College football coaches are supposed to say things publicly that will help their program. Duh. For every piece of actual news that is shared during a press conference, there’s a larger share of agenda-driven information that is intended to be used by the media as reasons to promote a program.
For those that aren’t familiar with NIL, Tennessee coach Josh Heupel may have seemed like any other coach that was intent on extolling the virtues of his program. That may have been his directive and the question about the Spyre Group may have even been planted, but that doesn’t really matter. Why? Because it’s true.
Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said this week that the Vols were “uniquely situated” amongst the other schools in the nation when it comes to providing NIL opportunities, which means financial payments based on name, image and likeness.
“To me, this is the No. 1 destination when it comes to NIL opportunities,” Heupel said.
That’s not just coach speak. Heupel is absolutely correct in his assessment of Tennessee’s NIL standing among other college football programs for a couple of reasons:
Tennessee’s fan base, including those that control advertising dollars, are tired of being more like Vanderbilt than Alabama, which was the case before Heupel took over before the 2021 season. Business owners, CEO’s and top executives want Tennessee to be good in football. It may not make sense to many economists, but the entire marketplace in Knoxville is better when Tennessee is winning. Decision makers want Tennessee football to be good because it makes business better.
There is only one SEC market that is significantly bigger than Knoxville and that’s Vanderbilt, which should also be considered a UT market despite the fact that Vanderbilt tries to play football there. Advertisers that want to be associated with sports teams have three choices in Nashville. They can go with Vandy, which is attractive only because it’s affordable. The Tennessee Titans are certainly available, but don’t have the same nostalgia that UT does. The Vols may not dominate sports-related advertising spends in Nashville, but the Vols will more than hold their own.
This goes back to Nashville. As previously stated, there are options in Nashville for those that want to align themselves with sports. There is really only one option in Knoxville. Unlike Atlanta, there aren’t professional teams to deal with unless the Tennessee Thundercats jump back into the fray. All joking aside, UT is the main game in town and it isn’t close. The same could be said for cities like Oxford, Gainesville or Starkville. However, that gets back to market size. There just isn’t going to be that much money spent in those cities compared to Knoxville. There is obviously a ton of money in Texas. The Longhorns are about to join the SEC and Texas A&M has already become well acquainted. However, they have to compete amongst themselves and other teams for ad dollars. The Vols don’t have that issue and never will.
Therefore, is Heupel orchestrated in his comments when it comes to NIL? Are the thoughts he shared self serving? Absolutely. However, that doesn’t mean he isn’t correct. Much like recruiting in South Florida or recruiting Catholics to Notre Dame, Tennessee has a built in advantage.