How to Save the College Football Game Experience – Before It’s Too late

Posted by on Jun 12, 2014 in Uncategorized | 1,088 comments

 

[To listen to the shorter, audio version, click here.]

Last week, I explained why Michigan students are dropping football tickets in record numbers – about 40-percent in the last two years. It touched a nerve – actually a few hundred thousand nerves. And not just among Michigan fans, but college football fans nationwide, who recognized many of the same flaws at their favorite university that were turning them off, too.

It’s all well and good to criticize Michigan’s athletic administration – and apparently very cathartic for many fans, too. But it doesn’t solve the central problem: How can college programs protect an experience millions of fans and students have loved for decades, before it’s too late?

Yes, winning helps, but when Michigan went 3-9, 5-7, 7-6 a few years ago, they still had a robust wait list.  And when USC was winning national titles about the same time, they rarely sold out their Coliseum.  Fans obviously love winning, but what they want — what they need — runs deeper than that.

Allow me to offer a few suggestions.

First, some easy ones: Give the fans real opponents, at a reasonable price, then revert the student ticket policy back to what it was, for – well, forever. Freshmen sit in the endzone, and seniors get the best seats. Simple.

Want them to show up on time? Don’t bully them, or tease them with donuts or cell phone service. Just remove the least appealing aspect of a modern football Saturday: boredom.

What’s boring? Waiting in line for 30 minutes to get in your seat. Or worse, being forced to arrive hours before kick off, with nothing to do but sit in the heat, the cold or the rain, while your classmates are still outside tailgating. Then there’s the 20-minute wait for a six-dollar hot dog.

Fans at home don’t have to wait in line for any of these things. Why should fans who paid hundreds to sit in the stands? Hire a few more folks, reduce the lines, and keep the fans happy.

Everybody’s most hated delay is waiting for TV timeouts to end. Because every game is televised, ticket holders endure about twenty commercial breaks per game, plus halftime. That adds up to more than 30 minutes of TV timeouts – about three times more than the 11 minutes the ball is actually in play.

To loyal fans, who sit in a stadium that is too hot in September and too cold in November—and often too rainy in between—this is as galling as taking the time, money, and effort to drive downtown to a local store, only to have to wait while the clerk talks on the phone with someone who didn’t bother to do any of those things.

Why do the powers that be let TV spoil your day at the stadium? TV doesn’t stop car races, golf tournaments or soccer games – yet those still make millions of dollars for all involved. If the TV whizzes can’t figure out how to make a buck on football without ruining the experience for paying customers, those fans will figure it out for themselves, and stay home.

While TV is running its ads, Michigan too often gives its loyal season ticket holders not the marching band or – heaven forbid – silence, but obnoxiously loud rock music and, yes, ads! Spectators spend hundreds of dollars to suffer through almost as many ads as the folks watching at home for free — and they also get treated to more replays than the people in the stands.  Sssssuckers!

Yes, advertising in the Big House does matter. Americans are bombarded by ads, about 5,000 a day. Michigan Stadium used to be a sanctuary from modern marketing, an urban version of a National Park. Now it’s just another stop on the sales train.

I’m amazed how eagerly universities have sold their souls to TV. It wasn’t always this way. Bo Schembechler said, “Toe meets leather at 1:05. If you want to televise it, fine. If you don’t, that’s fine too.”

Bo’s boss, Don Canham, backed him.  TV was dying for a night game at the Big House.  Canham wasn’t.  So, they compromised – and didn’t have one.

If fans want night games, fine — give ‘em what they want.  But nobody likes waiting for TV to decide when Michigan is going to play that week – especially fans flying in from far away.

This past fall ESPN descended on Evanston, Illinois, for a game between Ohio State and Northwestern – a rarity. When ESPN told the folks at Northwestern to get rid of these shrubs and those bushes near Lake Michigan, because ESPN wanted to build their set there, Northwestern did something none of the big boys have the guts to do: They said, “No. You can set up where we planned it.”

What did ESPN do?  They followed Northwestern’s orders.  What else could they do?

The universities still have the power – but only if they’re willing to use it.

Okay, you start dictating terms to TV networks, they might cut back on the cash (though I doubt it).  But even if they did, what would that mean?  Perhaps Michigan’s rowing team would have to make do with a $20 million training facility, instead of a $25 million one. Maybe Michigan’s head coach would have to get by on $2 million a year, instead of $4 million.  Perhaps Michigan’s athletic director – and yes, he does pay himself – might just have to feed his family on $300,000 a year, instead of $1.3 million.

