Grinnell, Rutgers and The Brewers…

Some Thanksgiving week thoughts, none of which are turkeys by any means

Brew Crew Leaves it to the Fans: The Milwaukee Brewers have built a reputation for being fin and fan friendly with their promotions, from hiding gnomes around the state to getting Bernie Brewer to hit the slide in Miller Park. Now the Brew Crew is leaving it to the fans to help decide their alternate uniform.

The Brewers have decided to open the creative process up to their fans in the form of a contest, with the challenge being to create a new, unique uniform — right on down to the socks and wrist bands — for the team to wear during its March 22 spring training game against the Chicago Cubs in Maryvale, Ariz.

The winner will receive a trip to see the game, including airfare for two, tickets to the game to see the uniform “come to life,” and a cash prize for hotel, transportation and other incidentals. The winner will also have the opportunity to select the jersey and hat worn by one player from that day as a souvenir, plus 10 t-shirts and hats made from their design.

The team is calling it the “Design a YOUniform” contest.  On Jan. 15, the Brewers will announce the four finalists and fans will have one week to cast a vote for their favorite. Those finalists will then be invited to the Brewers On Deck fan festival on Jan. 27, where John Axford will announce the winner. It is a great opportunity for the entrepreneurial and outrageous to show their wares, and maybe gain a place in the lineup of major league designers.

If merch sales are the key reason for alternate uniforms, why not let those who consume have a say in the look?

What value Jack Taylor?  So Grinnell College’s Jack Taylor entered the realm of Ripley’s Believe It or Not with his 138 points in a game Tuesday night. The folks at Front Row Analytics calculated the exposure from TV, radio and print to be in excess of $2.5 million for the tiny Iowa school which prides itself on scoring. When the limelight fades for the short term, is there anything Grinnell can do with that exposure? It depends on how far they want to push it, and maybe sacrifice the season for the exposure of the event.

Sure there will be the random requests and stunts and maybe an appearance or two (cameo at NBA All-Star Weekend?), but it’s not like brands or TV crews are going to rush with deals for the team or for Taylor. Now maybe if Grinnell runs the table, ends up with an NAIA title there can be some benefit for the long term, and of course if Taylor puts up big number after big number, but for now it’s a nice flash in the pan that helped put a small college on the map outside their normal area of coverage for a short time. Hopefully there is an entrepreneurial person who comes up with the cool t-shirt to merchandise, and that Taylor gets some props in a Sports Illustrated piece somewhere down the line when he is settled into his career away from the court.

Rutgers Move Good For The Brand, For Now: Make no mistake, the announcement of Rutgers to the Big 10 this week was a boost for athletics, especially football, from a brand standpoint. The distressed inventory the school has for games like Howard and even Cincinnati will be filled with the local groups of Big 10 alumni who rarely would get to see their alma mater locally, while premium prices for elite games against Ohio State and Michigan will also bring in much needed revenue to balance the bottom line.  The biggest windfall will be in the TV money, which will also flow through the coffers as part of the Big 10 Association and the upcoming bowl playoff system. Marketers in athletics will now be able to sell opponents, hype and hope of national titles to recruits and alumni, much like professional teams do. There will also be more brands interested in Piscataway events now,  as more potential companies can get consistent and larger national exposure due to the volume of coverage outside of what was generated on a regular basis outside the Big East.

All of that is well and good, and the current administration, as well as the former administration and coaches should be congratulated for positioning the school correctly from an athletic standpoint when the Big 10 finally came calling.

That’s the good news.

Now here’s some additional reality, none of which is bad, but it presents the huge challenges Rutgers will have to fully realize the projected millions this move will have.

As far as other Big East schools that have gone elsewhere looking for national exposure, most have fallen off the competitive map.  Boston College was a nationally ranked football team and had a basketball team that advanced to the Final Eight in 1994 before it left for the ACC in 2005. Miami  won a national championship in football as a member of the Big East in 2001, has yet to win an ACC title since it left. West Virginia, which played in two BCS games and was picked to contend for the Big 12 championship, is 5-5 after losing five straight games.  Virginia Tech is struggling, and Pitt and Syracuse are nowhere near where they were in football during their best Big East years as they transition out of the conference. More money and some bigger stages? Yes. But not a whole lot of equity for any of the schools that went elsewhere.

At the end of the day this decision is not about tradition. It is about athletic branding and dollars that are available. Will it work? Seventeen years ago school officials heralded the move from the A-10 to the Big East as the great move that would change the school. Now it is a markedly bigger step to the Big 10.

It will be exciting for sure on some Saturdays, but it was exciting for most Saturday’s this fall as coach Kyle Flood took the players he and Greg Schiano recruited to the brink of what could be their first Big East title.  If the projects of big dollars and attention lead to greater opportunities for the University as a whole, it could be a salve to even quiet some of the greatest academic critics who have seen athletics as a waste of time.

Whether that is true, and it is OK to be at the bottom of the cash rich Big 10 and have to fight back to the top, or would they be better forging ahead with their Big East partners, will be the multi-million dollar question for years to come.