Last October, Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott closed his copy of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED and looked at the cover photo of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow going airborne with LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson clinging to his legs. Staring back at Scott was the point he'd been trying to make to his presidents and athletic directors since he took over as commissioner in July 2009.
Under the words SEC FOOTBALL was the headline NOBODY DOES IT BETTER: THE NATION'S TOUGHEST CONFERENCE. Scott sent copies of the story to key decision-makers at schools in the Pac-10. "If you don't think conferences are brands," he recalls telling them, "pay attention to this."
Spurred on by Scott, the Pac-10 has conceived a plan to rebrand itself. On July 27 it was set to unveil parts of that plan in the world's media capital, New York City, more than 2,500 miles from Pac-10 headquarters in Walnut Creek, Calif. The conference known to be held back by tradition is finally thinking like other college leagues, and in some cases outthinking them.
The major points of the rebranding include these: The Pac-10 will try to increase its national TV exposure, in part by continuing to allow "reverse mirroring" of games (when a conference game is being shown on ABC on the West Coast, it can also be shown on, say, ESPN2 in other parts of the country), a practice it started only last season even though the Big Ten and Big 12 had been doing it in recent years. The conference is now open to playing more games on Thursdays and Fridays. A new Pac-10 logo will appear on every uniform, playing surface and piece of school-branded merchandise. The conference is even considering playing games in the untapped market of Asia.
Why did the Pac-10 need rebranding? Money. According to tax documents, the Pac-10 made $96.8 million in fiscal 2009 while the Big Ten and SEC each broke the $200 million barrier. With the Pac-10 set to renegotiate its TV contracts next year, there is no better time for the conference to reposition itself.
So Scott hired the New York--based branding firm SME, which suggested the conference play up its proximity to Hollywood and the iconic landmarks that stretch along the conference from Washington to Arizona. Pac-10 commercials will now take the look of blockbuster movie trailers, not your stuffy academic spot. The new logo is a shield containing a wave rolling into a mountain.
Scott hopes that logo becomes synonymous with the West Coast, cutting-edge programs and championships, but he knows that only the schools, the athletes and the staff of the conference will be able to give the Pac-10 a new identity. "A logo is just a logo," he says, "unless you back it up with actions."
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