I think universities could somehow survive these deprivations. It would be worth it if, in the bargain, they get their souls back.

Which brings me to legendary Michigan broadcaster Bob Ufer, who often said, “Michigan football is a religion, and Saturday is the holy day of obligation.” He was on to something. Athletic directors need to remember the people in the stands are not customers. They’re believers. Treat them accordingly – or lose them forever.

That is not unique to Michigan. Researching my latest book, Fourth and Long, I met Dr. Ed Zeiders, the pastor of St.Paul’s United Methodist Church in State College. He has seen what a college football team can do for a community in ways others might not.

“We are desperately needy,” he told me. “We need a place to stand, and a people to stand with, and a cause to stand for. That is not original with me. That came out of World Methodism. And those three propositions hold the key to healthy and value-oriented living. Our culture is devoid of these things.”

Pastor Ed, as he’s known, fills those needs every week at his church. But he couldn’t help but notice the place of worship down the street can host 108,000 believers every Saturday.

“Sports has the capacity to make that happen,” he said. “That can get skewed and twisted, especially in the marketing side of the equation, but my interest in sports is more in the community that forms around them.”

And this brings us to the central problem: a misguided mindset driving the entire enterprise into the ground. If you think the University of Michigan is just a brand, and the athletic department is merely a business, you will turn off the very people who’ve been coming to your temple for decades.

Break faith with your flock, and you will not get them back with fancier wine.  Welcome them, and the faithful will follow.

You have a choice.  Just remember: The fans do, too.

* * * * *

Please join the conversation, but remember: I run only those letters from those who are not profane or insane, and who include their FULL name. 

Radio stuff: On Friday mornings, these commentaries run at 8:50 on Michigan Radio (91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit and Flint, and 104.1 Grand Rapids), and a few minutes later,  I join Sam Webb and Ira Weintraub LIVE from 9:05 to 9:25 on WTKA.com, 1050 AM.

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Hope to see you on the road!
-John
johnubacon.com

36 Responses to “How to Save the College Football Game Experience – Before It’s Too late”

  1. Christopher J. Robbins says:

    Another piece that goes directly to the heart of the matter. Good opponents, fair prices and great TEAM play will bring the Michigan faithful back in droves.

    Well done.

    Go Blue!

  2. Jeff Pek says:

    Love, it, John! Great suggestions.

    Now, let’s see if *even one* of them will be adopted. I don’t see it happening.

    As I often say to my kids: “You reap what you sow.”

    - jp

  3. Barry Lorah says:

    PSU’s decision to relocate the Senior Section “S” zone to the South Endzone is a prime example. It’s no longer a rite of passage reserved for seniors which is the biggest travesty. Stop pushing the students away.

  4. Rob Stenberg says:

    I totally agree with you.
    Get back to basics and tradition.
    Michigan Football is still a huge draw.
    Make TV play their game.
    Brandon needs a history lesson. Be like Canham not Hollywood.
    Finally, Hoke needs a major dose of Bo.
    If you’re winning cell service and commercial breaks are immaterial.

  5. Frank Vaydik says:

    You have hit the mark. The only remaining question is can the sellout to the mighty dollar be stopped. I doubt it.

  6. Excellent, fair-minded critique. Two broad points which are also relevant:

    1) Lack of reform leadership from Michigan AD and President: Michigan has a unique status as a primary “Big Foot” in the current and past development of the NCAA. Fritz Crisler’s close working relationship with Walter Byers of the NCAA; Law Prof Marcus Plant’s seminal work to shore up some of the central tenets of the current system; Canham’s central NCAA role. So Brandon’s singular focus on his ‘everything’s for sale’ modus operandi (Brandon brings an entirely new meaning to the phrase “stadium sellout”) is from a man who was immediately, upon his selection as A.D., because of Michigan’s Big Foot NCAA status, thrust into a leadership, if not bully pulpit role within college sports. But he’s not been just silent, he’s been AWOL on any effort to generate badly-needed NCAA and college sports reforms. All commerce, no leadership.
    2) The Ford factor: Michigan has enjoyed sports hegemony all these many years at least in some part because the Ford family has, whether through bad luck or imcompetence, failed to field a decent Detroit Lions team since Bobby Layne in ’57. Imagine if Jim Caldwell turns out to be a Bill Belichek turnaround artist: the UofM “fan fatigue” which you’ve so aptly identified will explode, and alot of fans will drift toward the Lions. Brandon thinks he needs “wow”, but what he needs alot more is the very fan loyalty which he’s been burning up these last few years.

