Although Texas football won its last national championship 15 years ago and hasn't contended for a title since 2009, the Longhorn brand still reigns.
Texas posted just one 10-win season in the last decade, unlike juggernauts Alabama, Clemson and rival Oklahoma. Still, the Longhorns, valued at a nation-high $1.1 billion in 2018, are among college football’s top earners, according to an annual study by Ryan Brewer, an associate professor of finance at Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus.
UT football's decline in the 2010s doesn’t erase its historic success or Texas’ dominance in other sports and areas, said 2008 alumnus Kyle Umlang, who shares Longhorn sports data with his 10.6 thousand Twitter followers.
“It’s only been mediocrity for the last decade, but we’ve been playing football for 125 years, and the majority of that we’ve dominated,” Umlang said. “But we’re not just a football school; I like to call us an everything school.”
A distinct, recognizable logo and the imagery it evokes factors into Texas’ cultural relevance and market value, said Wayne Hoyer, a professor of marketing at the McCombs School of Business.
“(The Longhorn) is considered one of the coolest logos.” Hoyer said. “There’s the whole cowboy image … and people are fascinated by that … It’s a basic principle of marketing to have a strong logo. The Apple is a strong logo, the Nike swoosh. We have the Longhorn.”
The Longhorn Network arrived in August 2011, a year after Texas football finished a 5–7 season. Last November, “The Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon said he chose UT as the first university where he’d film a special taping after he watched Texas’ high-energy ESPN College GameDay appearance.
While Umlang pointed to the network of Longhorn fans across the world to justify UT’s influence, including alumnus Matthew McConaughey, he said Texas’ brand power also lies with its unique mascot.
“You look at all the Division I, II and III schools, (and) there’s 29 different Tiger teams, 25 different Bulldog teams,” Umlang said. “There is one Longhorn.”
Eleven different fan bases identified Texas as a rival, according to a recent study by Cody Havard, an associate professor of sports commerce at the University of Memphis. Texas’ blue blood pedigree still holds strong for opponents despite the Longhorns’ recent shortcomings, Umlang said.
“It’s kind of like the Yankees. Even if the Yankees suck, it’s a big deal to whoop ‘em,” Umlang said. “The Texas brand is so giant that … you could be watching Texas Tech against Baylor and if there’s a crowd shot, someone will do the ‘Horns Down’ at the camera.”
The Texas creative team takes advantage of the brand on social media, furthering it in the process, said Caten Hyde, Texas’ associate athletics director for creative development.
“We’ve got one of the most recognizable logos in sports so our mentality is to use it,” Hyde said in an email. “Burnt orange is obviously unique to Texas. We want people to catch a glimpse of a graphic or another visual and immediately think of the Texas Longhorns.”
The Longhorns haven’t returned to their former glory just yet and COVID-19 may threaten the upcoming football season, but Umlang said the Texas brand is here to stay.
“It’s a very powerful brand,” Umlang said.“I think it will be forever.”