The Heisman Trophy, the most prestigious individual award in college football, will now officially become "The Heisman Trophy presented by Suzuki."
The Japanese auto and motorcycle manufacturer announced Friday that it has purchased the right to link its name for three years with the statuette, college gridiron's equivalent to the Oscar. Over the last 67 years, the Downtown Athletic Club of New York has given the annual award to some of the game's greatest players, including O.J. Simpson, Roger Staubach and Bo Jackson.
For an undisclosed sum, Suzuki Motor Corp. now claims "presenting rights" to the Heisman and will enjoy unlimited use of the symbol for advertising campaigns and promotions. In conjunction with ESPN Magazine, the car maker is launching a 10-stop nationwide college football game tour of the famous figurine, starting with today's contest between USC and the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colo.
Sports marketing expert Rick Burton said fans, already used to corporations tagging their names to stadiums and events such as the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, probably will take the commercialization of the Heisman in stride.
"We should all be shocked, but I guess we're not surprised," said Burton, executive director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. "There are no sacred icons left. Short of the Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup and the World Series, just about everything has been sold."
Heisman officials said Friday they didn't think twice about allowing a foreign corporation to link its name with an American icon. They said Suzuki already has been a corporate sponsor for three years and beat out other auto companies for the honor and struck the deal through its American operation based in Brea. They also stressed that the agreement makes sure the Heisman name remains "clean" because it precedes Suzuki's, unlike sports marketing sponsorships that put a business' name first.
"Nobody's selling out anywhere," said Jim Corcoran, athletic club president. "Suzuki stepped up and wanted to take it [sponsorship] to another level."
Suzuki executives said they will mark the agreement by unveiling a new logo that combines the company's name with the Heisman. They said about 10% of their advertising will include the new logo or mention the Heisman, which they said represents "excellence, longevity, quality and durability."
"We wanted to link up with a well-known, well-respected brand because we feel we have that as well," said Alan Bethke, automotive business account manager for American Suzuki.
Bethke said the company also will run the only official Web site where fans can vote for their favorite football player. Suzuki will, in turn, submit the winner's name as the lone "fan ballot" allowed among those cast by more than 900 eligible sportswriters and former Heisman winners. This will be the third year Suzuki has voted, a privilege it negotiated under its previous sponsorship.