Corn, Iowa football still cozy despite trophy flap

The corn-themed trophy for the annual Iowa vs. Iowa State

football game is history.

That doesn’t mean fans won’t see and hear a lot more about

farming and agriculture in the Hawkeye State this season: Both

schools have reached agreements with the Iowa Corn Growers

Association and the Iowa Farm Bureau for various sponsorships and

advertising.

The corn growers association will run ads during all 12 radio

broadcasts of Iowa games this fall, sponsor Iowa coach Kirk

Ferentz’s weekly television show, advertise in game-day programs

and get similar publicity through Iowa State.

The farm bureau has signed a five-year agreement with Iowa to

promote farmers everywhere from the Internet to inside Kinnick

Stadium, and will be selling Iowa-grown food products at Iowa State

games this fall.

The farm bureau is hoping the partnerships raise public

awareness about where food comes from and who farmers are at a time

when only 2 percent of Iowans actually farm and the world faces a

growing demand for food, spokeswoman Laurie Johns said. The corn

growers group uses its ads to tout the food and energy products its

6,000 members create.

”Both organizations are great partners of ours,” said Chuck

Schroeder, general manager of Hawkeye Sports Properties, the

university’s sports marketing arm. ”We’re one of the leading

agriculture states in the United States. It’s a huge part of our

economy, a huge part of the world’s economy. When you look at our

partnerships with seed companies to the Iowa Farm Bureau, they look

at the Iowa Hawkeyes as a way to reach the state of Iowa. We have a

terrific brand, a terrific fan base.”

The corn growers group, however, was on the wrong end of a

public relations nightmare this week over the Cy-Hawk Trophy.

While the organization has long sponsored both Hawkeyes and

Cyclones athletics, it is getting additional advertising after

becoming the title sponsor of the Cy-Hawk series between Iowa and

Iowa State earlier this year. The deal also gave its

representatives ”a seat at the table” in helping design a new

trophy to replace one that had gone back and forth between Ames and

Iowa City for decades, Schroeder said.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the trophy unveiled at the Iowa State

Fair last week depicted a farm family gathered around a bushel of

corn. Not a football in sight.

Fans lit up Twitter and Facebook, blasting the trophy as

perpetuating a stereotype that all Iowans are farmers. They aimed

most of their ire at the Iowa Corn Growers but representatives of

Iowa and Iowa State said they approved the design and deserved to

share the blame. Citing the overwhelmingly negative reaction, the

organizers ditched the trophy Tuesday and announced plans to award

an interim award at the Sept. 10 game in Ames while fans help

decide what the new one should look like for next year.

”The goal of the partnership is to align the brands – in this

case a great organization in Iowa Corn and the Hawkeyes and the

Cyclones,” Schroeder said. ”Were they dictating what the trophy

was going to look like? No, they were not. It was a collaborative

effort.”

Nonetheless, many fans questioned whether the corn growers were

given too much clout over one of the biggest annual events in Iowa.

”It was a marketing ploy for one of their sponsors,” Iowa

sophomore Brian McGill said of the trophy.

University officials have refused to say how much the financial

arrangements are worth because they are technically between the

groups and Hawkeye Sports Properties, a subsidiary of Learfield

Sports, which has a university contract to market multimedia rights

for athletics.

The farm bureau’s agreement with Iowa will promote the ”America

Needs Farmers” brand. The university will rename a walkway inside

Kinnick Stadium ”American Needs Farmers” plaza and erect an

”America Needs Farmers” wall of fame honoring players. Fans will

be able to buy ANF-themed apparel and celebrate ”America Needs

Farmers Day,” which is expected to become an annual tradition, on

Oct. 15.

The initiative’s roots date back to Iowa coach Hayden Fry

putting ”ANF” stickers on players’ helmets in 1985 in the midst

of the farm crisis but the partnership marks the first of its kind

between the Iowa Farm Bureau and Iowa, said its president, Craig

Lang.

”We saw it as a huge opportunity” to improve the public’s

attitude toward farmers, he said.

The ANF agreement has seeped deeply into Iowa athletics. Anyone

who tuned into Iowa’s media day Aug. 5 to see Ferentz speak about

this year’s team first heard him boast about how the state leads

the nation in agricultural production. The department’s website

features an entire section dedicated to farming public

relations.

Under ”tailgate trivia,” fans can learn that ”corn is a team

player” because it helps make more than 2,500 items at the grocery

store and that a ”first-round draft pick hog” is ready for market

when he weighs 240 pounds. Lang, also president of the Iowa Board

of Regents, which governs Iowa’s public universities, dismissed

concerns that agricultural interests had too much influence.

(Because of his dual roles, he said he recused himself from

negotiations over the partnership.)

”The information is fair and honest,” he said. ”It wouldn’t

be any different than going to the Iowa Department of Agriculture

website.”

Despite the trophy flap, the schools’ partnership with the corn

growers is intact.

Associate Iowa athletics director Rick Klatt called it a

”tremendous organization” whose sponsorship of the Cy-Hawk series

would help raise the profile of lesser-known sports like women’s

volleyball.

”To have a partner like Iowa Corn get behind those efforts,”

he said, ”is really extraordinary.”