July 12th, 2005
Memphis Tests New Vehicle in Heisman Promotion
By Michael McCarthy
The University of Memphis is revving up a $38,000 promotional effort for DeAngelo Williams that uses toy cars to link a Heisman Trophy campaign for the senior tailback to the popularity of NASCAR.
The school’s athletics media relations department has mailed 850 die-cast race cars to sports media and former winners who’ll select the 2005 Heisman winner. The 1:24 scale cars, sporting a paint scheme in the same colors as Williams’ Memphis Tigers team, declare: "The Race is On."
Athletics media relations director Jennifer Rodrigues dreamed up the idea while watching her husband fiddle with his collectible Dale Earnhardt cars. The school presold another 2,400 cars to boosters and season ticketholders at $35 a pop in April, another novel approach that needed NCAA approval. The racing theme continues at http://www.racefortheheisman.com.
"We had to come up with something with a ‘wow’ factor that people wouldn’t toss in the garbage," Rodrigues says. "If a few people pay more attention to DeAngelo’s (candidacy), that’s good enough for me."
Gary Ruskin of watchdog group Commercial Alert criticized the program as "promotional hysteria" run amok: "They should spend less time promoting their Heisman candidate and more time teaching students who pay thousands in tuition."
Rodrigues counters the promotion will turn a $35,000 profit. She says it would be a "huge boost" for recruiting if Williams is one of the finalists in New York for the Heisman ceremony. Williams, 2004 national leader in rushing touchdowns, "is learning about" racing, she says.
Sales of licensed NASCAR gear was $2.1 billion in 2004. While NASCAR is not involved in this promotion, the cars are manufactured by Action Performance Cos., which sells more than $350 million in licensed cars, T-shirts and key chains annually. CEO Fred Wagenhals says the school is clever to harness the popularity of auto racing.
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