September 09, 2015

College Football’s Top 5 Brands

College football is a big-time player in the American sports scene, with billions of dollars spent and millions of fans heading to the stadium each weekend. With this enormous influence in our sports culture comes the emergence once again of brands who rival the biggest corporations in the world in terms of their brand equity.

With this list, I attempt to rank the top five brands in college football today – and as with any list, there is sure to be some friendly disagreement on who is on the list, where they are ranked and who I snubbed. I looked at the brands who are the first to come to mind when thinking of the sport in general, for whatever reason – and those reasons were varied.

One constant that is seen throughout this list is a high level of on-field success – in fact, there are a combined 45 national championships and over 4,000 all-time wins claimed by the schools on this list. While wins and losses alone don’t determine a strong brand, success does bring an ease to the branding process – people want to associate with winning teams, and they have more attachment to the overall brand when they come out on top more often than not.

However, winning was not the only factor in determining brand strength, but it was a benefit for those brands who have experienced more wins that losses throughout their histories.

  1. Notre DameNotre Dame

The gold helmets. Touchdown Jesus. Notre Dame Stadium. The list of iconic brand elements could go on for the Irish, and that doesn’t even include the millions of fans around the world (and the millions of those who root against the team).

Notre Dame’s branding efforts correctly center on their many traditional and well-recognized aspects, which provide a link to their successful past (11 national championships and a record seven Heisman trophy winners), and proof of their relevance across cultural and generational bounds. No matter their record, interest in Notre Dame remains at the top of the list, as does their brand.

  1. Ohio Stateohio state

According to a recent report, Ohio State’s football program is worth over $1 billion, which is far and away the most valuable program in the nation. This brand valuation is a key force in driving the strength of their overall brand, providing a wealth (pun intended) of exposure, top-rate facilities, opening new revenue streams and allowing the school to put monetary support behind the football brand strategies necessary to keep them at the top.

They are the flagship school in a football-crazed state and an alumni base that crosses the globe, helping expand the brand equity outside of the Buckeye State borders. The combination of outstanding monetary support and brand awareness with the spoils that come with being the defending national champion have helped the Ohio State brand continue to excel.

  1. Oregonoregon

At the opposite end of the spectrum of brand strategy from Notre Dame is the University of Oregon Ducks. Where they lack in years of success and iconic brand symbols they make up for in and instantly recognizable visual brand portfolio.

Oregon is capitalizing on their strong visual branding elements to build their brand strategy about how they look – completely with a full set of flashy uniforms that seem to change every week. They highlight their visual elements in all aspect of their brand strategy, from recruiting to marketing to the game day experience.

  1. AlabamaAlabama

Alabama is one of the top representations of the power of brand advocates. Located in a state with no professional sports teams but a love of college football that is almost unsurpassed in the entire nation, Alabama has built a loyal fan base that carries its brand near the top of any rankings.

Despite their recent dominance, there were some stretches where the on-the-field product wasn’t top notch, but the loyalty of their brand fans did not waver, showing how strong the brand has ingrained itself in the people in their fan base.


When the three-lettered abbreviation for your school name carries as much verbal branding weight as any other full-named team in the country, that’s not a bad place to start when describing the strength of your brand.

The University of Southern California – USC – has long carried the torch for the west coast in the college football world. They have about as close to the perfect ingredients for the perfect brand as one school can get, where they can pull from years of success on the field, an idyllic location in the heart of Los Angeles, a famous logo and color scheme, prominent alumni and many more.

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Addison Whitney is a global branding firm with a passion for building strong brands.
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