“Teens pick brands, pros pick contracts.”

This post is one of the more fascinating things I’ve read lately.  It’s an examination of what leads recruits to the schools they choose.

College athletics provide a unique, albeit contentious, dynamic in which players base their college decisions on a radically different criteria than professional players, who often opt to play for whichever franchise will pay the most.  Stadium size, uniforms (read our article Fashion Wars on the influences of uniforms and apparel companies in recruiting), program prestige, coach prestige, coach persona, location, media exposure, fan sentiment, playing style, and academics are only a handful of the endless factors that play a role in an athlete’s decision.  The net sum of all these influences becomes the program’s brand, which is then evaluated by millions of high school athletes.  Each athlete is sure to perceive each school uniquely, but the masses will come to a general sentiment on which school is better than the next.  It is absolutely critical for a college football program’s brand to be perceived ahead of its competition by the majority of high school athletesor at the very least, the majority of high school athletes in a desired segment of the high school athlete population.  Jeremy Darlow spoke to us about this dynamic, and shared: “Few brands reach omnipresent levels in which they can be all things to all people, which plays into a team’s favor. If you can identify the brand space that is genuinely unique to your program, you are instantly #1 in the country for that idea.”

Two huge points there.  One, what you or I may perceive as being critical to a program’s brand ain’t the same thing as what a recruit perceives.  And since you or I aren’t the ones suiting up, it perhaps behooves us to keep our mouths shut about things like Oregon’s revolving wardrobe, which appears to resonate with high schoolers.  The second point is that it’s a big deal for schools to find a unique aspect about themselves they in turn can market successfully to these kids.

The authors of the piece surveyed more than 200 recruits to get a picture of D-1 schools’ marketing success.  Here’s what the top 85  results look like:

And here’s how that tracked with this year’s recruiting.

How do these brand rankings get translated to signing day results?  Since the beginning of the recruiting service era (1999-2000), every national champion has had at least one recruiting class on its roster with multiple five star recruits.  On average, there are only 7.7 teams—never less than five or more than nine—each year with multiple five star players.  Only Clemson, Ohio State, Penn State, Georgia, USC, Alabama, and Texas landed multiple five stars in this year’s 2018 class. The first five schools all reside in the top 5 of the brand rankings while Alabama and Texas still have two of the most notable brands in the country.  Why is this significant?  Because most of our respondents have never been recruited by these top-tier colleges.  Yet, despite all the phone calls, letters, text messages, unofficial visits, or any other obscure recruiting tactics that coaches deploy to attract elite talent, the final recruiting rankings align precisely with the high school demographic’s perceived brand rankings.  The actual act of recruiting, apparently, is one giant charade.  Is it necessary?  Sure.  Will marginally better recruiting execution lead to better results?  No.

This distribution leads us to identify different tiers of brands within the rankings.  Each year, the top 7.7 teams are therefore the teams that recruit at the highest level and give their team a statistical chance to win the national championship over the next four years while that recruiting class is in college.  We will call this ‘Tier One’, which is comprised of the brands that are capable of winning recruiting battles against any other brand in the country since five star recruits, more often than not, have offers from virtually every school.  [Emphasis added.]

You can argue that there’s some overstatement there, as evidenced by some individual jockeying over key recruits, but the post isn’t about micro-level recruiting.  I read all that and thought about the job Kirby’s done selling Georgia as a destination to kids and their parents, enhanced by the team’s recent meteoric rise to the CFP finals, and how that played into the class he just signed.

Read the whole thing and tell me what you think.


Filed under Recruiting

17 responses to ““Teens pick brands, pros pick contracts.”

  1. JG Shellnutt

    I think they didn’t survey anyone in Montana.


    • You won the race to post the very first thing that popped in everyone’s mind. 😉

      On another note, while brand is important, the relationship between the coaches and players is a bigger factor in my mind. Relationships are the key, as Kirby has mentioned before.


  2. Russ

    We may not suit up but we damned sure foot the bill, and I want my money back for those hideous Power Ranger uniforms we wore.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Russ

      Just to ponder the uniform question a bit more, I wonder what the difference in perception of the uniforms is between the high school kid and the player that just graduated? A high school recruit probably doesn’t have a deep connection with the brand yet, but a player that just gave 4+ years of his life to that brand probably has a deep connection. I wonder if a Nick Chubb and a Justin Fields feel the same way about alternative uniforms?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. One very significant thing I noticed is Ga Tech ‘s brand ranking is far outpacing their recruiting ranking.
    I guess once your rankings are from the high 30’s to low 60’s all bets are off.


