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How an entire college football season ends up being soundtracked by one song

Every year, college football fans find themselves listening to one highly branded and marketed piece of music over and over. Let's look at how last year's example worked.

Brad Paisley singing a college football song Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports. Banner Society illustration.

If you watched a little college football in 2015, you might’ve heard Brad Paisley’s "Country Nation," a song that deserves to be recognized as the true college sports anthem of our generation.

Paisley and co-writers Chris DuBois and Kelley Lovelace aim for the salad days of Springsteen with their portrait of workaday Americans. Country Americans.

We work in the factories and the fields

Assembly lines, the coal mines

And the steel mills

That's what we do but there's more to us than that

Wanna take a guess what "more than that" is to the salt of these United States? COLLEGE DANG FOOTBALL is what.

If you wanna know who we are

It's on the logos of our caps

We're Mountaineers, we're Volunteers

We're the Tide that rolls, we're Seminoles

We're a herd of Longhorn steer


We drive Ford and Chevrolet

Cheer 24 and 88


We pray before we race

Cheer 14 and 48

And we drink ice-cold beer on Friday nights

Yeah, we're one big country nation, that's right


We're Wildcats, we're Wolverines

We're Tigers, Buckeyes, Bruins

Bulldogs, Hogs and Hurricanes

CBS licensed "Country Nation" as the official theme song for its SEC football coverage, aping Big & Rich’s "Comin’ To Your City." For over a decade, ESPN’s College GameDay has paid Big & Rich each season to edit different team name checks into "City" (I witnessed this firsthand in 2014). Now it’s the parent of country sports anthems, a lyrical paean to the geography of partyin’ hard on Saturdays.

The team shout-out gimmick harkens back to Hank Williams Jr.’s old ABC Monday Night Football theme, itself a version of Jr.’s 1981 song "All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight." Before each season, Hank would record a verse for each week’s matchup.

But "Country Nation" is something else entirely.

Hank Jr. and Big & Rich wrote generic party anthems they were later paid to turn into sports TV jingles.

Paisley streamlined that process in either a moment of happenstance or a masterstroke of brand synergy.

Paisley is represented by an agency called William Morris Endeavor, commonly known as WME. WME is a really, really big entertainment company. It represents thousands of top actors, musicians, athletes, writers and directors. WME’s biggest business is connecting its various talent to create new projects. It even represents part of SB Nation’s parent company, Vox Media. (If you ever go to see The Rock and Tilda Swinton in Meet The Bagman: A Harmony Korine Film, that would be WME.)

In 2013, WME acquired International Management Group, or IMG, for $2.3 billion. IMG is also massive. It represents fashion models, stages corporate speaking events, runs academies for high school athletes and just bought UFC for $4 billion in association with WME.

IMG is also a major player in the media rights business for college sports programs.

There are 18 college sports teams mentioned in "Country Nation." Most, like "Tide" or "Seminoles," are easy to identify. In the case of "Tigers" and "Bulldogs," Paisley could be singing about one of a few major programs.

But for sure, at least 12 of the 18 schools — West Virginia, Tennessee, Florida State, Marshall, Texas, Michigan, UCLA, Ohio State, Miami, Duke, Ole Miss and Notre Dame — are currently clients of IMG. If "Bulldogs" refers to Georgia and not Mississippi State, that’s another IMG client, and if "Tigers" is Clemson, that’s one more. And at the time of the song’s release, Auburn was an IMG client, too.

If your favorite college is a client of IMG or rival companies like Learfield, it’s so that both parties can maximize revenue by creating as much paid advertising and sponsorship for amateur athletics as humanly possible. Every advertisement you see in your arena or stadium is sold and managed by IMG. If your school announces your rivalry game now has a corporate title sponsor, that’s IMG.

A company like IMG will leverage anything it can into a revenue opportunity. Anything.

Me: What does "anything" mean?

Source in IMG's industry: Remember when Alabama created those temporary medical tents for when players were being treated on the sideline? We want to sell ads to put on those. We’ve pitched that. "Oh no, did the running back break his leg? Let’s go down to the KFC Sideline Medical Tent for more."

Me: Yeah OK, that’s "anything."

IMG wants as many people at events and at home watching on TV to see the advertising it sells. The problem is that most college football stadiums sit empty for all but six or seven days a year. Even campus basketball arenas can go months without an event between semesters.

Me: So how can IMG create more traffic for its branding?

Source: By leveraging the relationship IMG colleges have with WME-repped talent to create content platforms with a heavy lean towards IMG schools for new revenue streams.

In other words, The Brad Paisley Country Nation College Tour presented by Zaxby’s!

"As the 2015 college football season kicks off, country music superstar Brad Paisley will be taking his show to select IMG College partner universities to provide free entertainment for the campus community," the release said.

Now WME client Paisley has a national tour with a title sponsor (Zaxby’s) looking to target the college fan demo almost entirely at venues where WME/IMG holds the ad rights. Everybody wins! IMG facilities get more foot traffic, and Paisley’s song and tour get maximum #brand exposure.

There’s Brad Paisley on GameDay!

There’s Brad Paisley on Today!

There’s Brad Paisley wearing a Tennessee-West Virginia combo jersey in a music video shot inside Vanderbilt’s stadium, then wearing a different combo jersey four days later!

Via “Country Nation” and ESPN

And you know what? This is fine.

It’s fine if WME/IMG wants to do this. They’re not hiding it. Paisley is fine. "Country Nation" is fine.

For all I can tell, Paisley is a quality human being whose only crimes are those jerseys and writing "Country Nation," if you believe it’s a marketing meeting syllabus put to a melody, soaked in a veneer of honky populism.

And that’s why "Nation" deserves to be the anthem of modern college athletics. It was built to profit by reassuring us we’re good, honest people for loving a sport exactly the way it is, exactly the way we do.