IP Bootstrapping: East Mississippi Community College
How did an obscure junior college in a literal Mississippi ghost town become the focus of a Netflix smash hit and consequently a brand instantly know around the world? The explanation can be found in a concept known as “Intellectual Property Bootstrapping.”
This term refers to a progression whereby one small piece of intellectual property triggers the creation of a larger more valuable piece of intellectual property, which then triggers yet another and even more valuable piece of IP.
Slated for closure by the Mississippi legislature in the 1990’s, East Mississippi Junior College in Scooba, Mississippi seemed to strike gold overnight upon the release of the Netflix original series titled “Last Chance U.” The series focused on EMCC’s championship football program and the school instantly experienced a dramatic spike in website visitors, enrollments, and online purchase of school apparel and memorabilia from around the world. The spike was unquestionably caused by the release and success of Last Chance U, but what caused Last Chance U?
The answer to this question begins in the 1950’s with a football coach by the name of Bull Cyclone Sullivan. The story of Coach Sullivan is one of the most colorful, bizarre, and memorable you will ever hear. In fact, his story was the focus of a 1984 Sports Illustrated cover article penned by legendary sports writer Frank DeFord, and remains one of the longest to ever appear in the iconic publication.
For various reasons, EMCC never leveraged the story of Coach Sullivan to its advantage, and the story was literally dying along with Coach Sullivan’s former players, many of whom were entering their 70’s and 80’s,
My father, brother and I came across Coach Sullivan’s story in 2006 as we conducted research for our books Gridiron Gold and Y’all vs Us. Amazed with what we found, we successfully proposed a book project to Coach Sullivan’s widow less than a year before she passed away.
Our book released in 2010 to a relatively small but passionate audience. Included in that audience were many of Sullivan’s former players, who were highly successful businessmen now scattered across the country. Though successful, a large number of these individuals had long since divorced themselves from their former school due to the controversial firing of the beloved coach in 1969.
The book helped reenergize this important group of alumni. They pulled together to fund a bigger-than-life bronze statue of Coach Sullivan for the football stadium, and they also helped fund a full-length documentary movie on their coach’s life in 2013 that we also produced. National distribution was then secured for the DVD.
The packaging of Coach Sullivan’s story in book and documentary format allowed it to be consumed by a much larger audience. Coupled with the current red-hot football team led by Coach Buddy Stevens, and the savvy leadership of school president Dr. Thomas Huebner, EMCC caught the eye of GQ magazine in 2014, which featured an article that Fall titled “Last Chance U.” Owned by media giant Cone Nast, the GQ article was then leveraged into a proposed Netflix original series bearing the same name. Our firm assisted the school and Dr. Huebner in negotiating the licensing with Conde Nast, which resulted in the production and release of the Last Chance U series, which became the greatest marketing boon in the school’s 90 year history.
The most important element to remember about IP Bootstrapping, is that the chain reaction must begin somewhere. The beginning move may seem small and inconsequential at the time, but it should never be underestimated, as it could very well represent the first step in an amazing climb up an impossible mountain.
What Intellectual Property do you possess that is waiting for that initial spark?