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  • Amalia Webber

Brand of the Week: The University of Oregon Ducks

This week’s ‘brand of the week’ is University of Oregon ‘Ducks’ football team…let me explain…

A couple weeks ago my sister and I watched a movie called ‘The Tender Bar’ with Ben Affleck and George Clooney. The plot revolves around a young ‘J.R.’ whose mother dreams of him getting a full scholarship to Yale to become a lawyer. He gets in, but realizes that his dream is to be a writer. He then contends with the risk of ‘wasting’ his education on writing.

It was a cute film, but what struck me the most was how one brand, “Yale” was the focal point of JRs conflict within himself. Had JR been attending another, less famous college, the stakes of his decision wouldn’t have been viewed as such, and the film’s emotional drama would’ve been lacking. ‘Yale’ here symbolized opportunity, class, freedom, prestige, in the way only another Ivy could do.

So whether we like it or not, and while we may not think of Yale or Harvard as ‘brands’, surely traditional brands have something to learn if an entire film’s plot can rest on the esteem of one American university. This week’s ‘brand of the week’ is another American college finding creative ways to boost its reputation.

So, what is this campaign?

The Oregon Duck’s college football team recently auctioned off $500k worth of NFTs to benefit Oregon student athletes directly, marking a historic moment in the fight for college athletes to monetize and profit from their personal brand. Prior to a recent and historic Supreme Court decision, student athletes playing at the college level were not allowed to be paid, either by their school, through endorsement deals, or through influencer marketing despite working hard to boost the image and reputation of their schools, not to mention bringing in money through ticket sales, etc. Now, due to changed NIL (Name, Image, and Likeness) laws, colleges can make big money for their athletes and themselves through brand partnerships.

Not only will it enhance their financial standing, it also opens opportunities for colleges to boost their personal brand and attract better talent. The Oregon Duck’s NFTs are accompanied by a unique, physical pair of limited-edition Nike’s, which feels like something you’d see from a streetwear fashion brand, not a college. The school is sending a strong message to potential incoming students and sources of endowment about the kind of institution they are and the perks of being a ‘duck’.

What values does this enable?

NFTs are talked about a lot these days, but very few people actually have a firm grasp on what they are and how to use them. For the University of Oregon to invest so much time into a nascent platform involves a huge amount of risk and confidence in the value of their offering.

There’s also a lot of self-direction being granted to students in this move. Under the previous laws, if a player had a large social media following they were prohibited from benefitting financially from it since their popularity was driven by their association to their university. This gives them the freedom to be digital creators and benefit financially for the first time.

Benevolence is at the forefront of the case promoting the recent new NIL laws in general and this campaign has a clear mission of improving the lives of their athletes alongside their own brand. Student athletes make their schools millions of dollars, and nearly everyone gets a payout except for the players themselves. Despite the misconception, most aren’t on full scholarships, so being compensated for their work, albeit indirectly, is life changing and will allow many the freedom to pursue other passions after their four years of college.

There’s no question the University of Oregon has power and prestige in their mind with this initiative. The American university system is notoriously competitive, both to get into, but also from the perspective of the schools themselves vying for top talent and funding. This sale is a way for the university to set themselves apart, proving to the world and to potential students what kind of influence their name and their athletes can have in the digital NFT space.

Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend!


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