Its free-to-play game titles include “The Hobbit,” “Fast & Furious 6” and “Kingdoms of Camelot,” and its games are available in more than 100 countries online as well as via Apple and Android devices, with Microsoft mobile platforms on the way.

Chou (middle) said Kabam’s business plan was conceived at Cal.
Photo by: KABAM

Chou sat down recently with SportsBusiness Journal correspondent Robert D. Gray to discuss the deal with Cal. He also talked about comparisons of his company and its naming-rights deal to stories of past dot-com busts, and how the deal with Cal may help recruiting — for his own company.

What was it like seeing Kabam Field for the first time?

CHOU: It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be on the field and unveil the new logo we’re going to be using on that field. That’s where I graduated. It’s an incredibly special period of time to be able to do that at my alma mater.

Did you ever think this would happen?

CHOU: Not in my wildest dreams.

Aside from Cal being your alma mater, what is special about the deal?

CHOU: There are three elements to this deal. One is the big branding, coming-out party for Kabam. We’re a big company, profitable, growing quickly, doing a big deal with UC Berkeley. The second is on the collaboration with academics, and the third one is on the hiring and talent front … given that recruiting a great engineer is $30,000 to $50,000, not to mention their salary — talking purely the finding fee associated with finding great engineers.

What’s been the reaction so far?

CHOU: A lot of excitement. This is one of the first steps by UC Berkeley to embrace more corporate partnerships. I think that what makes this one unique is that it’s not just a marketing and branding element. We do a lot of work with UC Berkeley in terms of academics, big data studies, video gaming/visual entertainment, and we recruit a bunch from UC Berkeley. About 10 percent of our workforce is Cal alumni. … Three of the founders of Kabam went to Cal. We met there, and the business plan was conceived at UC Berkeley in a classroom.

Would you do another naming-rights deal?

CHOU: Probably not. We’re not in the business of plastering our name everywhere. We want to create great products and entertain consumers. This deal allowed us to give back to the community and establish our brand on a world stage and also recruit and hire from one of the best schools in the nation.

What would you tell other startups about doing a similar deal?

CHOU (laughing): First, get to a few hundred million dollars in revenue and be profitable. That’s step one. Step two, find a school that has a lot of meaning both to your company, the employees of the company, as well as the overall future of your industry, and create a win-win scenario as much as you can with a partnership like ours with Cal.

What do you say to critics who may liken this deal by an upstart tech firm to deals done by the likes of PSINet, CMGI and Enron in years past, companies whose fortunes soured not long after they signed their stadium naming-rights deals in the early 2000s?

CHOU: You mentioned some companies that faded away, but there are some very successful companies in our backyard that have been around for decades, that will be around for decades, that are doing some innovative things and doing these types of deals. … We’d rather think more about AT&T, Oracle and Levi’s and what those guys are now doing. Those are the things we look up to, and think about “How do we build a long-lasting business like them? And partner with people in our community to do that?”

Robert D. Gray is a writer in Los Angeles.