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UM-FSU matchup a cash cow

By Jeffery D. Zbar
Special to the Sun-Sentinel

August 28, 2000

Rivalries are important in sports. Heated foes and their fans eagerly await the games. They gather to play or cheer on their team. In college athletics, the stakes can be high. Winners get an edge in recruiting regional athletes and earn bragging rights for their fans and students.

Now, college athletic programs are tapping the fervor to build marketing programs around such events. This year, the University of Miami and Florida State University athletic programs will launch a new marketing package surrounding their annual football game.

Athletic directors envision this year's game in the Orange Bowl on Oct. 7 as part of a weekend of events. These will include pep rallies, a pregame party at the stadium, in-stadium signs and possibly a golf tournament benefiting both schools' scholarship programs, said Patrick Nero, associate athletic director with the University of Miami.

The teams currently are searching for a sponsor for the event, which likely will spread to include other sports between the two schools, Nero said, such as basketball and baseball, as well as women's athletic programs. Nike, which has apparel-licensing agreements with both schools, will prepare both the logo and retail merchandise for the program, Nero said.

The sponsor will benefit from even more exposure outside the stadium, said Scott Becher, president of Sports & Sponsorships, the Coral Gables-based sports marketing agency that created the event. Media partners of the University of Miami will deliver some $400,000 in media coverage, including exposure in local newspapers, Fox Sports Net, WQAM and sign company Eller Media.

"There's a lot of muscle there," he said of the coverage. CBS will air the game nationally. "It's going to be treated like a bowl game."

The program is expected to give up to three sponsors a chance to attach their names to the game, which this year will be the only one between two preseason top-five ranked teams, he said.

Other schools, like the University of North Carolina and Duke University, have created similar programs. Oregon State University and the University of Oregon have The Civil War, and the universities of Texas and Oklahoma have the annual Red River Shoot Out.

Becher was looking to tap the same emotion and fan enthusiasm when he created and proposed the UM-FSU program to the schools' athletic directors. As a lifelong South Florida resident, Becher has followed the rivalry. Becher knew a program like this would attract fan and marketer attention.

The teams have played 43 times stretching back to 1953, with Miami leading the rivalry with 23 wins, Becher said. Between them, the two have six national championships. Eight times in the last 13 years, the teams both were ranked in the top 10 when they met, he said. Both teams enter this season ranked in the top five in football polls.

This is one of the most heated and watched rivalries in college sports, Becher said. Schools compete for players, fans brag about the results for a year, and often the winner remains in the running for the national championship, he said. The game itself already takes on a "bowl game" atmosphere, he said.

"The teams just jaw at each other all year long. What a natural platform for such a competition. The Miami-Florida State games are almost like national championship games," Becher said.