  7. John A. Bayerl says:

    Well said, John. One other thing that fans find frustrating are the long lines for rest rooms. When plans are made for more seating at The Big House, it doesn’t appear that expanded rest room facilities are included. And, for goodness sake, stop training staff who work at games to treat the fans as “customers” or “guests,” as the pastor in State College said, they are people–people who stand together behind their team and all it stands for. Obviously, that doesn’t include standing in line for basic human needs.

    • Kevin A Whitmore says:

      Well said Uncle John! You as well John, I’d like to nominate you for UM’s next AD! We really appreciated having you speak at Petoskey’s athletic awards banquet last year. What a great honor. My son was Shea, he won the academic/athlete of the year honor. He is now a freshman playing football at Hillsdale College.

  8. DEBRA MILLER says:

    I LOVE Michigan. I grew up in Ann Arbor. My grandparents both are grads and both my parents attended. It’s in my blood. I knew at three I’d be a Wolverine. I went to most every game when I was a student and have been a season ticket holder for over 20 years. I love my seats way up in the south endzone where I get shade and can see the whole field. And I’m totally OVER IT! I live in Kalamazoo now and I have to drive 2 hours and would usually come to a couple games a year and sell the rest. Now I can hardly give some of the tickets away. The final straw is having to pay that license fee for the honor of being allowed to purchase my season tickets. Now I sell the whole lot of them as a group (otherwise I am out tons of $$$). How much $$$ is enough Michigan? Seems like all sports are out of control on salaries and selling out. I’m really quite sick of it all!

  9. Russ Jones says:

    Amen brother! Don Canham always said he would never mover the 1pm starting time for TV because it wasn’t fair to the fans that had to travel to Ann Arbor. Putting fans and players first was his business philosophy and it worked.

  10. Dan Streiff says:

    Again, Northwestern doing the right thing vis a vis ESPN. They also graduate over 90% of their players. Is there a trend here ?

  11. Charles P Tommasulo says:

    John U Bacon I admire your courage! Please continue sending this message. I am wondering if Mr. Brandon is listening?

  12. Jack Wuerker says:

    This is one of the best sports articles I can ever remember reading and right on the mark. Brandon does need to start thinking more about the fans (and the team and the band) and less about maximizing gross revenue.

  13. Coming from Wisconsin, the biggest thing that keeps students away from the games is a combination of low quality opponents and the fact you can’t drink at the game. Selling beer would be good for a solid attendance bump

  14. ed daggett says:

    Another grand slam article. Can we please get rid of Dave Brandon and hire someone who thinks like Bacon as AD? Bacon is more in touch with Michigan and the paying fans than our athletic director!

  15. Kurt Weber says:

    My first recollection of Michigan Football was the win over OSU in ’69. I was eight years old and, except for seeing the game on replays, don’t remember a thing about it, except that something happened that was BIG. I grew up loving Bo, cherished the Saturday afternoons listening to “Old man Ufer”. One o’clock could never come fast enough on those fall days, that was game time and I worshiped the broadcast listening on WHFB in Benton Harbor. I had to listen to the games because in those days teams were allowed only 5 TV dates every two years! During Bo’s years I was seldom disappointed, except in late November or New Years Day. My how times have changed.

    One of my life goals was to be a season ticket holder, and now entering my 30th season, I find myself wondering why I pay so much to see a game. The cost is outrageous, the 3 hour drive, extremely boring. The TV timeouts absolutely suck. The start times are ever changing, but we seem to be locked in to 3:30, which means getting back home around midnight. Except for the night games, which means staying in a hotel at a gouged price or, in my case, sleeping on the couch at my sons rental on East University.

    Bo once said about the new TV contracts and how much more exposure Michigan would have, “Michigan has enough exposure,hell, we’re over exposed.” Couldn’t agree with him more. TV is ruining the overall experience at the stadium, the time outs, the start times and my biggest pet peeve: the on field camera on the golf cart, which parks in front of me during every goal line stand in the south end zone!!

    I plan on holding out until I see the 1000th win, then I’m done. I would transfer my tickets to my son, who starts his Senior year this fall at UM, but last time they made that offer it would cost $2000. I may just let them go. Big money TV contracts, coaches salaries, extended seasons, playoffs, and ultimately the “win at all cost attitude”, a threat that players will have a union,plus the fact the Michigan can’t seem to win a meaningful game anymore is ruining my love for the game. I hope it changes, sadly I don’t think it will.

