The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has signed former Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer to a multi-year brand ambassador and content deal worth at least $10 million.
Meyer will be given the title “Chief Zookeeper” but function as the zoo’s public face and chief fundraiser, making appearances and developing streaming content to help the beleaguered institution rehabilitate its image after years of scandals and setbacks.
“Now more than ever, the Columbus Zoo needs a famous, friendly face to help them rebuild trust,” said Columbus brand consultant and PR professional Schultz McGregor. “They had that in Jack Hanna, and they believe Urban Meyer has the same potential. I think it’s a savvy move. Urban Meyer and Jack Hanna are essentially the same people. What do you think of when you think of Urban Meyer? Trust, goodness, family, fairness, ethics, excellence, an older George Clooney type seducing your daughter, whiskey dickin’ at the Bogey Inn? All of the above? Much like the Columbus Zoo itself, Meyer may not know much about animals, but he knows a lot about public relations and avoiding scandal, which is why this deal makes sense.”
One of the first projects under the new partnership will be a streaming series titled “Jungle Urban Meyer.” The show will follow Meyer and a team of female zoology interns trying to survive in the Amazon rainforest with nothing more than a fully stocked mansion and unlimited access to the outside world via a private jet. Meyer will also serve as the zoo’s on-air analyst during the 2023 World Cock Fighting Championships in Lima, Peru.
The deal arrives amid challenging times for both parties.
Last October, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums stripped the zoo of its accredited status. The AZA cited financial mismanagement and a “long record” of pimping animals to zoophiles and animal traffickers.
The resulting animal sex scandal led to the resignation of the former zoo director and famed zookeeper “Jungle Jack” Hanna. The zoo’s public relations department then diagnosed Hanna with dementia and made him retire from public life to avoid further backlash. He is now living out his days in a locked enclosure beneath the zoo’s secure compound known as “Ratican City.”
It has been a tough stretch for Meyer, too. In December, he was fired from his head coaching position with the Jacksonville Jaguars after posting a 2-11 record and being caught on tape fingering the anus of a woman who wasn’t his wife.
Meyer says he is confident and excited about his new role despite recent disappointments.
“I’m going to approach this job the same way I’ve approached others – with honesty, dirty fingers, and a steadfast commitment to excellence,” Meyer said. “Whether I’m on a football field whipping a running back or in the suburbs sweet-talking families into spending $250 a year at what is essentially an animal plantation/torture chamber, the work is the same.”
Columbus Zoo CEO Ilyn Payne echoed similar sentiments.
“Urban Meyer is a fantastic fit for the Columbus Zoo. He’s led young men to greatness on the football field, and now he’s going to lead African lions to the Tonight Show in the back of U-Haul trucks,” Payne said. “We’re going to do a lot of great things together. We’re going to win accreditation. We will breed endangered species and watch their offspring die in sterile operating rooms. We’ll subvert nature and subdue the world’s most majestic creatures in the name of Nationwide Insurance. And we’re going to put out a lot of press releases while we do it, baby. The Columbus Zoo is back.”
Columbus Zoo board chairwoman Stacy Grift said the board unanimously approved the new deal, describing it as an intelligent investment in the zoo’s future.
“Ultimately, this wasn’t about finding an experienced zookeeper who could return us to accreditation; it was about finding the person who was the right culture fit to remind the world who we are. And that man is the Dublin Dad,” Grift said, referring to Meyer. “It takes a certain type of person to be the face of this institution. The job isn’t easy. There’s more to it than petting a cheetah next to Jimmy Fallon. Sometimes it’s spinning a story about how we accidentally killed a rare bird because we gave it plastic trash to play with instead of trees. Urban Meyer has thrived in both environments, and we think he’ll thrive here with us.”
Avid doll collector, businessman, and local philanthropist Les Wexner, a longtime zoo benefactor, says he is happy to see the zoo moving in the right direction.
“The zoo is sending the right message here: Everything is fine. They aren’t running an animal trafficking operation. They’re trustworthy. They’re ethical. Zoos are ethical. Urban Meyer reinforces all of that,” Wexner said.
Production on the Jungle Urban Meyer series is expected to begin this Fall.