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January 14, 2004

The New Frontier: Ads On Sweaters

The names on the arenas have been bought, as has the courtside signage and the jerseys and shoes of the players. But a new space could become a standard in college advertising: the real estate on the most marketable coaches.

Bobby Knight became the first college basketball coach to "NASCAR-ize" his wardrobe two weeks ago when he walked out of the locker room at the American Airlines Center in Dallas to coach Texas Tech against Iowa.

The game was sponsored by O’Reilly Auto Parts, its embroidered logo appearing on the chest of the sweaters worn by Knight and his assistant coaches. O’Reilly purchased the sweater rights to Knight for the next two seasons.

"It’s really one of the last places you can put a logo, unless some company signs a deal with a coach to wear a logo tie." said Ron Byerly, O’Reilly VP of advertising. He is exploring the idea of inking other college basketball coaches to lapel deals with O’Reilly, which has more than 1,000 stores in 17 states and four stores near the Texas Tech campus.

Coaches who wear suits can sport embroidered company logos with adhesive on the back, just like the college bowl representatives that have affixed their logos over the years. And there are even more options. Knight, for example, now has adidas logos on his shirt collar.

Logos on sweaters and lapel pins on suits have been around for a long time. Converse used to pay basketball coaches to talk at clinics in exchange for the rights to outfit the team and perhaps a logo plastered somewhere on the coach’s outfit. In 1979, Nike signed up its first coach, UNLV’s Jerry Tarkanian.

"The difference between then and now is that O’Reilly has no intention of outfitting the team," said Sonny Vaccaro, who signed Tarkanian to the deal nearly 25 years ago. "O’Reilly is saying that Bobby Knight alone is worth the money they are paying him."

Vaccaro used to negotiate with the coaches themselves. Today, not only does almost every Division I-A college coach have an agent, many assistant coaches do as well. Coaches’ television and radio shows are major money generators and a few coaches can supplement their seven-figure salaries by doing commercials.

If the coaching world needed a pioneer to ink a lapel deal with a company outside the shoe industry, oddsmakers would have certainly tabbed Knight. Not only is Knight a maverick coach on the court, but he’s earned plenty of dough for Texas Tech since being hired in 2001. In less than three years, his presence has been credited with helping to bring in approximately $8 million in additional revenue to the school thanks to increases in season tickets, television deals and sponsorships.

Knight has only coached three games in the Texas Tech sweater sponsored by O’Reilly. They’ve won all three, and local radio talk show hosts have been talking about it.  Byerly said he had 20 e-mails on Monday morning from fans interested in buying O’Reilly Knight sweaters.   (ESPN.com  1-8-04)