So much for that "sliver" of East Texas -- the Texas A&M Aggies have made serious inroads in gaining football fans at the expense of the Texas Longhorns in key Texas media markets since moving to the SEC in 2012.
Former Texas athletics director DeLoss Dodds uttered the now-infamous remark nearly three years ago about A&M's "sliver down the east side" of the state and the lead Bleacher Report college football writer thought it was a sign at the time that Dodds felt threatened:
The fact that Dodds would go out of his way to put A&M down, especially when the two schools aren't scheduled to play on the gridiron (for now), says that he feels that threat and is looking to find any way to keep the Aggies down. That's even more critical for Dodds now that Texas A&M is no longer under his thumb as the de facto ruler of the Big 12.
Texas should feel threatened now -- the Aggies have definitely moved out of the Longhorns' considerable shadow and now pose a significant threat to UT's long-held hegemony of Lone Star State football fans, according to Nielsen's Year in Sports Media 2014:
"Gig ‘Em" or "Hook ‘Em"?: Fueled by the Aggies' migration to the Southeastern Conference, Texas A&M's football fan following in the Houston market has increased by 26% over the past five years, while the Texas Longhorns has dropped 30%. Texas A&M fans now comprise 24% of Houston adults, surpassing the Longhorns at 18%. A similar situation has played out in Dallas-Fort Worth, where the Aggies' fan base has grown by 24% and the Longhorns' down by 31%.
Those are some cold, hard facts that Clay Travis pulled out on Tuesday.
A college football fandom map published last fall by the New York Times looks much less serious for Texas, since it simply measures overall Facebook likes across the state, but that particular map doesn't show recent trends.
Though there have been swings like this in the past, the Nielson report indicates that the Longhorns are struggling to compete with the SEC brand, which is raising the Aggies along with it, though head coach Kevin Sumlin's program unquestionably benefited tremendously from the 2012 Heisman Trophy campaign of quarterback Johnny Manziel.
And there just aren't many appealing Big 12 conference games for Texas, while Texas A&M faces off against the likes of LSU and Alabama every year, affording the Longhorns limited opportunities to impress the fans who have been bailing from the Texas bandwagon and the fans who are now considering changing allegiances.
This might never happen again, and it is truly painful to admit, but Travis might be right:
Don't underrate the benefit that comes with the Aggies playing on CBS and ESPN in prime time games against top opponents while the Longhorns take on Iowa State and two teams from Kansas every year. Texas A&M's brand isn't necessarily cooler than Texas's, but A&M in conjunction with the SEC is a better brand than Texas and the Big 12.
As the memory of Vince Young's run to the national championship in 2005 fades into the distant past, the battle for the hearts, minds, and wallets of football fans around the state is moving firmly and completely into the present landscape, with the potential to erase the major Texas gains from the decade-long run of dominance under former head coach Mack Brown.
What's at stake?
Fans are already speaking with their wallets by increasingly declining to purchase Texas season tickets in football. Every year since 2010, the number of those tickets sold has gone down, totaling 8,200 between 2010 and 2013 and decreasing further in the last two years.
There's also other revenue on the line -- Texas made $58.8 million in rights and licensing revenue in 2013, tops in the country for the eighth straight year. But Texas A&M was starting to close the gap, moving up from No. 19 in 2012 to No. 12 the following year. And from September 1, 2012 to August 31, 2012, the 12th Man Foundation raised $271.5 million, part of efforts that in total eclipsed Texas that year.
A sea change is happening and it's not just damaging to merchandising sales, it's also extremely damaging to the value of future conference television deals, not to mention damaging to the childhood ties that can sometimes determine the recruitments of top in-state football players.
In fact, the Aggies won head-to-head recruiting battles with 16 recruits from the 2013 to 2015 classes in East Texas and the greater Houston area, a number that doesn't include 2014 Texas A&M defensive tackle signee DeShawn Washington of Nederland.
Anecdotally at least, the shifting whims of football recruits in those areas are mirroring those of football fans in Houston and East Texas, the traditional Aggie stronghold. Is it starting to change in the Metroplex, too? Texas lost only one such battle in 2014, but three in 2015, still such a small number that it's difficult to make any generalized statements.
However, if the trends of football recruits in Houston start to look similar to those emerging fan trends in Dallas-Fort Worth, less pressure on key targets to become Longhorns could also result in more head-to-head losses to the Aggies.
On the field, recruiting at such a high level should tell for the Aggies on fall Saturdays as long as future attrition levels diminish in the 2014 and 2015 classes compared to the decimated 2013 group. Meanwhile, the lack of head-to-head battles between Texas and Texas A&M removes a key measurement stick for both programs, one that hurts the Horns more right now as momentum continues to shift away from Austin and towards College Station.
With the Longhorns falling behind the Aggies in the facilities arms race and losing numerous head-to-head battles in the 2014 and 2015 recruiting classes, it's clear that head coach Charlie Strong can't afford to struggle for long without the Longhorns ceding the Metroplex to A&M football fans in addition to Houston, with possibly significant recruiting ramifications as a result.
Giving Strong time to turn things around is both reasonable and necessary for the long-term health of the football program, but as the state turns increasingly maroon and white, the window diminishes to effectively arrest and reverse these widespread changes before Aggie football fans run the state.
Will winning games again be enough to forcibly shift the current trends in the battle against an Aggie program buoyed by the best brand in college football? The Longhorns football program had better hope so, and that those wins start coming soon, because there's a lot at stake, a lot of erosion already, and a diminished ability to make up ground.