With the college football season set to get underway Aug. 27 for Division I-A teams in the National College Athletic Association (NCAA), fans everywhere are scouring conference schedules, speculating about red-shirt talent and preparing to stick it to their rivals (hopefully). Yet whether you’re a college football addict or merely a casual observer, one element of the sport is a surefire hit with young and old alike: mascots. They run! They jump! They do pushups on the field at halftime! Beyond their sheer entertainment value, these plush pals are excellent examples of effective marketing in action. They’re tall, colorful and representative of all the things we adore about our favorite schools. That’s why we’ve chosen to highlight one fantastic mascot from each of the NCAA’s 11 Division I-A conferences. Along the way, we’ll point out features that qualify these characters to be brand ambassadors—and some fun history along the way. Pee Dee the Pirate School: East Carolina University Conference: American Athletic Color: Purple and gold Effective Marketing Traits: Winning smile, eye patch, tri-corner hat Beloved by fans of East Carolina University, Pee Dee (officially just “the Pirate”) arrived on the sports scene in 1983. His name reflects the history of North Carolina and South Carolina, whose Pee Dee Rivers once hosted real-life pirates. Despite the cutlass he wields, Pee Dee is undoubtedly safer than the live wildcat that represented ECU from 1930-31. Fast fact: The top three NCAA football advertisers are AT&T Wireless, Taco Bell and Aflac Otto the Orange School: Syracuse University Conference: ACC Color: Orange and blue Effective Marketing Traits: Fruity goodness, branded baseball cap It turns out not everyone at Syracuse University wanted Otto the Orange. In fact, an 18-member committee initially recommended the school name a wolf as its mascot. But a fierce student campaign came through in the clutch, and in 1995 this rotund little fellow joined the ranks of college history. SuperFrog the Horned Frog School: Texas Christian University Conference: Big 12 Color: Gray and purple Effective Marketing Traits: Mythical heritage, spiky ‘do, buff build There’s actually no such thing as a horned frog—the creature in question is actually a lizard. But don’t tell that to the four students who created the mascot in 1897. Among other traits, the real-life lizard eats up to 100 red harvester ants per day and grows up to 5 inches long. Fast fact: On average, 4.2 million viewers tuned in for the top 10 nationally televised regular season games involving a Big 12 football team during the 2013 season. Purdue Pete School: Purdue University Conference: Big Ten Color: Gold and white Effective Marketing Traits: Double chin, hard hat Purdue Pete is a testament to the endurance of mascots through time. He enjoyed a makeover not too long ago, in part because fans wanted him to lighten up a bit, and it seems to be working. Pete is a Boilermaker, a term that originates from the derision that poured forth after Purdue’s football team beat Wabash College by a score of 44-0 in its 1891 season opener. Blaze the Dragon School: UAB Conference: Conference USA Color: Green Effective Marketing Traits: Breathes fire A pink coat initially covered the dragon who would become known as Blaze. This spitfire officially arrived on the scene in 1995, and a 3-ton statue bearing his likeness can be seen in front of Bartow Arena. At 9 feet tall, it’s sure to catch your attention. A Viking and a rooster preceded him. Fast fact: A demo profile of 2013-14 NCAA bowl game watchers reveals 44% were 55 or older, followed by 30% age 35 to 54; 18% age 18 to 34; and 8% age 2 to 17. Bill the Goat School: U.S. Naval Academy Conference: FBS Independents Color: White and Blue Effective Marketing Traits: Distinctive cry, curly horns We’ll let you peruse the history of Navy goats in your spare time. The short version is that according to legend, Navy sailors had a pet goat, and it died at sea. They preserved its skin, intending to mount it. But after arriving on land, an officer toted the skin to a Navy football game, where he decided to run around in it at halftime for laughs. The Midshipmen ended up winning, and the goat’s popularity soared. Rocky the Rocket and Rocksy the Rockette School: University of Toledo Conference: Mid-American Color: Blue and yellow Effective Marketing Traits: Two-for-one team, protective masks We’re unaware of many other schools that boast two mascots (you can correct us on that, of course), but these two (Rocky is a boy and Rocksy is a girl) are certainly special. From their hard helmets down to their gold boots, the space age pair pays tribute to the likes of former astronaut John Glenn, an Ohio native. Fast fact: Another Ohio school, The Ohio State University in Columbus, has the largest college football fan base—66% of the population has watched, attended or listened to the team in the past year Aztec Warrior School: San Diego State University Conference: Mountain West Color: Red and gold Effective Marketing Traits: Historically accurate apparel Introduced a decade ago during an SDSU men’s basketball game versus Colorado State University, the Aztec Warrior represents “a historically accurate and appropriate mascot that enjoys strong support by students, alumni and athletic boosters,” noted Stephen Weber, the school’s president at the time. Donald Duck School: Oregon State University Conference: Pac-12 Color: White and orange Effective Marketing Traits: Walt Disney’s stamp of approval, Before the Mighty Ducks arrived on the scene, Donald Duck was the original athletic waterfowl. Walt Disney gave his approval for the use of Donald’s image beginning in 1947 after athletic director Leo Harris sought to memorialize the school’s previous mascot, a live duck named Puddles. It’s one quacky story, but it’s the truth. Fast fact: Avid college football fans are 24% more likely to belong to a health club than the average U.S. adult The Commodore School: Vanderbilt University Conference: SEC Color: Black and gold Effective Marketing Traits: Perpetual grin, fuzzy hat The Commodore of Vanderbilt University is named after Cornelius Vanderbilt, the successful businessman who founded the school. Vanderbilt was a steamship captain and a railroad pioneer, and he died valued at more than $100 million. Joe Vandal School: University of Idaho Conference: Sun Belt Color: Black and gold Effective Marketing Traits: Impressive facial hair and nose Athletes at the University of Idaho are called vandals because early 1900s sports writers reported basketball team members ‘vandalized’ their opponents. In the late 1950s, a yell leader put on a mask made by his mom during a sporting event, and Joe was born. This rowdy band of characters sure gets us excited about the start of football season. If you find yourself unmoved, perhaps you’re experiencing withdrawals from the World Cup (rest assured, plans for the 2018 games in Russia already are in motion) or you’re realizing cotton-based characters decked out in sports apparel aren’t for you. That’s OK. We won’t judge you. Your alma mater, on the other hand, is totally going down. Note: NCAA Football Survey Data sourced from Nielsen’s “State of the Media: 2013 Year in Sports Media Report”. URL: https://talentleague.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/year-in-sports-media-report-2013.pdf
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