    • Cojones

      Good comment that won’t hit many between the eyes except us old farts. GT’s brand marker was alongside ‘Bama’s “back then” and would have a significant difference had this question been assayed at that time. The old gold and white was prominent then, but a totally differing luster now. They were prominent every Sunday in the AJ with the sports section covered with photos that ran for some distances on the field and followed the arc of a great pass from someone like Chic Granning by using a dotted line to connect the arc to another photo of the reception. Uga was an afterthought on those pages since UGA was nowhere as prominent in football as the AJ made Tech.


  4. paul

    I think the article provides further evidence of McGarity’s incompetence. “perception, recruiting, winning, and money make up the four phases of an Athletic Program Life Cycle, in that order” and “It is difficult for an athletic director to wake up and say, “I want to make 20% more money this year.” It is more realistic for an athletic director to say, “I want to improve my brand perception.” Perception in turn affects recruiting, which affects winning, which affects revenue. Each phase is most greatly influenced by the preceding phase. This explains why the recruiting results have a stronger correlation with our brand rankings than the revenue rankings.” Brand perception and brand ranking are concepts I am convinced McGarity simply cannot comprehend. I hear a few rumblings from various members of the Athletic Association Board who would like to address these sorts of issues but they don’t seem to get the opportunity. At Georgia “branding” seems to revolve almost exclusively around the personality of the coach. And not just in football. Georgia gymnastics? Yoculan. Georgia swimming? Bauerle. As is often discussed here, the game day experience is part of our brand and the school not only ignores it, they seem hellbent on actively destroying it. We have a tremendous business school on campus. Athletics should talk a walk over to Terry and get some advice. Kirby has done an excellent job since arriving. He deserves better support than he’s getting from McGarity and his lackeys.


    • Tony Barnfart

      100% agree. Kirby would actually be a better AD than McGarity… he gets “it”. Oddly McGarity is actually more like the nearly dead practice of rolling the old Coach into the AD chair, something the vast majority of coaches are not suited for. Back in the day, these old coaches could afford to be reactive to everything.

      To add, ive always thought we should be leveraging Athens more in our branding. That REM chapel bell commercial gave me goosebumps and even my UT grad wife loves it and listens to that song repeatedly even though neither had ever heard it before the UGA commercial. I actually think UGA is one of those “few schools that can be everything to everybody.” But when we have to tap that unique thing the article talked about in order to define the brand, well, ain’t nothing better or more unique than Athens.


  5. Bulldog Joe

    “Because most of our respondents have never been recruited by these top-tier colleges.”

    Nick Saban doesn’t have time for this shit. 😉


  6. Hogbody Spradlin

    The rankings aren’t too surprising, but I’d like to see the raw question. Is it in the linked article?


  7. NoAxeToGrind

    For what it is worth, you still get what you pay for and winning breeds success.



    Good job, Kirby & Co.


  9. Raleigh St. Claire

    I thought the uniform bit was funny, but kind of misses and nails the point all at the same time.

    Notice, that while Oregon’s way of branding itself is “kind of” working, it is surrounded by schools who don’t do the uniform gimmicry but still have solid brands.

    The article touches on this – the power of history and mystique still plays an enormous role in CFB.


  10. I find it incredibly sad and disheartening that Pedophile State is 3rd after a 20+ year campaign of covering up child rape. 😦


    • Macallanlover

      I thought their appearance at 3rd undermined the credibility of the survey, even before I saw how far down the list Alabama was. I don’t doubt the players find neon uniforms sexy, or give the obligatory nod to academics, but wake me when it doesn’t come down to the combo of a program’s appearances in big games, scheme fit for their talents, playing opportunities. location for family/friends, and chicks. If cool wardrobes were a high consideration in the actual decision, State Pen’s black, high top shoes would have them struggling between them and Maryland’s helmets. And 200 or so recruits, nationally, is enough of a sample size to get a solid feel for how 130 schools rank? Right.


  11. Charles

    I imagine the brand of UGA gets a bump with non-recruited players when people like Justin Fields decide to go there. So I think they’re reaching in their interpretation that recruiting efforts are inconsequential next to brand. I think recruiting efforts directly influence brand and indirectly influence brand (in the form of winning).