Some colleges pay for space on a classic game. It’s not monopoly money.

After paying a markup of 70 times the list price for a small square of property, it’s safe to say that no one has been ripped off as badly in this hot real estate market as the University of Texas at San Antonio. .

No, this is not the story of a crooked land deal gone wrong. We are talking about the Monopoly board game, specifically its San Antonio edition. UTSA’s spot on the board cost the university $21,000, though players can grab the spot for much less – 300 in Monopoly money, to be exact.

Produced by Top Trumps USA and licensed by Hasbro, this version of the game replaces classic properties like Marvin Gardens and St. James Place with local landmarks. On the San Antonio plateau, there are no longer spaces for Electric Company and Water Works, making way for oil refiner Valero Energy, which is headquartered in the city. Replace the underrated Kentucky Avenue? Dignity meats. And to complete the picture at Boardwalk’s prime location – the Alamo.

UTSA sits alongside two other higher education institutions in the game’s green banner squares, which is usually the second most expensive set of properties. All three are located just past the corner “Go to Jail” plaza, where Pacific, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania Avenues normally appear.

For $21,000, UTSA is neck and neck with the University of the Incarnate Word and Texas A&M University in San Antonio. Other institutions appear on the game boards of other cities. In Worcester, Mass., the College of the Holy Cross takes the place of TAMUSA on this board. And remping for nearby Cambridge? Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Hult International Business School.

To appear on the table, some institutions had to pay. Under the $21,000 “bronze” package, UTSA bought itself the right to be promoted to a single square on the San Antonio board. Buyers of “Silver” packages willing to shell out $36,000 acquired not only promotional board space, but also a personalized Community Chest card. And for TAMUSA? The “gold” package offered him board space, a custom Community Chest map, 24 units of the game itself, as well as image space in the center of the board and on the box lid to promote his campus. Total cost: $60,000, according to invoices and correspondence obtained through public records requests. TAMUSA also bought more units to give away – 384 games, to be exact, worth an additional $8,900.

In other cases, universities have won places on their community boards without spending a dime.

Taken together, the various financial deals and arrangements provide insight into how higher education institutions are trying to foster brand awareness, boost student recruitment, and leverage their status as cultural landmarks.

Was it a good investment for these universities and colleges? Institutions not only got the opportunity to partner with a well-known and loved brand, but also got a new way to strengthen community ties within their region, said Sara Wallace, associate vice president for media and marketing strategy at SimpsonScarborough, a brand and marketing company dedicated to the higher education sector. Wallace also said such promotional endeavors should be complemented by a broader branding or awareness strategy.

“I think that’s the most important thing institutions can do to assess these types of media,” Wallace said. “It should always be through this lens of: What is their goal? What is the most important thing for these schools? Is it the creation of a brand experience? Does it attract leads? Does it strengthen ties with the community? »

The zest of the community

Why bet big – $60,000 over three years – on a board game? Civic pride, said Jesse Pisors, TAMUSA Vice President for Academic Relations and Advancement. “We pursued the Monopoly Board opportunity because it was a way to celebrate college as part of the larger San Antonio community,” Pisors wrote in a statement to The Chronicle.

Texas A&M in San Antonio also used the games to raise funds. At an unveiling event sponsored by the University of San Antonio Publishing, proceeds from the sale of each unit benefited TAMUSA student organizations. The university also gave play sets to student leaders as holiday gifts. And the games are also available for purchase on the TAMUSA website.

A campus spokesperson described its arrangement with Top Trumps as “a fun way to raise awareness of San Antonio and UTSA and reach prospective students and their parents.”

Representatives of the University of the Incarnate Word did not respond to a request for The Chronicle for comment. But online accounts associated with the institution have furthered the university’s partnership with the Monopoly brand.

Holy Cross officials touted his relationship with the game maker, but declined to disclose how much he paid to feature on the Worcester game board.

“Holy Cross is a proud member of the Worcester community and we were very pleased to have the opportunity to be featured in the Worcester Monopoly edition,” a spokesperson wrote in a statement.

Less fortunate were business owners, patrons and other locals whose favorite institutions had failed to gain promotion to the Worcester board. A tavern owner called the arrangement with Top Trumps a “pay-to-play situation” and even went so far as to feed Monopoly game boxes into a roaring wood chipper while a the wall street journal reporter watched.

More games to come

However, not all institutions needed to shell out money to sit on their city’s board of directors. Neither Harvard nor MIT spent a dime to appear in the Top Trumps game produced for Cambridge, Mass., according to statements from the two universities. A Harvard spokesperson clarified that the University chose not to charge Top Trumps any royalties or fees for the company’s use of the university’s name and brand.

“Harvard participated to be useful to the community,” the institution’s spokesperson said. A representative from MIT wrote something similar in response to a the Chronicle survey: “The Institute finally agreed to allow an MIT place because the theme was the city of Cambridge.”

Hult International Business School, however, had to pay for its place on the board, although a rep said Top Trumps quoted lower ‘bronze’, ‘silver’ and ‘gold’ rates than TAMUSA and UTSA . Hult knew it would be featured in green-bannered squares alongside other higher education institutions, said Markus Mandl, Hult’s chief marketing officer, although he didn’t know which ones specifically.

“We thought this would be a fun way to celebrate our presence in Cambridge as a global hub for higher education,” Mandl wrote in an email.

More universities may appear on future boards. An edition of the game set in the Hamptons, on Long Island in New York, is currently available for pre-order on the Top Trumps site, with additional iterations of the game in the works for Napa Valley, Corpus Christi, Lake Tahoe, Sacramento, Pittsburgh, Scottsdale and Philadelphia (specifically, the main line).

Top Trumps is not shy about making substantial business which it expects to generate in the coming years from colleges and universities in these locations and beyond.

“It’s fantastic to have so many prestigious universities featured in our games in the United States and beyond,” Benjamin Thompson, a company representative, wrote in an email. “We look forward to partnering with many more colleges on our municipal editions of Monopoly for years to come.”

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