Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin announced plans for an advertising plan last week while addressing his audience at the SEC football media days. More specifically, he said a “billboard will be going up” in Florida next month.
He didn’t offer any more details. But my guess is the billboard won’t be promoting Florida quarterback Tim Tebow for another Heisman Trophy.
UT’s upcoming billboard is a sign of the times in the SEC. Conference schools have the pleasant task of trying to figure out what to do with the $3 billion ESPN and CBS will be throwing at them over the next 15 years. And if you’re investing money in a billboard, know your demographics.
Florida is a recruiting mecca, so that makes sense. In fact, Pahokee High School in South Florida might have as many college prospects as some states.
As much money as UT is investing in recruiting quarterbacks in Southern California, it would be just as appropriate to advertise on I-405 in Los Angeles. For at least four hours a day, you would be assured of a captive audience.
It also would be wise to keep your billboard messages timely.
Suppose UT loses by a lopsided margin to the Gators this September. Monday’s billboards in Florida and LA could read: “We need help. Are you man enough to Volunteer?”
If you think UT would be messaging an uneducated audience, you haven’t been paying attention. Given its increased television exposure, SEC football is hardly a regional venture. Thanks to ESPN, the conference now has the largest college sports syndication television package in the country.
Imagine a five-star running back riding a school bus somewhere in Illinois. He glances out the window and sees Kiffin pointing from a billboard and saying, “We want you.”
Note to advertising campaign manager: Just make sure the billboard doesn’t include the running back’s name.
As much as this could do for recruiting, it doesn’t have to end with recruiting. Surely, a creative thinker like Kiffin will realize that billboard advertising could be directed at opponents as well as recruits.
SEC commissioner Mike Slive made it clear at the spring meetings that he wouldn’t stand for coaches sniping at other conference schools. So subtlety would be the key.
For example, if UT defeats Kentucky for the 733rd consecutive time this November, you wouldn’t have Kiffin taunting the Wildcats on a Lexington billboard the following Monday. Instead, the UT coach’s message could be something like: “Kentucky never quit. I’m honored to be a part of such a great traditional game.”
The messages between the lines: “No matter how hard Kentucky plays, it still can’t beat UT,” and “It’s a great traditional game for the Vols because they win and Kentucky loses.”
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. As any coach knows, you take one billboard at a time.
As for the one in Florida, how about: “There’s more than one shade of orange,” accompanied by a Kiffin smirk.
And make sure the billboard is within sight of the Pahokee practice field.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.