By Barry Janoff
July 29, 2016: In its first comprehensive national marketing campaign in five years, Russell Athletic has unveiled "Team On," a multi-platform effort that seeks to embrace the brand's presence in prep football across the country.
The campaign is anchored by a season-long focus on prep teams from six schools — New Palestine, Ind.; Glynn Academy, Brunswick, Ga.; Lummi Nation in Bellingham, Wash.; Marion Local in Maria Stein, Ohio; Tri-County Academy, Flora, Miss.; and Deerfield-Windsor, Albany, Ga. — which were among 101 schools that in 2015 Russell Athletic said each lost in their respective state high school championship game by a touchdown or less.
An initial TV spot exemplifies the campaign's tag line, "Settle Your Score." It shows the face of New Palestine Dragons head football coach Kyle Ralph, whose team was down 28 points in the first half (42-14) in its high school state championship last year, came back to take the lead, but ultimately lost, 64-61, when Snider (Fort Wayne) scored the winning TD in the final eight seconds.
"It is easy to tell the stories about the teams that won. We want to tell the story about the other team, the team that was a close second," Matt Murphy, svp-marketing for Russell Athletic, said during a media event held at Union City (NJ) High School on Thursday (July 28) to unveil the campaign. "The team that lost the state championship by eight seconds, that came up one-yard short, that missed on one play last season, and how that are using that adversity as motivation this season.
Lead agency is Barkley, Kansas City, Mo. Ketchum Sports & Entertainment is handling PR.
In addition to TV, the campaign will not only live on but evolve via Internet and social media, following the progress of each school during the season. It also includes billboards, with those located near each of the six schools directly involved in the effort reflecting what is motivating each respective team this season.
Billboards in and around New Palestine, for example, will read "8 Seconds." Those for Marion Local High School, located in Maria Stein, Ohio, read, "24W-1L," reflecting the team's two-point loss in the 2015 state championship to Kirkland, 22-20. That loss ended Marion Local's Ohio record of 24 consecutive post-season wins and also prevented the Flyers from winning its fourth consecutive state title.
Sometime after the season starts, new billboards in each area will reflect the motivational themes driving the respective teams this year.
A key element of the "Settle Your Score" push features former NFL running back Eddie George, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1995 ((Ohio State) and was a four-time Pro Bowl selection during his pro career with the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans (1996-2003) and Dallas Cowboys (2004).
George was a member of the Titans team that during the 1999 post-season won what is known as the Music City Miracle (beating the Buffalo Bills, 22-16, on the final play of the game, which covered 75 yards in 15 seconds and involved numerous passes and laterals) but ultimately lost in Super Bowl XXXIV in January 2000, 23-16, to the then St. Louis Rams when Titans wide receiver Kevin Dyson was tackled one-yard short of the goal on the last play of the game.
"I've experienced the highs and the lows of losing a game in the last seconds, coming up one yard or one touchdown short," said George, who rushed for 10,441 yards and 68 TDs in the NFL and is in the College Football Hall of Fame. "I think about that Super Bowl loss every day. But it has made me a better person, a stronger person, with my family and with the things I do in life. That (loss) helps to motivate me to succeed."
George was on hand at Union City High School to help unveil the campaign, also spending time in the 90-degree heat to assist coaches in leading the football team through drills before offering the players personal words of motivation.
The Russell Athletic effort comes at a time when prep sports are taking a hit in finances.
According to Dick's Sporting Goods, which for the past few years has been supporting a Sports Matter program to help raise funds and public awareness for youth and prep sports, "Billions in funding has been cut from school athletic programs in recent years" and that, unless the situation changes, "it's estimated more than a quarter of U.S. public high schools will not have sports programs by 2020."
Future iterations of the Russell Athletic campaign could expand to other sports, such as prep basketball and baseball.
Russell Athletic is an official sponsor for Little League Baseball and Softball and for more than 30 years has been the official uniform supplier for the Little League World Series.
"We felt this year was important two invest in our brand and determine where to take it," said Murphy. "We want to be the Defender of Team Sports. There is a space to talk about what is right, what is good, what is pure about team sports.
"With our heritage, and where we play in the marketplace, this is a mission the entire company can get behind. This is an action-oriented campaign," said Murphy.
Russell Athletic said it has alliances with high school sports programs nationwide, including the six in its current "Team On" campaign, supplying such equipment as practice and workout gear for the teams.
"If we help to raise awareness for the great high school sports programs in this country, that would be a strong bonus to this campaign," said Taylor Vernier, senior director-marketing for Bowling Green, Ky.-based Russell Athletic. "This campaign is all about finding motivations to succeed, and we want all sports programs in the country to succeed."
In the anchor TV spot, we see New Palestine coach Ralph and get via text the story: "His football team was down 28 points. In the high school state championship. He brought the team back to take the lead. Only to lose in the last 8 seconds. 8 seconds now haunt his team."
A voiceover then offers, "In 2015, 101 schools lost the state championship by a touchdown or less. Teams like the New Palestine Dragons or Marion Local Flyers. Haunted by 8 seconds. One yard. One play. This season, Russell Athletic is helping inspire high school teams to turn what haunts them into their ultimate motivation. Will they be ready?" (See the full spot here.)
The loss to Snider broke a 28-game winning streak for New Palestine and prevented them from winning bakc-to-back state titles.