by Kent Sterling
In a USA Today piece posted yesterday afternoon several athletic directors representing Big Five conference universities spoke of the difficulty of drawing students to football games. Purdue’s Morgan Burke was one of them.
Burke’s comments were certainly reflective of the collective mindset of those facing the challenge of compelling students to part with the cash necessary to watch football in person rather than on television, “You’ve never seen (television) ratings higher, so the games are being watched, but schools that traditionally thought they never would have to have a sales arm as part of their athletic department now have a sales arm. That tells you something. We’re as concerned as everybody else that this generation somehow doesn’t have the same affinity for football and that it can hurt you at the gate down the road.”
So what are the meaningful points of differentiation causing students to make the decision to watch in their dorms/apartments or bars rather than to make the trek to Ross-Ade Stadium on a beautiful Saturday afternoon?
Here are some quick issues that are Purdue specific:
- Student season tickets are $17 per game, plus a $25 fee for a total of $144. That is the equivalent of 10 cases of beer. Lets face it – and we can talk about all the students who choose not to drink, but I only met one during my time at Indiana University – the currency for college students is beer. Nearly two cases of Natty Light per game is a lot to sacrifice to watch the Boilermakers as they come off a 1-11 season.
- The first three home games this season are against Western Michigan, Central Michigan, and Southern Illinois. No offense to those three schools, but there is no buzz on the campus of a Big Ten university when those teams come to town.
- Minus five aberrant seasons during the spectacular run Joe Tiller put together in West Lafayette, Purdue has not had a winning record in the Big Ten since 1984. The Boilermakers are not exactly the Crimson Tide. Hey, I’m not getting haughty here – I went to IU where the wiki page doesn’t even list the Hoosiers Big Ten records before 2012.
- Even at Alabama, school officials have had to threaten loss of season ticket privileges for students leaving blowouts early, so no one is immune to the needs of students to be entertained, fed, and quenched of their collective thirst.
So what do football programs need to do to attract student fans in bulk?
- Reduce ticket prices to below the case of beer threshold ($14 for a 30-pack).
- Provide flawless and fast wireless connectivity. Putting a college student in an environment where they cannot text, be texted, tweet, and post pics is like throwing a prisoner in solitary confinement. Asking them to pay for disconnection from their social media shows a complete ignorance of their lifestyle.
- Sell beer inside the stadium. Students are a pretty savvy group. If they have a TV, beer, and connectivity outside the stadium, what could possibly compel them to pay for the privilege to walk into a place where none of that exists. Purdue is making strides toward logic as they have constructed an area where TVs and beer are available for those with a VIP card. It is limited to 1,500 people at a time. Seems ridiculous to enforce an upcharge for amenities available at tailgate parties, but evolution toward logic takes time.
- The decision not to sell beer is bad for everyone. Because liquor is easier to smuggle into the stadium, students choose that route – and it’s far more dangerous than beer. It’s not easy to drink enough $6 beers to cause cranial chaos. Some kids pack their pants with the inventive bags of vodka, and mayhem may ensue. Sure there are people are abstain, but for the majority of students, whether they are inside the stadium or not – it’s a party!
- Shorten the damn games. I enjoy going to college football games, but I attended the Indiana vs. Minnesota game last year, and I’m not sure it’s ended yet. The delays in the first half were interminable, and the urge to head to Nick’s to watch the rest of the game became overwhelming toward the end of the first half. That came after my decision to buy tickets for the game. Any athletic event that drags beyond three hours is not fan friendly. Watching on TV is one thing, but a nearly four hour game is a never-ending odyssey for fans with options like Nick’s 12 blocks south.
These moves work at many other universities, including Indiana. College kids are college kids – wherever they are.
This isn’t a tough putt. Solving these problems only requires a trip down memory lane. Why did I not attend more than a half dozen Indiana games? See above, and add high speed smart phone connectivity. Giving students what they have access to in the parking lot is a fairly simple place to start.