Friday, May 21, 2010

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.


At Fri May 21, 05:18:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger HBShannon said...

It's my birthday Sept. 25th so I will be in the stands with my wife. So there are 2 tickets sold.

At Fri May 21, 08:03:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always enjoy your work and dedication to covering the team. When you mentioned that Brown should have live bands and BBQ's for their game, it got me thinking. I think an ENORMOUS, but overlooked, ingredient to improving the Lions chances, is the amount of spectators that come to games. (I know you yourself have and made this a frequent topic of your blog, but you can't be expected to do it all yourself) Coaches may not believe this entirely, but there is a psychological component that is real. There is no question in my mind that you could signfiicantly alter the course of of several games if you have a sell out (on BOTH sides of the field), and with marketing savvy, I really believe it is TOTALLY achievable. Columbia Athletics does a great job, but they can really rachet things up with clever ideas, like having bands like Vampire Weekend perform at halftime, for instance. Free food, t-shirts, anything. Columbia basketball sold out a game I went to this season which was basically something like "Fill the House Night " or something catchy. It is very hard to get hard working students to leave campus to go uptown, even though there are wonderful buses. You have to give them a reason OTHER than football which many of them have no interest in (look at Brown) whatsoever. You have to introduce them to it by getting them up there. Retailers now this trick; it's about getting people IN the door. Some do it with ATM machines, others do it with a drastically discounted items--whatever it takes. Women, by nature, have less interest than men in football, and they are 50 per cent of the class. Marketing such an effort does not take a great deal of money,but it takes some imaginative thinking and out-of-the box ideas. I saw a minor league game this year for a team which never has more than 2,000; but they offered fireworks at the end of the show and 20,000 people came! Sorry to be ranting and raving, but when a football player is busting his butt trying to rally his team and he looks up and sees 10,000 screaming fans, it not only encourages his play, it freaks outs the opposition to the point they make mistakes, etc. Why not make it a goal to make Columbia football the best attendance in the Ivy's (with the exception of the Harvard/Yale game). This if New York!
Keep up the good work!

At Fri May 21, 09:20:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been thinking the same thing about attendance. I know the student athletes attend the home games and have a great time. The experience needs to be shared with the rest of the student population. Also marketing to New York at large is an idea. College football at the Spuyten Duyvil is a great way to spend a fall saturday afternoon. More New Yorkers need to know this. Nothing like winning to make it the place to be.

At Sat May 22, 01:25:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger cathar said...

As to increasing attendance and publicizing Columbia athletics in general, I do hope at least some people have noticed the billboard on the West Side Highway heading south from the GWB. I always enjoyed seeing it.

My impression is that the Athletics Department has backed off a bit from going after students to attend football and basketball games, thinks it may have done all it could re that audience segment (at least until we're really in the thick of a title race). Instead, they seem focused on the care and feeding (especially the feeding!) of season ticket holders.

This is not necessarily a bad approach. Nor are the various ploys used to sell tickets to alums and others. I think the "True Blue" plan, for example, is a fine idea.

And for those who wish we got more coverage in the media, well, the Post and to some minor extent the Times are always fairly friendly to Columbia. I also well recall when Letterman had the marching band on his show, but that was mid-"streak," and his basic aim was to smirk over our football fortunes. We can well do without such media coverage in the future.


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