The (Re)Branding of Colorado Athletics

The last time the University of Colorado was ranked nationally in football, the current high school juniors who will comprise the Recruiting Class of 2016 next February were in kindergarten.

The last time the Buffs won a conference championship, these recruits were in diapers.

CU’s new “Champions Center”, opening this fall, will house the “Ring Room”, which will display all of CU’s hardware, including a national championship trophy and a Heisman (only one of 24 schools in the nation which has both). The Champions Center will also house an “NFL Room”, which will highlight all of CU’s NFL stars.

But the trophies are getting dated – 25 years for the national title; 21 for the Heisman – and the NFL room will contain the names of only nine former Buffs who finished the 2014 season on NFL rosters. The number of Buffs in the NFL continues to decline (22 in 2009; 18 in 2010; 15 at the end of 2011; 14 at the end of 2012; 12 at end of the 2013 season), a far cry from the glory days of the mid-1990’s, when CU was in the top four nationally in players in the NFL, and had the entire starting offensive lineup from the 1994 team play in the NFL (with ten draftees and one free agent).

So, how does Colorado market itself to the recruits from the Class of 2016, who know little if anything about CU’s past, but know plenty about its present?

Well, the $156 million “Champions Center” is clearly the place to start. For a program with one conference win in the last two years of Pac-12 play, it was well past time for Colorado to enter this particular arms race.

“We spent a lot of money to build something this great, but we were the last one to build one,” MacIntyre said at the topping off ceremony on March 31st. “So we went around and stole all the good ideas and put it in there”.

Sounds nice … but was I the only one who winced at the “last one to build” part of the equation?

The University of Colorado: Last in the Pac-12 on the field, last to build facilities … last in the minds of recruits?

So the latest gambit to lure recruits will come in a few weeks, when CU’s new uniforms will be unveiled. The uniforms were not introduced at the CU Spring Game, when the Buffs were receiving at least a modicum of publicity (though the first half was preempted for most of the Pac-12 Networks viewing audience for a telecast of a women’s softball game … imagine that happening to USC).

Nor were the new uniforms introduced at the “topping off” ceremony, with some media and some big time donors in attendance.

And they won’t make their debut at CU’s first home game against the University of Massachusetts, a game which – I’m guessing here – will not be a sellout.

Instead, the new uniforms will be introduced on the first day of May … at a garage sale.

With little going on in the world of collegiate athletics aside from worrying about the upcoming Finals Week – and whether any players will be lost to academic ineligibility – the University of Colorado will introduce its new uniforms. The unveiling will come on a day in which CU will conduct a garage sale of surplus equipment, as well as a Field Day for CU students down on Folsom Field.

The speculation is that CU will break out a silver/gray uniform (like the basketball uniforms?) to go with its existing black and white uniforms, with helmets of white and silver to go with the gold and black helmets already in use.

We’ll have to see what the new uniforms look like before passing judgment (if anyone wants my opinion, a gold chrome helmet would be very cool, though I have a hard time picturing CU looking good in gray), but the need for such a move is – again – past due.

Nike University, a/k/a the University of Oregon, has been experimenting with new uniforms on almost a weekly basis for years. While some of the uniform choices have been ghastly, there is no questioning their appeal to recruits. And it is the recruits, not the alumni, which matter here.

We fans will buy up whatever color scheme our new hats and polo shirts come in, as we are, in the words of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, “a sure thing”. We’re not going anywhere, so CU has to do what it takes to be competitive in the battle for recruits.

If new uniform schemes will help, then I’m all in.

Which brings me to marketing in the Denver/Boulder metro area.

For long time readers of CU at the Game, you know that it is my highly ingrained opinion that CU cannot buy a break from the Denver media. The coverage of Colorado over the years has been slanted, biased, and, at times, downright slanderous.

There is nothing Colorado can do about the coverage of the Denver Broncos. Denver is a Broncos town, and that is not going to change (just ask the Rockies, Avalanche, and Nuggets).

But that does not mean CU is without options in trying to obtain better media coverage and fan interest.

At the Arizona Spring game this weekend, the Wildcats had a fun night planned for its fans, including the continuation by head coach Rich Rodriguez of allowing fans in the stands to call plays. “I think the players will enjoy it,” Rodriguez said before the Friday night contest. “It kinda reminds them of high school a little bit. I think it will be nice for our fans. Obviously the weather is going to be great again. I’m looking forward to it. I may even venture into the stands late just so I can have people call bad plays.”

Even the team from up north has bettered the Buffs when it comes to springtime options.

On Saturday, Colorado State ran a 109-play scrimmage at the Denver Broncos facilities in Englewood. Not only was the matter well covered by the media (check out stories here and here), but it gave CSU another tool in recruiting local talent (“Come play with us, and hang out with the Broncos, unlike that other school”). Plus, the scrimmage gave Denver fans a short commute to watch the team play. Compare the 109-play CSU scrimmage, open to the public, with CU’s 54-play “Spring Game”, the only real chance for Buff fans to watch their team in action this spring.

Another dilemma facing CU when it comes to marketing itself is that it does not have a loyal fan base upon which to draw. Colorado is second only to Oregon amongst Pac-12 schools in the number of out-of-state students. Over a third (37%) of Colorado’s student population – i.e., its future alumni and fan base – grew up knowing (and cheering for) schools in other states.

