A tweeted photo of former Texas Longhorns head coach Mack Brown in Dubai on Monday provides apparent confirmation to a recent report that Brown would visit, with the pursuit of a future overseas football game allegedly one of his key objectives:
We just arrived in Dubai. Looking forward to a great trip building UT relationships! pic.twitter.com/pqiypAhPly— Mack Brown (@ESPN_CoachMack) April 20, 2015
Athletics director Steve Patterson is fond of referring to the university as an international brand and has made the promotion of that brand a clear imperative, as the men's basketball team will open the 2015-16 season against the Washington Huskies in Japan.
Potential plans to play a football game in Mexico City never panned out for Patterson, apparently because of some donor backlash against the idea, but Dubai has a been a possibility for some time after Patterson discussed his future plans with ESPN last fall:
"We have a lot of folks in the oil and gas industry," Patterson said. "Houston is the center of the world in terms of the gas industry. A lot of those alums spend time in the Middle East, and Dubai is a place that wants to use sports to help put itself on the map. So we'll have some conversations, and we'll see where they lead."
Now those conversations are starting to happen in earnest, with Brown as the ambassador for the school doing what he does best -- glad-handing with alums (read: donors and potential donors) and in general using his political charm to benefit the university.
Potential impediments to the game include finding a suitable stadium, the time difference, and the scorching September temperatures in Dubai. As for potential opponents, the Chat Sports report mentioned Notre Dame, Ohio State, LSU, Army, and Navy.
Texas has future non-conference games planned against the first three schools on that list and could conceivably add the Dubai game to the home-and-home contests currently scheduled. However, such a game likely wouldn't happen soon with the Longhorns non-conference schedule set until 2019.
There's also the question of how playing such an international game would truly benefit the program's international brand, as the potential fan base growth would seem minimal in the Middle East compared to a country like Mexico or Ireland, which already hosted a game several years ago and will host another in the near future.
Mostly, this seems like a move to curry favor with alumni in the oil and gas industry with major facility changes and improvements set to occur with the next decade. So in this case, building the international brand is really code for prying open the wallets of wealthy alums, not necessarily exposing Texas athletics to potential foreign fans.
And with Dubai expressing interest in using sports to promote its own international brand, it's possible that the city itself could provide some serious financial incentive to host a Longhorns football game.