Published by: Promotional Consultant
By Audrey Sellers
The Heisman Trophy is college football’s most prestigious award, and DeAngelo Williams is the first University of Memphis football player to be within reach of this coveted trophy. With such a high-level honor at stake, Jennifer Rodrigues, athletics media relations director, knew she had to create a buzz about Williams that was as big as the player’s Heisman dream.
Rodrigues spent several days brainstorming the perfect promotion. She wanted something unique that would separate Williams from the other Heisman hopefuls. It all came together when Rodrigues walked past her husband’s collection of die-cast NASCAR replicas.
“I wanted a product that wouldn’t go straight in the trash,” Rodrigues says. “I was thinking about DeAngelo’s speed, the speed of the car and the race for the Heisman.”
So Rodrigues got to work. She went to Tempe, Arizona-based distributor Action Performance Companies, Inc. with her promotion idea. “I didn’t know if they could produce a car for a non-NASCAR driver,” says Rodrigues. “That was my biggest concern.” But Action Performance came through.
“Action helped us navigate through the legalities concerning NASCAR and the use of its brand,” Rodrigues says. “We had to make sure our font was different from the font on a regular NASCAR automobile.”
In accordance with National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) policy, sponsorships weren’t allowed. “We couldn’t put a corporate logo on a piece promoting an individual player,” Rodrigues says. “The only logo allowed on the car was the Action logo, since they actually produced the vehicle.”
Once the logistics were worked out, the race was on. “Action produced the special DeAngelo paint scheme for us,” says Rodrigues. “When we got the prototype of what the car would look like, I was completely blown away.” She invited the local media to the university for a press conference. It was then that the “Race For The Heisman” campaign was unveiled.
When the shipment of 3,500 NASCAR replicas arrived, Rodrigues knew she would mail about 1,000 to media and sell the rest. “When you’re an athletics department with a limited budget, you find ways to make things work,” she says. “If we sold the cars to our fans, we could basically recoup the cost of the promotion.”
The cars were pre-sold online to season-ticket holders and booster members. “We had about $75,000 in the bank before the cars even came in,” says Rodrigues. Overall, the promotion raised $35,000 for the university to give as scholarships. “To have the opportunity to do this promotion and work with DeAngelo has been incredible,” she says. “It’s been so much fun—I’ve really enjoyed it.”