Football season brings many sentiments for those involved. For the fans, a sense of anticipation is evoked. The players and coaches perhaps feel anxious to see how all their time and work will be rewarded. But for the behind-the-scenes people in charge of the more unheralded tasks surrounding a college football season, this is a time of creativity and pressure.
Ensuring a university’s football season runs efficiently is of tremendous importance for an athletic department. This is because football is the marquee sport in America, and a wasted season (or even a season not maximized) is a wasted opportunity to build recognition for the school, energize boosters, and generate crucial capital. An athletic department also knows that successful football helps more than the one program. Scott Drew, Baylor men’s basketball coach, recently said of how having a strong football program is a boon, “It helps get your foot in the door of a recruit outside the region, no question. It all feeds off each other.”
So in these final days before the beginning of the college football season, athletic departments are making final additions, tweaks, and offerings to entice fans out of their homes and into stadiums, where gate and concessions contribute hefty windfalls to a university. Overcoming the “home experience” in today’s age of HD and replay (not to mention private bathrooms and cheaper food and drink) is a challenge for departments even of the most renowned football programs. Oklahoma AD Joe Castiglione commented on the issue and urged people to the stadium, stating, “There is absolutely one thing technology cannot replicate, and that’s the game day experience. There’s a draw to being in that environment. As much as technology gets close to perfecting the video pictures and the audio coming from the facility, it can’t replicate the experience.”
Another football stalwart, the University of Iowa, is also trying to recruit people off the couch and into the hard plastic seats of its Kinnick Stadium, this time using non-football-related activities such as live music before the games and “kid zones” full of things and activities for children. If attendance improves as a result, don’t be surprised to see plazas of inflatable bounce-houses filled with kids while hearing the “new country” warblings of Danita Portz coming to a college stadium nearby.
For schools that need more than just a little tweaking to get those last few seats sold (and aren’t contracting their seat totals as Michigan is this season), more drastic measures might be necessary. In what is probably my favorite story over the past week, members of the Arkansas State athletic department are literally using their heads to overcome their ticket sales difficulties. That is, one staff member, associate athletic director Jason Martin, has committed to wear a team helmet until 10,000 season tickets are sold for the upcoming season. The result has been fleeting internet fame, a hashtag on Twitter, and many more conversations about Arkansas State football. Here’s hoping he can take the helmet off before the August 31st deadline.
As summer winds down and fall draws closer, athletic departments can try gimmicks, implore fans, or have faith in their product to draw fans to the stadium. Ultimately though, athletic departments know what really puts people in the seats; it is the same thing that makes fans, players, and coaches so excited, anxious, or hopeful at the end of August: win football games and the rest takes care of itself.
Feature image via Jason Martin.