Normally, this first article of the season here at HSJ Central is reserved for either some rah-rah piece about how A&M might be good this year if things go well or some schticky piece about a few of us sitting around talking about how drunk we are going to get after Tech hangs half-a-hundred on us, but I decided to take a bit of a different approach to the season this year. Granted, just about every Aggie I know is beaten down to a pulp by the last six years of football that slides from “Well, At Least We Beat t.u.” to “Sumbitch, We Lost to Arkansas State?!?” on what we call the “Pathetic Continuum”. Of course, there are still the Redass few that look and act like they just stepped out of a jokebook who will tell you that nothing is wrong with the program, but those are the same folks who fall asleep at night to the plantive sounds of bleating sheep on a reel-to-reel. Don’t ask where they got the recording.
But what about the rest of us? What about the vast majority of Texas A&M graduates, fans, and whatever else we are supposed to call ourselves who enjoyed a couple of decades of not just football dominance but a place at the table where the big kids sit? Now, we are relagated to discussions in coffee circles and bloated football magazines on whether or not we will either win a game in the Big XII or finish above last in the division. That’s not acceptable, however it’s reality right now.
It didn’t take us overnight to get to this point, and despite the rather convincing arguments from our sisters from schools like Texas or Texas Tech, we aren’t destined to be at the bottom forever. At some point, A&M football will bounce back, Tech will fall back to where they belong, and Baylor will go back to being the school that got into the Big XII over TCU only because Ann Richards was a cunt.
So, what’s wrong with Texas A&M? Why is it that the Aggie jokes that we endured thru the 1900’s about changing a lightbulb or knowing where to put your glasses suddenly turned into an incredibly vitriolic stampede? How is it that a school like Baylor who hadn’t won a Big XII conference game EVER until a few years ago has any room to talk shit about A&M, who they’ve only beaten TWICE since the 80’s? They’ve beaten Texas more than that, but somehow they think that they can whip up on A&M now. How is it that we’ve gone from denying that Texas Tech was a rival to suddenly having Tech being annoyed and insulted that A&M would be considered on their level? They haven’t won an outright conference championship since before Kennedy was assassinated.
Let’s look at a few things. According to indystar.com, A&M leads all Big XII schools in football ticket sales at $21mil, even more than Texas (third overall behind Ohio State and Michigan). In total budget, A&M ranks 8th overall with $64mil. Texas is the only Big XII team ahead of us, and they clock in at 2nd with $89mil. I can keep going with these numbers, but they are all going to show that A&M spends money like a top 15 team.
Ok, so it’s not money. Let’s look at recent football success. In the last ten years, A&M has a record that ranks around 40th overall, and that includes two years of 4-8, a 5-6, and a 6-6. All things considered, that’s not too bad. However, in the last 15 years, we have two bowl wins. Two. Bowl. Wins. That’s a problem. We won the Big XII South Division twice in ’97 and ’98 and since have been behind Texas and OU every year. Against our division rivals like Baylor and OSU, we’ve done pretty good. However, we are 3-10 in the last 13 meetings w/Tech, allowing them to almost even the series overall. We haven’t won in Lubbock since 1993. We haven’t beaten OU since Reggie’s miracle game in 2002. Although we took 2 straight games against the sips, the other 10 years before that only netted two wins total.
This is a chicken vs. egg argument. Which comes first, winning or popularity? In the early 90’s, you couldn’t go anywhere in the state w/o finding tons of A&M gear everywhere. As a matter of fact, I distinctly remember going to Wal-Mart (I’m pedigree white trash) and seeing nothing but TAMU shirts (back when that was a popular moniker for A&M, for who knows what terrible reason). On the off chance that I saw a Texas shirt, I’d cover it up w/a TAMU shirt, but I didn’t have to do that very often since other people did it, too. And for GOD’S sake, there weren’t any OU shirts in there. From time to time, you could find a Tech shirt, but that was usually over near the little kid section.
Check this out.
This is a picture from a random sporting goods store in Texas. I’m not going to name any names or call stores out, but it’s a rather prominent store in a high traffic area and it’s not indicative of any one line of stores. If you look really closely at the bottom right, you’ll see a maroon football, the only A&M product on the display rack that greets you when you walk in the door. I might add that this display was under a giant Texas canopy. Ok, so I go to a different part of the store to see what sort of A&M stuff I can find.
Excuse the blurriness, but I think you get the point. The entire rack is full, there are only two A&M hats and neither one is the same maroon that we use. Hell, one looks like a pair of boxer shorts that’s been cut up. Let’s look at the rest of the college apparel section:
Ok, so nothing in the aisles. How about the rest of the store?
I wasn’t being selective on this…there wasn’t a gawdamn Aggie t-shirt in the entire butt-fucking store. They had the “Keep Austin Weird” shirts, but not one A&M shirt. If you look really closely at the end of the rack on the last picture, you can see a maroon shirt. I got kinda excited there, and realized it was for a local high school.
