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Thursday, January 20, 2022

Sports

UH athletics takes steps to build its brand


In the past two years UH has increased the number of major retailers carrying UH products by about 75 percent.  | Aisha Bouderdaban/ The Daily Cougar

In the past two years UH has increased the number of major retailers carrying UH products by about 75 percent. | Aisha Bouderdaban/ The Daily Cougar

A glance to the left before passing Griggs Road on Interstate 45 South now offers a 48-foot-wide visual of a UH marketing technique.

On July 2, following the Cougars’ official entrance into the American Athletic Conference, two billboards went up, promoting the importance of the move from Conference USA. The two 14-by-48 foot structures stand as pillars of the Athletic Department’s plan to improve its brand locally, regionally and nationally.

UH began taking steps three years ago to achieve its goals, first by switching licensors.

The Cougars moved from The Collegiate Licensing Company to Licensing Resource Group with objectives to increase the program’s presence in retail, have more brand exposure and to create a new logo, which they unveiled on April 1.

For years, students, fans and alumni have noted that athletic apparel from other universities across Texas was more widely available in Houston than UH gear — a reality LRG and UH looked to change with a hands-on approach.

More than 200 retail stores carry retail products.  | Aisha Bouderdaban/ The Daily Cougar

More than 200 retail stores carry retail products. | Aisha Bouderdaban/ The Daily Cougar

“One of the things we did is becoming very active in reaching out to retail buyers — putting it in front of them and explaining the demand,” said Brad Coley, LRG’s University Brand manager. “What we’re trying to do is bring an awareness to those folks.”

LRG has been working with regional buyers and local managers to communicate where fans and alumni live and shop to improve the success rate once the products are in the store, Coley said.

“Every retailer that has put UH products in their store has seen growth. It has given us a great story to tell as we approach new retailers,” Coley said.

The work that the LRG has done has paid off. During the past two years, UH increased the number of major retailers carrying UH products by about 75 percent, and more than 200 stores carry school apparel, according to Mack Rhoades, vice president for intercollegiate athletics.

“LRG has done a really good job of protecting our logo,” Rhoades said. “They’ve done a really good job of reaching outlets and convincing them to carry UH products.”

While the University’s brand has grown in the past three years, Rhoades is not satisfied with where its national profile sits. Fortunately for Rhoades, progress is underway.

A new football stadium, which debuts in August 2014, the renovation of Hofheinz Pavilion, the move to the American and President Renu Khator’s push to shed UH’s commuter school label should help improve the University’s athletic brand in the near future, said Rob Stewart, assistant athletic director for marketing, promotions and sales.

“All are building blocks to a large fan base,” Stewart said.

As the Cougars enter the American, new television deals with ESPN and CBS will grant them more national exposure and high-profile games than C-USA provided. In basketball, the Cougars will face the defending men’s and women’s national champions next season. In football, winning a conference title means a trip to a Bowl Championship Series game for the 2013 season. The American will not be guaranteed a BCS bid after 2013 however.

But Stewart, Coley and Rhoades also realize that part of building a brand is in the hands of the coaches and players on the field. When former quarterback Case Keenum was setting NCAA records and leading the team to a 13-1 record, it was easier to sell people on the University. Last season, the Cougars went 5-7 and missed a bowl game.

Winning also offers free publicity. As a member of the Associated Press top 25 in 2011, the Cougars were featured in every major sports publication across the country each Monday and received a visit from ESPN’s College Gameday.

On the field, a better brand influences recruits. And there is a clear correlation between better recruiting classes and higher win totals.

“Your brand really speaks to who you are. Our goal is to build a brand that’s associated with winning and integrity,” Rhoades said. “Locally, it’s important to gauge the Houston community. … Regionally, it’s also important for recruiting quality young men and women. … Nationally, it brings credibility to our program overall.”

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