    Go Blue and God Bless

  16. Jerry Wassum says:

    John,
    Your article last week and this one are so close to my soul! I didn’t grow up in Michigan, but even as a youth in Virginia, I loved listening to that great fight song on the radio when Michigan was playing. When I was in HS, my father got transferred to Michigan and suddenly the possibility of attend UM became reality. I graduated from the Engineering school, married into a “Michigan family” (three generations, including several football team members), and had found my “people”. I started buying season tickets as soon as my family budget could afford them (1970) and bought them for 35 straight years, including many years when I was working in England and Texas and could only catch 1-2 games a year! I recall that every single time the band came down the field in the pregame tradition, playing the Victors, it would bring tears of joy to my eyes from that emotional connect to UM. When the seat licensing program arrived, I expressed my concerns to the athletic administration that it would be a bad decision in the long term, but it happened anyway, so I gave up the tickets, tears in my eyes. Now, late in my successful life (thanks again UM), I could afford to buy seats in the club level, but that is not what I loved about the Big House experience. It was, as you and Pastor Ed said, being with my “people” and sharing that bond of passion for Big Blue (note my email address!). So now I pay my money to ESPN and watch on my 67″ HDTV with a glass of chilled wine next to me, and forward through the commercials with my DVR, and it is almost better than being there……except I’m not with my “People”!!!
    Keep up the good work, John. Hopefully, someone will eventually listen!

  17. john w minton jr says:

    John,

    I’m not sure that the folks in charge can give up their ego trips and the big bucks coming in the front door. OSU
    football home games were televised on the local PBS station WOSU in the early days, post 1968, when everything started to change. Now college football is marketing and hype, aka the NFL, and it is boring. Watching the Alumni Band on homecoming weekend was better
    than Super Bowl Sunday and those guys cared. The singing of Carmen Ohio gave me a chill,even as a non-alum because it was part of a tradition. When the tradition goes, the Titanic is going down by the bow.

    Thanks for upholding the family escutcheon

    bomberjohn5

    bomber

  18. Ken Smythe says:

    John,

    I felt compelled to comment in order to express to you that your article echoes my sentiments exactly, and I could not have put them into words so eloquently as you did here. It is people like you who allow me to retain my faith in humanity, despite all the evil and corruption that pervades our society today. Please continue your terrific work knowing there are plenty of people out there who still feel the same way you do. All the best, and forever Go Blue!

    Ken Smythe ’14 BS

  19. Pete Mooney says:

    John, Great points overall, and I agree with almost all of them. I will say that I don’t mind the pumped-in music when used appropriately. Post-game after the first under the lights game, and during the brawl at last year’s Ohio State game, I felt like it added to an already pumped up atmosphere.

    I also think that, no matter how much tradition is retained or lost, winning trumps all. Yes, Michigan attendance was solid during the RichRod years, but I think that excellent home schedules and the excitement generated by Denard and the offense he led had something to do with that. From what I understand, attendance during the up and down Bump Elliot years of the 1960s wasn’t great.

    That said, I basically share your view that what Michigan fans want is an experience that harkens back to what their parents and grandparents enjoyed.

  20. Chris Todd says:

    John again is right on point with his commentary. Unfortunately, major programs like Michigan are being looked at as a business and a name brand with the fans as customers. This is why the money keeps increasing exponentially. Until they lose any money, there’s no incentive to change.

    U of M class of ’01

  21. Dan Sperling says:

    Between my wife and I, we have four U of M degrees and have been going to Michigan games for more than 30 years. Three years ago, our son became a Wolverine and this past year our daughter joined him, making her upcoming diploma potentially the fourth Michigan degree in the family. These kids have been going to Michigan games since they could walk… Which made it ever more disheartening that neither of them bought student season football tickets for this upcoming year…even though it’s my son’s senior year. (Between the general admission seating and the amazingly lousy home schedule, he decided it wasn’t worth the money.).

    Football Saturdays in Ann Arbor are some of the best memories I have of my years as a student. Now, not only am I considering giving up my tickets after three decades, but my kids already don’t care and will likely NEVER look foward to football Saturdays in Ann Arbor as an alumni like I have all these years. Brandon has soiled a national treasure and needs to go. Time to bring back tradition!

    Go Blue!

  22. Casey Collins says:

    Let Brandon go and bring in Brad Bates. Brad knows honor and integrity. Brandon was another poor choice by Ms. Coleman.

  23. Great Article! Sadly its not just Michigan that has this problem. Georgia, Tennessee, etc. are all having these problems.

  24. Conference expansion is a joke as well. We are stuck in with Rutgers, Maryland and PSU. No more Jug game each year. No more Pink Locker room every other year. No more Cheese Heads each year. 14 teams in the Big Ten. The almighty dollar has won out. My tickets are not being renewed. Too late for me.

