Marc Daniels: UCF Is At It Again

UCF Billboard

Brilliant! Arrogant! Marketing genius! Obnoxious!

Wait, is it 2018 again? Did Danny White just claim a national championship?

Oh, that happened three years ago and even today, the debate over UCF's claim still causes people like Paul Finebaum to lose their mind and yell at Mike Bianchi. But back then, White's move was not just about defending his team and being a voice of his fans and challenging a system that denied his team a chance to play for a national title. It was also about marketing, brand expansion and keeping UCF in the headlines.

One week later, when the College Football Playoff title game was played in Atlanta, UCF was still part of the discussion. 

UCF held a downtown celebration, a parade at Disney and many in the media and fans of other schools lost their minds.

Critics screamed that what UCF did was wrong and it's now how it works. They all missed the point.

UCF parlayed a perfect season into a marketing campaign with a priceless tag on its value. It led to increased season ticket and merchandise sales. It created a college football media debate that kept UCF in the headlines long after their Peach Bowl win over Auburn.

The momentum carried into 2018 where the win streak rolled through the regular season. Brand expanded and discussion most P5 schools crave.

Since then, UCF remains a polarizing brand in college sports. They are among the most active and daring social media schools in the country. They don't mind getting under the skin of fans from SEC schools or respond to criticizing media in a not-so subtle tone.

If it didn't work, Finebaum wouldn't have UCF living rent free in his mind(I had to use that).

Which brings it to the latest move by UCF.

With the hiring of new coach, Gus Malzahn, the Knights have seen their new face of football announce how aggressive he wants to be recruiting the state and how he wants to see UCF grow its brand with more conference titles, major bowl games and an appearance in the College Football Playoff.

Coachspeak is nice but UCF has decided to put up a few billboards promoting UCF and using the line "The Future of College Football." Oh, did I mention the billboards are going up in Miami, Tampa, Jacksonville........and Gainesville and Tallahassee?

Depending on which city you find the billboard it will also include the number of miles from that town to the UCF campus. 

It took, not days or hours, but minutes before reactions on social media started pouring in. 

"*&!# YOU!!!"... "What the heck is this doing in Gator Country?"..."Uh, I think someone made a mistake and put this up in the wrong town"

Those are the nice ones. There are plenty of fans in Gainesville, Tallahassee, Tampa and Miami hating UCF even more today.

UCF is just fine with it all. They are used to it. It's about attention and the billboards are getting attention. Most of the billboards are electric rotating messages. In Gainesville, there's a permanent paper billboard. If it hasn't been defaced yet, but likely will be by the time you finish reading this column.

Is UCF trying to schedule games with Florida, FSU and Miami? Sure, but that's not what this is about. It's about doing what they have done for years. Push the envelope. Get under the skin of fans who didn't like before and won't like you in the future.

Is it taking a shot at those programs? No. It's just a billboard that will get lots of attention and accomplish what UCF wants. Attention.

But don't you have to back it up by winning on the field? Sure. Gus Malzahn doesn't plan on going 6-6. If he does, he won't need fans in Gainesville, Tallahassee or Miami telling him 6-6 wasn't good plenty of UCF fans will be doing that. 

Florida, FSU and Miami don't need marketing campaigns to get under the rivals nerves but those programs have been around a lot longer. UCF can't add 75 seasons to their history. Instead, they get creative and step out of a traditional comfort zone.

It's not designed to win over fans of those schools. It is designed to stand out and get attention. 

Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne did something similar when it came to getting attention. After the school sent out a tweet that they were planning on a fully-opened campus with students in classrooms for the Fall 2021 semester. Byrne then sent a tweet saying he anticipated a full stadium for football games at Alabama. He ended his tweet saying they would "monitor medical guidelines" moving forward. See what he did there? If, by mid-July, it becomes clear that a full stadium is not in the best interest of Tide fans, he can just say that. But he knew what he was doing. As spring practice is on the horizon, the question about a full stadium may be the biggest question being asked in the state. So Byrne's tweet plays to the crowd. It sparks more season ticket sales and donations. No one will blame him if he has to announce 60% capacity. It's business. Byrne is smart.

Sometimes the marketing and business idea is obvious. Sometimes it's not. If a billboard in your town upsets you, it says more about you. If you stop and think about and laugh then you get it. 

We are all marketing and selling 24/7. Don't forget to log onto www.969thegame.comand vote in the Beat of Sports Bracket of Best Sports Cliches. See what we did there?

Final thought: Animal cracker. Cracker or Cookie?

Photo Credit: Marc Daniels

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