By Lola Alapo
“Rocky Top, you’ll always be, home sweet home to me…”
On any given game day in Neyland Stadium there could be 100,000 people belting out Rocky Top—pretty good for a song that took only ten minutes to compose in 1967.
Though it’s not the university’s official fight song, the true Volunteer has every word memorized and can sing it right along with the Pride of the Southland Marching Band. Now, the entire Tennessee family will have the chance to not only sing, but also wear the lyrics of the song composed by Boudleaux and Felice Bryant.
UT students are taking the lead in building and growing the Rocky Top brand, thanks to the creation of the Rocky Top Institute, which opened in fall 2011 and is housed in the Department of Retail, Hospitality, and Tourism Management (RHTM).
The institute was established as a result of a contractual partnership between UT and Dane and Del Bryant, heirs of the Rocky Top composers.
Last year, students in a product development class designed the Rocky Top logo and rolled out the institute’s first merchandise—T-shirts and ball caps. Since then, they’ve been refining their work and promoting more items. This fall, they debuted new items—decals, car flags, mugs, shot glasses, koozies, buttons, fleece blankets, and mouse pads, to name a few—just in time for football season.
“Rocky Top has a very special place in the hearts of UT fans,” says Nancy Rutherford, the institute’s director. “This partnership with the Bryant family is an amazing opportunity for students to gain real-world experience in developing products and brand management for a brand that truly resonates with them.”
About ten years ago, Dane and Del Bryant approached UT about a partnership with their company, House of Bryant. Dorothy Bryson, senior director of development, met with Dane and he brought up the idea of UT entering into a joint venture and expanding the Rocky Top copyright. Bryson approached Rutherford about it, and she began exploring the possibilities.
“She saw the potential benefit to UT,” Dane says of Rutherford.
It took nearly six years to complete the deal, in which the Bryants pledged $75,000 to establish the institute.
“It’s a win-win situation for everybody,” Dane says. “It becomes part of UT and a point of additional income for the university.”
He adds that each time the band plays Rocky Top, “it’s a tribute to my parents.”
Royalties from the sale of Rocky Top products will be split between the Bryant family and UT. The portion of the money that comes to the university will support the retail and consumer sciences program and the Pride of the Southland Marching Band in the form of scholarships.
Students are working with Bacon and Co., a licensed vendor of UT products, on the merchandise, with final approvals coming from the Bryant family.
Fans may purchase the merchandise featuring the Rocky Top logo at the UT bookstore, Neyland Stadium, or Knoxville-area Walgreens stores. Merchandise can also be ordered online at utbookstore.org.
A new upscale line of merchandise will be released in October to commemorate the forty years that the marching band has been playing Rocky Top. Products will include framed copies of the song’s sheet music, which was handwritten by the composers.
Wall art will be offered during the holidays, along with Christmas ornaments and pressed glass Mason jars that bear the Rocky Top logo.
Two limited edition framed autographed photos of Peyton Manning—with the back of his number 16 jersey visible—directing the marching band while they play Rocky Top will be used for RHTM and marching band fundraisers in the fall.
Rutherford says the students have gained a lot from the experience.
“It’s been very memorable for the students,” she says.