Not an Aggie t-shirt in the entire place. No Aggie chairs or canopies, only two hats and a single football, and I found a pair of Aggie flipflops in the shoe department. Not to be swayed, I went to another location of the same store in a different city and it was the same. So I went to a different sporting goods store so that our HSJ brethren wouldn’t think I was being selective in my research. From a totally different store in a totally different town, this is the collegiate apparel section:
There are two A&M hats and some A&M car flags. The selection of Duke hats at this sporting good store in Texas was only one style fewer than the A&M hats available. Reeeeeeeload, Ags.
I did, however, find one A&M t-shirt at the new place.
You’ll notice that it has the schedule from last year on it. I’m sure that will be a top seller this fall, especially with the incredibly effective marketing slogan “Bring It” at the bottom. Christ almighty.
By chance, I had to stop by a home improvement store and guess what I found:
No other schools were represented in the area rug section, which is just one more thing that longhorn fans can gloat over.
According to the Collegiate Licensing Corp who is the larger of two entities who handles product licensing for colleges, UT ranks #1 overall and has for the last four years in collegiate licensing. A&M just signed on with CLC this past August, so the rankings will not include Texas A&M (just want to make sure we are fair here). We’ll revisit after A&M is included in the quarterly report, but if Tech is top 25, then A&M should be, right?
I SAID, ‘AM I RIGHT?!?’
Now that I’ve bitched about the fact that I can’t find an A&M t-shirt like I could in 1992, let’s talk about the ramifications. This isn’t a singular phenomenon for one particular area. This is happening all over the entire state. You go to any sporting goods store and you’ll see a shitload (no pun intended) of t-sip gear. The stores that have substantial marketing departments will also probably carry Texas Tech and OU stuff for no other reason than the fact that they are winning right now, and winning sells. Now, Aggies will buy anything that has the block aTm on it, so I know that A&M stuff sells. But one has to realize that selling to the alumni of a school is easy. It’s the other schlubs on the street wearing sports gear that make/break the bank. To those buyers, it has nothing to do with Kirk Herbstreit’s Gameday Atmosphere rankings or how we stack up against Harvard or Yale in our research department. It’s only about the winning team, and a team that doesn’t win doesn’t automatically market itself without some sort of effort. Anyone in their right minds who could get into Texas, A&M, or OU are not going to go to Lubbock or Stillwater. That’s why those places have as many students as UofNorth Texas. So why the hell are those schools, with less than 30k students, able to outsell Texas A&M? No one even wants to go to school there, but people want to buy their shirts?!? At least OSU has a wacky shitbird billionaire who is trying to build a championship a la Tom Hicks. Funny that they both are staring down the snotty end of a balance sheet right now, but I digress.
In other words, A&M does NOT sell itself. You hearin’ me, Bill Byrne? A&M does NOT sell itself to anyone but people who already like A&M, and unfortunately we’ll still like A&M regardless of the shit you put on the football field.
A&M’s problem in football is easy to figure out. RC Slocum let the game pass him over and was outrecruited by Mack Brown and Bob Stoops for the best talent in Texas. Dennis Dickhead Franchione came in as the savior of our failing program and decided that he wanted to reinvent the wheel, recruiting players that would either never see the field or who would fit his convoluted offense that basically was the triple-option veer while completely forgetting that we have to play defense every once in a while. At a time when the A&M brass needed to go out and make a splash hire to energize the program, they hired a head coach that no one else wanted as a head coach and who was, up to that point, most famous for falling asleep while scouting players. That’s recruiting prowess if I’ve ever seen it, and he was taken to the woodshed in his first 15 months as coach. Sherman has turned on the gas this season and has recruited to suit more of a pro-style offense, however he’s going to need some time to restock the lack of talent that RC and Fran left behind. He’s taking a good, healthy approach to the program and will probably get us back on track, however it’s going to take some time. Meanwhile, we are the laughing stock of college football.
Now we are back to the chicken-egg situation. Chances are we won’t be winning anything significant this year (and that means division championship and above) and if the pundits are correct, will be at the bottom of the barrel again clawing to pass Baylor, a school that is only rivaled in its lameness by the city it resides in. Texas A&M is the sixth largest school in the nation, a school with the largest amount of ticket sales in the Big XII (third highest overall), second in the Big XII in total AD budget and 8th overall, and we can’t find a damn shirt to buy at the local sporting good store?
The Dallas Cowboys know how to market as do the longhorns. You have to saturate the market, regardless if you are winning. Winning will cure it all, but you’ve got to make it cool to like A&M again in the meantime. That starts and ends with inundating the market with A&M gear. Every gas station from Van Alstyne to Hearne should have as much Aggie stuff as you can force down their throats. Any Wal-Mart in Texas that has more OU stuff than A&M stuff should be burned to the ground. Don’t try to make a profit on t-shirts like you do football tickets, Byrne. This is a fundamental investment. Partnering w/CLC is a step in the right direction, but the university needs to be completely behind this and should not accept failure on this venture because you have to be in the faces and minds of the general public until we can start winning again. The Spirit of Aggieland is dying on the vine, so Aggies must support this.
Unlike they do with our university presidents.