The Seven Wonders of the World – The Pyramids, The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the statue of Zeus at Olympus – were built with grandeur in mind. Move over Zeus, Phil Knight, Nike magnate and Oregon philanthropist, also thinks big. His latest wonder is a 100,000 square-foot temple to football, a $68-million dollar edifice intended to take Duck football to higher ground.
This Nike icon contributed $68 million of his own funds to erect what could be considered a new Wonder of the World. His creation is equipped with a three-story atrium, a 113- seat auditorium and more trivial things like a barbershop and a mirror etching of Knight in the bathrooms. The simple version of the story behind the creation of this colossal building goes something like this, Phil Knight and friends travel across the country visiting top-notch facilities. Mr. Knight asks each school what they would improve and change in their buildings. He then told his architects to build something bigger and better then all the others combined.
The recently unveiled Oregon Football Facility is only ‘one’ of many impressive buildings, which render the University of Oregon Athletic program a leader and a trendsetter in collegiate athletics. These innovative buildings create clout, catching the eye of the media and fans, but more notably 18-year old football prospects that are looking to ink a letter of intent somewhere. More and more high school athletes from across the country add Oregon as a potential landing spot. So far 116 high school seniors (Class of 2014) have put Oregon on their potential list with some players coming from as far out as New Jersey, Alabama and Pennsylvania. With the increase of potential recruits, Oregon has a larger pool to choose from which has translated to on-field success – Oregon this year is vying for their fifth straight BCS bowl game appearance.
While Oregon’s athletic facilities are meant for student athletes, it has attracted the attention of other well-known stars such as Lebron James and Dwayne Wade. Recently, two QBs, Tajh Boyd from Clemson and Devin Gardner from Michigan, flew out west to Eugene with one purpose, to see what all the hype was about Oregon’s facilities. At the sight of these buildings, the star QBs were speechless and awestruck. As CBSsports.com reported, they seemed to be “marveling at everything from Oregon’s posh rehab and recovery center,” to the Ducks’ “liquid metal helmets.”
These professional caliber facilities found on Oregon’s lavish campus are not the only lure to potential recruits. Social media exploded onto the scene several years back and has exponentially grown year by year and teens have been a huge benefactor of its development. Since February 2005, social media users between the ages of 18-29 have increased their usage an overwhelming 92%. Oregon realized the importance of social media and has capitalized on it with one of the best men in the field – Craig Pintens. The Senior Associate Athletic director has done a tremendous job promoting Oregon as a national brand, making recruits and the general public aware of the University of Oregon as whole. Pintens has been able to play off the Duck’s success on the field and translate it to a powerful online presence. This has led to a staggering 642 thousand likes on the Ducks football Facebook page. To put that in perspective, the back-to-back defending champs Alabama Crimson Tide have a meager 434K likes, a difference of 299K!
Pintens’ success didn’t go unnoticed, as he will take over as president of the National Association of Collegiate Marketing Administrators in the upcoming 2013-2014 year while still working in his current position here at the University of Oregon.
State of the art facilities and a strong social media presence have been a deadly one-two combination in appealing to and recruiting potential recruits. An 18-year old out of high school is immediately drawn to the buildings, which emulate the caliber of the structures in the professional world. This gives student-athletes a privileged glimpse of what could be awaiting for them as professional athletes after college. Package that with a convincing social media platform and you have yourself a strong recruiting tool.
The numbers back it up. As over 2,000 high school students were asked in a survey “If you could sign a letter of intent to go play at any school in the country, where would you go?” Oregon received the second most votes, beating out football powerhouses Alabama, USC and Texas. They were second only to Florida, the leading vote getter. This speaks volumes to the job Oregon Athletics has done over the past decade, slowly building not only Oregon football but Oregon athletics into a national powerhouse.
With the old school recruiting approach outdated, Oregon – similar to their fast pace offense on the field – has become a trendsetter. Just two weeks ago Oregon landed a verbal commitment from five-star running back Royce Freeman. The Ducks have now landed a five-star running back in four of the past five years. This is not to say that all these stud players came here solely for the facilities, but for most it likely played a large part in their decision process.
With Knight’s Olympic Palace complete, Oregon will has the most remarkable athletic facilities nationwide.
Knight has now donated a generous $300 million of his personal money dating back to 1994 when he made his first donation of $27 million to renovate the school’s library. Other schools have no answer for Knight’s funds and the caliber of facilities Oregon has established over time.
So the big question is, will Phil Knight get a return on his investment? The answer has yet to be determined but things seem to be headed in the right direction.
If the Ducks do bring back a National Title to Eugene, expect a triumphant statue of Phil Knight on campus – do not be shocked if he outdoes Zeus’ Statue at Olympia – he would deserve it.
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