  25. Jimminy Cricket says:

    We’ll done Mr. Bacon. Brandon is taking things in a direction that is completely alienating the students and alumni and we are part of the reason the program is do great. Brandon May be the first to preside over a non-sold out stadium in decades. And yes, let him stop bombarding us with crass commercialism in the way of endless ads. It really cheapens the experience and takes away from what is special about Michigan football. And then there is the matter of coach Hoke’s new title… Everything is sadly for sale.

  26. Paul LaRoe says:

    John,
    As you already are aware of, these issues are not unique to Michigan. I have not read articles about what is taking place in the West, the East or the south but my senses is that what is taking place here in Ann Arbor is something more than just about college football.

    Dave Brandon, is not necessarily the bad guy, but is merely following along with all other AD’s at schools that have a major football program. It’s also possible that he is doing everything he can think of as overseer of the “Big House”, to maintain being the leader as the largest stadium in America.

    The current situation at Michigan has not happened overnight. The issues around the loss of student ticket sales and longtime season ticket holders not renewing their tickets has been rumbling beneath the surface for a number of years.

    There is not “one thing” that has brought about this new trend. It is a number of things, that the Athletic Department might consider small things, but over time, the fans have remembered each incidence and now have come to a point where they are saying, “I’ve had enough.”

    Every business in America has to deal with the “cost vs. Value” issue as part of their business operations. And yes, Michigan Athletics is a business. In fact, it is a multi million dollar a year business. Can you name me one mid size business in America that pays one of it’s division leaders $4 million dollars a year? Brady Hoke is just one coach, being part of an athletic department with many coach’s.

    If I hear one more person on sports talk radio say, that the pay of Brady Hoke doesn’t matter, because the Athletic Department has a separate budget from the University, I’m going to scream. Tell the local youth that the exorbitant compensation the football coach at the University of Michigan receives, has nothing to do with the reason they can not afford to attend home football games. It’s not that there is a lack of tickets available before the game, it is the cost they are charging for those extra tickets. Back in my youth, I could buy a $2 ticket to gain admission or get one free from a fan that had extras. Mind you, this was before the run of sellout games of the last number of years. But the point I’m trying to make, is that they have raised the cost to attend a football game to the point where it is no longer affordable for a middle class family.

    Sorry to get off track but the amount of money we pay to college football coach’s is one of the things that is rubbing the average fan the wrong way. Has anyone done the math to see how much of the cost of every ticket for the 107,000 plus seats goes towards paying Brady Hoke’s salary. No wonder fans get upset with coach’s and call for their heads.

    Over the past number of years, there have been a number of decisions made by the Athletic Department, which has the same common denominator. It’s about the money.

    Was the implementation of the seat tax created to make the seats more comfortable at the football stadium? I don’t think so. I don’t remember what that money was to help fund. It might have been something to do with the football program and on the other hand, the money raised might have gone to support another athletic program at the University that doesn’t have the revenue to cover it’s own expenses. Or maybe they needed a new multi million dollar facility to call home, for practice and gathering together in team meetings.

    Were the luxury boxes built to increase fans enjoyment of the games on Saturday afternoon? I don’t think so, unless you want to count the top 1% who can afford to buy one of those suites.

    Was the new press box built to satisfy the demands from the long time season ticket holders? I don’t think so. I believe the cost to construct the luxury boxes was through fund raising and am not sure about the press box. But even if the cost was covered by donations for the construction of these monstrous facilities hovering over Michigan stadium, who is paying for the annual cost of operations to run and maintain these facilities. Is that why the cost of a hot dog, pop and box of popcorn nearly sets you back 20 bucks?

    Before the first home game last season, there was a rumor flying around. The rumor was that you would no longer be allowed to bring your own seat cushion into the stadium. The University had made a decision that if you really wanted to have a seat cushion, you could purchase one of theirs inside of the stadium. I said at the time, “they are going to squeeze every last nickel out of us before this is all said and done.” fortunately, the rumor was false and when I got to the gate I was pleasantly surprised that people were being let into the stadium carrying their own seat cushion. But, there is always next season. You have to raise money somehow to stay in business.

