08 Aug

Oregon football gets a sniff of a new funding strategy

People complain sometimes that Oregon universities lack the research and innovation firepower of some of the other Pac-12 members, or of some of the other national institutions more highly ranked among research universities. But last week the University of Oregon boldly forged ahead in an area where none of the nation’s better-funded, statistically more impressive higher-education outposts had advanced:

The scratch-and-sniff football ticket.

The loyal Duck fan can now smell like it.

In the endless drive to get fans closer to the action, the ESPN-ization of sports, there are of course certain aromas that could intensify the experience. But this isn’t a move to bring fans into the locker room; it’s boldly going where none have gone before to explore new revenue real estate – located right in the middle of fans’ faces.

In the football season beginning later this month, Oregon football tickets will have a scratch-and-sniff option sponsored by Carl’s Jr., releasing its aroma all over Autzen. Universities all over the country have sold stadium naming rights, team uniform rights, athletes’ shoe rights. But now Oregon has shrewdly sniffed the air and monetized an additional image:

Smelling rights.

The only challenge is where to put the trademark.

A recent tweet from the university’s athletic department noted that the new move was in line with previous ticket redesigns adding texture, foil and holographs. Along with sight and touch, an Oregon football ticket is now aimed at an additional sense, smell.

“We wanted to have a sense of Autzen Stadium,” explained Oregon senior associate athletic director
Craig Pintens in an interview Monday, “and we realized we didn’t have a signature smell of Autzen Stadium.”

So Oregon IMG Sports Marketing, which “offers companies quality sponsorship opportunities centered around the positive image of Duck Athletics,” contacted Carl’s Jr., an existing Duck sponsor, and asked if the fast-food operation would like to expand its sponsorship.

“Originally, we wanted different scents on the tickets,” with a different aroma for each home game, Pintens told Marissa Payne of Washingtonpost.com, “but [the manufacturers] said if we did that, it would cause all the smells to mix and be a potpourri of yuck.”

Which is the world’s least favorite soft drink flavor.

(Still, it’s hard to believe that the high-tech designers at Nike, who for 2014 have given the Ducks a range of 16 jerseys, 13 helmets and potential permutations at the calculator level, won’t soon be able to isolate a Texas BBQ Thickburger from a Strawberry Swirl Cheesecake.)

For now, tickets will carry only the aroma of fresh-baked buns, which sports marketing blogger Joe Favorito describes enthusiastically as “something which can easily be turned into a promo in and around home games for those looking for some tailgating or pre and postgame snacks.”

In fact, Favorito speculates, incorporating sample tastes can’t be far off. You could add that the chip that allows the ticket to talk to you – possibly asking if you wouldn’t like to pick up something from the Duck Shop – is easy to imagine.
Soon, humanity could face the prospect of the first football ticket directed at all five senses.

In terms of the specific aroma sponsor, you can see a bit of the spiritual connection between Oregon football and Carl’s Jr. – fast offense, fast food. But as Andrew Theen reported in The Oregonian last month, Oregon, with an average ticket price of $154, has the ninth-most expensive tickets in college football. Duck ticket buyers might perhaps expect their scratch to unleash the aura of prime rib or lobster.

Or at least Dungeness crab.

Still, that doesn’t diminish the level of Oregon’s conceptual breakthrough, bringing football promotion to an organ – the nose – not previously involved in it.

“We believe we’re the first in college football,” says Pintens. “It’s something fun and innovative, and that’s what we’re striving for at the University of Oregon.”

The idea is clearly innovative, giving the sports world a whiff of an entirely new direction in sponsorship, something sought as desperately as a creative passing game. For the past decade, the Ducks have made a major splash in the football world with their option offense; they now have the possibility of a similarly dramatic impact with another burst of imagination:

The Oregon olfactory offering.

“One of the hallmarks of the University of Oregon is, we do set trends,” notes Pintens. “I’m sure there will be all kinds of different smells in college football tickets next year.”

Just how much gratitude that will produce might be beyond anyone’s preseason forecast.

NOTE: This column appeared in The Oregonian, Wednesday, 8/6/14