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Thursday, May 5, 2011
Delany likens Nebraska brand to Packers

By Adam Rittenberg

One thing I've learned during my time at ESPN.com is that certain college football brands matter more than others.

Certain brands move the needle in terms of interest, TV ratings and revenue. Certain brands force you to pay attention.

Nebraska is one of those brands.

Needless to say, it was interesting to read Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany's comments Wednesday about the Nebraska football brand. Delany, attending a charity sports banquet in Omaha, likened Nebraska to the Green Bay Packers of the Big Ten.
"It's really about the games," Delany said. "We're not the NFL, but the NFL has a very small-market team, Green Bay, and their games are national games, and everything they do is followed. The Nebraska brand has developed in such a way as other names like Oklahoma, Texas, Southern Cal. It's one of those programs that when you put them up against a quality opponent, it's a national game."

I hadn't made the connection between Nebraska and the Packers, but it makes sense.

The Packers are an intensely local team -- tiny market, community owned -- that generates national appeal in part because of its unique setup (winning also has something to do with it). While it pains me to say it as a Bears fan, Green Bay is a destination sports fans want to visit and should visit. Most NFL stadiums lack character, but Lambeau Field is special.

Nebraska football has grown its brand in a similar fashion. The Huskers are the biggest show in the state, and their fan support resonates in ways like the home sellout streak and even in the strong participation on this blog since Nebraska switched over. Even the walk-on tradition at Nebraska reinforces the local-ness of the program. These foundational elements combined with winning championships has made Nebraska a brand that moves the needle nationally. And like Green Bay/Lambeau, Lincoln/Memorial Stadium should be on every college football fan's bucket list (be sure and check out Nebraska's weight room, too).

The branding element is a huge reason why the Big Ten added the Huskers. The Big Ten's last expansion pursuit, Notre Dame, boasts an incredible football brand. While potential expansion targets like Missouri and Pittsburgh have some nice qualities, they lack from a branding standpoint.

Nebraska gives the Big Ten a fourth major football brand along with Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan. I'd also put Nebraska in a category with Ohio State and Iowa as the Big Ten schools that resonate the most in their states. In the cases of Nebraska and Iowa, this has to do in part with the absence of major pro sports teams. Penn State moves the needle within the state and nationally, but the Lions compete for attention with two major in-state clusters of pro teams (Philadelphia and Pittsburgh) as well as college conglomerates (Philly's Big 5, Pitt basketball).

Anyway, as you can tell, I love blogging about branding. It might be my favorite topic.

Any thoughts on Delany's Nebraska-Packers connection?