    The majority of season ticket holders I’m sure still remember the first home game a number of years ago. As is typical in those first few home games, game time temperatures can get up to 80 degrees or above. That particular Saturday afternoon was extremely warm, and much to the shock of the fans, when they reached the gate, they were told they could not bring in their own water bottles. Fans were angry and upset, But not as angry and upset as they were by halftime when the concessions had all run out of bottled water. I will never forget seeing the paramedics wheeling off on the golf carts, one fan after another, who had succumbed to heat exhaustion and was be transported to the medical facility on site. It was a horrible scene that I will never forget. I don’t remember if the University ever made a public apology for creating this memorable game

    The continual fight to be one of college footballs leaders, at many Universities across America, each trying to attract the top high school players, has created this feeding frenzy for bigger and bigger, better and better, more and more of………? You fill in the blank. This run away train has been out of control for far too long, and network television has helped to fuel the insanity.

    It’s my belief that the costs of attending a college football game at a major university across this country is slowly reaching the point where only the well to do, the wealthy, the rich and the top 1% will be able to afford to attend.

    The national backlash against Wall Street and Corporate America of the last few years, is tied to people of lesser means tired of the rich getting richer while they struggle to make ends meet.

    Every time I drive by Michigan Stadium, seeing the giant press box, luxury suites, the towering scoreboard at the end zones, and now the latest monument of MONEY and EXCESS, the flashing billboard along Stadium Blvd. What other business on Stadium would be allowed to install such a hideous marketing sign on their property? None of them, as it’s against the City of Ann Arbor’s sign ordinance. But the University has become elitist and I have to admit to the State fans, arrogant.

    Of all the millions of dollars spent on the U of M stadium and it’s surrounding sports complexes over the last few years, what portion of that huge sum of money, that if it had been given to the U of M’s Children’s Hospital, could have funded research that may have led to the discovery of cures to the many childhood diseases being treated there daily?

    You quoted Dave Brandon as saying, that the number one competition they have is the 67″ big screen TV. I don’t believe that is fully the case. The money spent to attend a football game, buy a program, or a hot dog and a pop, is called discretionary spending. No one has to attend a football game in order to make it in life, let alone pay the ridiculously high costs that are being charged. The truth is, with the decline of the middle class, there is less and less discretionary money available. This extra money left over after paying ones bills, was what made it possible to buy season tickets and purchase a hot dog and pop at the game. But unfortunately those day are gone for some and becoming more of a reality for others after each passing season when the cost for attending a college football game continues to increase.

    As I said earlier, every business has to deal with the “cost vs. Value” equation of doing business. It’s now reached a point where the cost to attend a Michigan football game on Saturday, is exceeding the value received by some of the fans. When this occurs in business, people stop buying the product or service they chose to buy in the past, and choose to spend their money with someone else or for other more important things in life. For all business’s this starts the beginning of the end. That is, unless the business can lower its costs or doing business, or substantially increase the value perceived by the paying customer.

    What choice do you think Michigan will make?

    • James Allen says:

      I laughed uproariously when I read this post, not because you were trying to be funny, but because you so beautifully characterized the absurd and petty commercialism that has engulfed college football. Like so many institutions in America, everything is for sale and if people need or like something, find a price to make a sell.

  27. Paul La Roe says:

    John, the title of your article sounds good. I’m a believer in “all possibilities”, but with the path college football has been on for some time now, I believe it has passed the point of no return. At least not return to the game day experience as it once was or as we remember it being.

    The Michigan football record setting sell out of all home games and consecutive attendance of 100,000+, will come to an end in short time. Will it be this year? Maybe. But it will come none the less. Dave Brandon’s belief in business, “if it’s not broken, break it” will come to fruition with the consecutive largest crowd in America attending a football game on Saturday afternoon. It’s not a record streak that DB is trying to break, but due to the choices and decisions he has made, as well as those before him, this record, like all things in life, will come to an end.

    The Michigan athletic administration, in my humble opinion, believes it is above what has been and still is occurring across this country. An increasing divide between the middle class and the rich. They have failed to make the link between the protest against Wall Street, and the negative backlash towards excessive CEO compensation and greed. It appears they believe that sentiment could not be felt towards college football.

    The middle class has been under pressure of stagnant wages and less discretionary money to spend on things they enjoyed in the past. Now, they have a greater appreciation of the limited funds they have available to them, and are taking a hard look at everything they have spent money on in the past. They are making choices to spend money on things that give them the most value. That “value buying” is very personal and is an individual’s perception of what they are receiving for the money they spend. In the case of Michigan football season tickets, the cost has now exceeded their perceived value.

    In Dave Brandon’s mind, his perception is that all the things he has added to the game day experience at Michigan stadium, is giving the fan more value for their money, and justifies his raising the cost of football tickets. Reality is, that DB,s perception is different than that of the long time season ticket holder. So, who is right? As always, the paying customer.