Out-of-state students for the Pac-12’s public universities (From collegexpress.com, found by SD Buff):

Oregon – 39%

CU – 37%

Arizona – 29%

Arizona State – 23%

Oregon State – 21%

Utah – 17%

Washington – 13%

Cal – 11%

UCLA – 7%

Washington State – 7%

… and … CSU – 19%

So, CU is trying to recruit prospects who have grown up never seeing Colorado as a winning football program, to a school which has gone 4-32 in Pac-12 play since joining the conference, with facilities which are the last in the conference to be built. CU is trying to build its brand in the state by conducting a Spring Game before most other teams even started practice, holding all of its practices in secret, then conducting one-half’s worth of a Spring Game.

And now we learn that the Buffs will unveil their new uniforms before an indifferent local population, on the 1st of May, a time of year when there is little interest in collegiate athletics, and doing so at a garage sale.

Nothing against the as yet unseen uniforms, but I’m guessing the news will not be the lead on ESPN’s SportsCenter that night.

The (re)branding of CU is finally heading in the right direction. Steps are being taken to right the ship, and Rick George and his staff, in raising over $73 million in a very short time, have already accomplished a great deal.

But there is still so much more to do.

And when the big things are a long ways off, the little things are all the more important.

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9 Replies to “The (Re)Branding of CU”

  1. Rather than follow the national trend and intro the new unis in front of the team in the auditorium and release it via social media, the Buffs have decided to engage the student body and have a Folsom Frenzy Day. Students are invited onto Folsom Field to participate in drills w/ the FB team (Pass comp vs. Sefo, Catching comp vs. WR, Kicking comp vs. K, 40 yd dash vs. Shay Fields, you get the drift). Following this, the uni unveil will take place in front of the team, students, alums/boosters and media. A spring game unveil was discussed, and although the P12 Network was televising the game, their would be limited buzz and few eyes watching. Student selfies w/ the unis/players will create social media buzz (which is what matters to recruits), regular media satisfies others need for info and it gives Buff Nation something to discuss in the dead time before summer camp. No negatives there. Please stop w/ the lambs discussion – nobody on this board cares what they’re doing.

  2. Also, I hope these uniforms look good. When I read the color schemes, it reminded me of an infamous period (slightly before my time) when CU decided it wanted to drop the actual team colors and instead donned POWDER BLUE. >cringe<

  3. The other major problem we have with marketing CU in state is the immigrant population and I am not talking about Latinos. I believe probably half the Colorado’s population is immigrants from other states who’s allegiance is to some other university and only would care about CU if their children attended CU. I believe that is why the Denver papers and other media can get away with how they treat all the Colorado universities. I live in Michigan and the major universities are covered almost as well as the pro teams. And we have the Tigers, Red Wings, Pistons and Lions as well as minor league hockey and baseball teams (with an s). We also have an indoor football team. I think this also impacts government support of Colorado universities. It is down in Michigan but not nearly as much as in Colorado.

  4. multi million dollar coaches salaries and hundreds of million dollar facilities. RIP amateur athletics. Its a shame that facilities are such a draw for a recruit but I guess that comes from growing up when money is everything including ego and who gets elected to the govt.
    Even if CU’s facilities aren’t shining more brightly than the Taj Mahal they aren’t exactly constructed out of card board boxes either. Why is this such a big deal? It doesn’t really lend itself to character in my opinion.

    1. Amen, ep. I don’t blame CU or most other universities for trying to keep up. It’s essentially an arms race, but its an arms race that they had no hand in starting. It’s either try their best to keep up, or get drowned to the point of being a DIII program.

      The massive amounts of money (and ego) in sports is why I’ve never had much interest in the NFL. But, pro-tip for you ep; if you’d like to see a hard-hitting, faced pace pro-sport that is NOT overflowing with obscene amounts of money, you’re in luck. Denver has 2 of the best pro-lacrosse teams around. The indoor team (The Mammoth, play at Pepsi Center and have cheap tix) and the outdoor team, defending champions (The Outlaws, play at Mile High and have cheap tix). And, no, the players don’t make enough for it to be their career, they do it in their free time.

  5. Nice article Stuart!

    After thinking about the coverage issue with the local Denver media, one overriding thought comes to mind. They sheer number of former CU athletes in the local and/or national media (CJ, Alfred Williams, Chad Brown, Joel Klatt etc), leads me to believe that we are by no means forgotten. They are on every day reminding us that the CU team is the one local school that has accomplished and will accomplish the most, not the Lambs.

    Yes Kizla is a clown, as it the whole Denver TV station contingent. Does anyone really watch 9 News FOR ANYTHING, especially their hard hitting “Fuzzy Puppy Friday, or Really Interesting Recipe Tuesday” news coverage? NO!! we have CUATTHEGAME, Buffzone, ESPN, and Ralphie Report, and that too is where the kids go. Have no worries, once MAC2 has this thing turned around, those Denver bandwaggoneers will be sniffing the jock straps in Boulder, and we will show them the disdain which they so richly deserve.

  6. Much ado about nothing on your part, Stu. Who cares when the uni’s are intro’ed?

    And who gives crap about the lammies playing at the Broncos’ Indoor? They need all the help they can get since its now pretty clear they rank right up with UNC as far as P5 conferences go:

    Hey! Recruits! Wanna play in a major conference against Pac 12/ P5 schools for national attention every week? Or play in a minor conference for national attention every 3-4 years or so, if your schedule is lucky and very favorable???

    Ummmm, gee, what a dilemma, even for someone dumb enough to prefer Ft Fun!

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