The Ultimate Test
It's not as nice up close
My revered blogging colleague Bruce Wood of Big Green Alert wrote this yesterday about the news that Brown will open its Ivy schedule this season with its first ever night game, and it's against Harvard:
"I could be wrong but given that it is the first night game in stadium history, it's early enough in the season that the weather should be warm, it's Homecoming and it's against Harvard, it would be a surprise to me if that game doesn't come close to selling out the 20,000 seat facility."
Let me make this clear right off the bat: I hope Bruce is right. For the sake of the Ivy League, for the sake of actual students playing competitive collegiate sports, I pray he's right.
But I'm not so sure.
I've been watching the Ivies for more than 25 years, and I have never seen any Ivy team with weaker overall fan and alumni support than Brown football.
That does NOT mean the people who do pull for the Bears aren't into it.
It's just that there aren't enough of them. And that's despite a breathtaking turnaround in fortunes that began in the mid-1990's and has continued almost uninterrupted ever since.
Brown's stadium is the worst in the Ivies, bar none. The press box is not comfortable. The field has a pronounced "crown-type" curve that makes you feel like you're cascading downhill when you go to the sidelines. The student support is non-existent and the campus attitude is the most hostile towards football than anywhere else I've seen.
I have said time and again that what Head Coach Phil Estes has done with this Brown program with what he has to work with is nothing short of a gold medal achievement that should make every other Ivy program motivated and maybe a little embarrassed by contrast.
Of course, to be as fair as I possibly can be, let me remind everyone that the Brown Football Association is making a splash by fronting the money for the temporary lights, and that's definitely a positive development. That's alumni support and the very visible kind of support too.
But if this game is poorly attended, (and I would say anything fewer than 11,000 fans showing up is not good. Anything fewer than 8,500 is REALLY not good, and anything fewer than 7,500 is a disaster), it will be a terrible black eye for Brown and the league.
By contrast, a sellout would be a great selling point for everyone even remotely involved.
If I were in the Brown ticket office, I would be promoting this aggressively starting NOW. Mailings to all the incoming freshmen kids and their families would be one place to start. A major alumni promotion would also make sense.
And at the game, the Brown promotional machine, (if there is one), should be in full force. T-shirt and other school paraphernalia should be for sale all around the stadium and outside the stadium. There should be live bands playing at the practice fields. Free BBQ's for the students who show up with game tickets, etc. The fact that this is Homecoming should not mean the aged alums get too much attention. Go for the families, the students, and get them in the seats so you can have a new market and audience for years to come.
I and the rest of the league's pundits will be watching.