    Time will tell how this eventually plays out, and it should be interesting to listen to the ongoing debate.

  28. Trevor S. Angood says:

    Great Piece John!
    My dad and I met you when you spoke in San Diego at the Alumni Association’s Book Signing at the Hall of Champions in Balboa Park. It’s quite interesting to see the such dramatic change in football and the business behind it in such a short time. I was a member of the MMB (2002-2005) and an active member in Tau Beta Sigma, an organization that works to support college bands, mainly the Michigan Marching Band. We had one committee called the Apple Core, which brought apples from a local farm to both the MMB and the visiting band during the third quarter. I remember when the farm we used wanted to have their boxes, with their logos in the stadium for perhaps a glimpse of air time and the Athletic Department made us switch vendors (or, made the farm back down on their request). It was such a stark contrast to travels to Notre Dame, MSU and OSU on away games where darn near everything had an ad or a sponsorship attached to it. I have not been to a game since 2009, mostly because of my K-12 teaching and living on the West Coast doesn’t allow for easy trips back to Ann Arbor, but it seems like from what I’ve seen on TV and your recent posts, that what I saw as a student at Notre Dame, MSU, and OSU was just a sign of what was to come.
    Go Blue!
    Trevor Angood ’06

  29. I am an outsider, a child of KCMO and the old Big 8 Conference. With Mizzou, Kansas, K State, and all my relatives in Nebraska I grew up on college football, its passion and traditions. I of course loved Bo, Michigan, the winged helmet and the fight song and never missed them when on ABC TV.

    I now live in Milwaukee and went to the Big House for the first time in 2012 as my niece was attending UM and is now graduated. My dad and I went to the Notre Dame Night game last year.

    What is happening at Michigan is emblematic of what is going on in all of college football. While Brandon takes things to the extreme he is doing much of what every other AD does.

    The Michigan in game experience and game presentation is actually better and less obnoxious than many. The band seemed to play louder last year and the introduction of past Michigan sports greats during TV timeouts was classy.

    I went to the South Carolina at Mizzou game last year as well, an SEC thriller. At a climactic moment in overtime as the MU band was playing the fight song (“Every True Son”) rock music began to blare over it on the loud speaker. Blasphemy and something I doubt would happen in Ann Arbor. It really disgusted me. I can go to a Chiefs game if I want that!

    The Big House is a big problem. They cram people in like sardines and its incredibly uncomfortable for my 75 year old dad and my 6’3’ body with my long arms and legs. Beyond that I now see why night games are not a good idea in AA. Dad and I walked back to our room near the shopping mall 3 miles away. It was quicker than a car.

    I used to think college football was the last game on earth that was worth the hassle to attend live. Not so much anymore. Dad and I will spend a week in AA to attend the Utah and Minnesota games and that will be all for me.

    My other game is NHL hockey. I now find the NHL far better on HIDEF TV than live and in person. No blaring rock music, screaming baboon PA announcers, and expensive hassle. NHL hockey used to be considered the best sport to attend. Until the marketing geeks ruined it.

    Now they are doing the same to college football.

    And there is NO going back.

    A new phenomenon is taking place. The REAL fans are staying home to watch the games.

  30. bob self says:

    John, I couldn’t agree more with your comments. I saw my first game in the Big House 62 years ago. The entire sports world is out of control and it will come crashing down like Rome did. When you look at the 900+ students in all the sports at the U of M and the money spent for sports, it amounts to over $150k per athlete You can count on two hands how many of these student athletes will make their living playing sports. When the stadium is half full maybe they will get the message.

  31. S. Barnosky says:

    The marketing of Michigan football as a brand did not begin with the arrival of David Brandon in the AD’s office; you appear to have forgotten that Bill Martin made a deal with SBC for the naming rights for the Michigan / Ohio State game in 2004. The outcry was so great that the deal was called off. However, Bill Martin was revealed as someone who could not be trusted with preserving the Michigan tradition.

    I have traveled to away games around the Big Ten (Illinois, Penn State, Nebraska, Iowa, Northwestern and ohio) and I was and continue to be shocked at the ads that run on or are fixtures in and around these stadiums. It’s really quite sad and I was glad that Michigan stadium was able to avoid having to resort to these measures. However, the last few years have continued to erode the proud traditions of Michigan. The suites, where those with enough money can avoid the Game Day experience. The apathy of the students, who arrive when it suits them, if at all, is concerning; though the seating policy instituted last year was so egregious I could not blame the students for not attending. Then there was the decision to disallow seat cushions of any kind last season, which was rescinded just before the start of the season based on the expressed dissatisfaction of the season ticket holders. The seat licensing fees and the ridiculous point system continue to erode any goodwill that the program may still have.

    When I started attending Michigan games some 33 years ago as a student I enjoyed those days of the season beginning in mid September and ending the Saturday before Thanksgiving. You wanted to be in the stadium, or listening on the radio. Those days are long gone. Every game can be viewed on television, but I still want to be in the stadium, to be part of largest crowd watching a football game anywhere in America. However, I am completely cognizant that the world has changed, but before Mr. Brandon considers making any more changes to the Michigan tradition I offer an open invitation for him to sit in the seat next to mine so he can truly understand what it means to be a Michigan fan.

  32. Robert Tishkevich says:

    Let me start by saying those were two great articles describing what’s wrong with college football. I was very impressed with the author.

    I would like to expand the subject to college basketball. However, I would like to make one quick comment on college football. Stopping the game after the kickoff, as they do in the NFL, is an example of absolute greed and shows a complete lack of respect for the game.

    A college basketball game is 40 minutes long. Each team is entitled to use 5 timeouts which obviously adds up to 10 per game. But the NCAA then ruins college basketball with four long stoppages of the game with the first whistle after the 16,12,8, and 4 minute mark in each half. They stop the game 4 times per half for a total of eight times per game just for commercials.

    Throw in the 10 team timeouts and there are an incredible 18 time outs in a 40 minute game. What’s wrong with that picture?

  33. James Allen says:

    I wanted to comment on this blog entry to keep this important conversation percolating. My OSU perspective was also on the earlier blog entry regarding ticket sales. Buckeye fans are rumbling and currently acting like Michigan’s ticket woes are well-deserved. Between the lines, though, you clearly hear a weird sadness about what the college football landscape is becoming and what could be in Ohio State’s future–and the dumbing down of the rivalry which is losing its sizzle with each succeeding year. Let’s be honest here: OSU became quickly relevant again because they paid Urban Meyer to right the ship after all the tattoo uproar. Michigan went for Brady Hoke after RR. Urban is tough and not especially likable–but he calls the shots and has a winning resume-he has the power here because when he took the job he saved the AD’s ass after he had bungled the sanctions’ crisis. We got the unlikable coach who wins games. You got the likable coach who loses games but shows his toughness by wearing short sleeve shirts in sub-zero temperatures without even the need for headphones. And by showing his Woody/BO animus with the “Ohio” thing. A bit too contrived. Urban’s arrogance come quite naturally. I don’t think, though, Brady is genuinely ruthless or tough. Urban is authentically both and took a program off the edge of a cliff. Here’s your current problem: Michigan has seen a RR and now Hoke version of leadership, and they don’t see a vision of BO or Woody. You see in Brady what we saw in a year with Luke Fickell. Nice guy but no one is afraid of him and, as a result, performance accountability is diminished. Urban is obsessive, especially about winning. He is not intimated about being hated on the outside because he knows his central Ohio base loves him because of the W’s and attention he always brings to the program. He has developed his own celebrity and has learned how to manage the scrutiny and attention. Thus, if you could combine the likable Brady with the ruthless Urban the perfect coach would be constituted. Remember BO? As the variables unfolded, OSU’s only choice at the time was Urban because wins were quickly needed to salvage the sagging program. Now Michigan’s sagging, and it is increasingly clear that Brady doesn’t have the power to run over anything in his path. Urban is telling our AD what to do. He’s running the show and tempering the tv train that is consuming college football because he knows his celebrity status will always get the ratings. But he also knows that to fill the stadium, and get the ratings, you must have the pageantry that fans love and strategies that grew college football in the first place. We’re not selling pizza here . We’re selling the best of reality television that has evolved for many years. And when that live reality becomes so blatantly commercial, people will elect to stay home with their TV and express their allegiance in a more dignified way. Michigan is a premier program not because of seat licenses but because leaders from the past collaborated to share their love of the institution with all the others who felt the same way. The love created the bond not a marketing scheme more appropriate for selling a commercial product rather than fan loyalty and appreciation. You need a little ruthless now. But not in the form of Dave Brandon.

  34. Dan Hacker says:

    Ha! I remember hearing Bo once say (something to the effect of); “college football should be played at one o’clock on Saturday afternoons. But if you wave a twenty dollar bill in front of someone’s face, we’ll have to play at midnight. He must be turning over in his grave now. Gosh I miss the days when I didn’t have to check websites 10 days before a game to find out what time the game is and therefore who all can come, etc.

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