An empty Spartan Stadium? Blame the colleges, the media... blame everyone The Enlightened Spartan: An empty Spartan Stadium? Blame the colleges, the media... blame everyone

Monday, October 06, 2014

An empty Spartan Stadium? Blame the colleges, the media... blame everyone

Before the ES gets to the game vs Nebraska, there's an interesting happenstance that occurred during the game that is also occurring at stadiums around the country:  lack of student support.  It's occurring everywhere: Michigan, Georgia, Arizona, etc.

Fourth quarter
For those, like the ES, who made it to the game... well, the #10-ranked and defending Rose Bowl champion Michigan State Spartans were pounding #19 Nebraska, 27-3, early in the 4th quarter.  While the student section never completely filled during the game, it nearly completely emptied by the 4th quarter (see photo at right). It wasn't just the student section, but various other sections of the stadium also emptied.

Beginning of second half
Then, Nebraska made its furious rally.  Luckily, the Corn came up short.

Now, Spartan Athletic Director Mark Hollis has expressed his displeasure. But, there is plenty of blame to go around for the lack of Spartan student enthusiasm on a cold night. Sure, the ES shares in disappointment that students didn't stick around until the end of the game.  However, if you want to play the blame-game, let's be honest about it.


The game was late.  It's an 8 pm kickoff.  And, it was cold (40 degrees), with a forecast for rain (which ended up being a mist).  Whose fault is this?  Well, Michigan State and the Big Ten conference can blame themselves for kowtowing to the media interests (ABC, ESPN, and its own Big Ten Network) who schedule these prime time games in exchange for big money.  If many of these students decided to go and instead cram for mid-terms (OK, I doubt it, but maybe a few did use that time wisely to study), then I'd argue Hollis' comments are, well, hollow.

First half
Students purchased their season tickets at the beginning of the season and knew the meeting vs. Nebraska would likely be a dandy matchup.   The time was set to 8 pm "PRIME TIME" because of the significance of the game.  However, if the time was set to 3:30 pm or 1 pm (like the old days), my guess is you would have seen a full crowd for most of the game.  It didn't rain all afternoon, and the weather was pretty nice during the day, cool but partly cloudy.  At night, it got cold and damp.  Bone-chilling cold.

Actually, many complained about the lateness - for me, it wasn't exactly great getting home at 1 am.


OK, now let's follow this conversation.  My father, a Spartan alum who lives near Seattle, came to town this weekend and went to the game with me.  Last week, he visited my Uncle Denny up in Traverse City.  Denny is a longtime Spartan (with whom I tailgated back in the 1980s).  Here is the conversation retold to me:
  • ES' Dad:  "Denny you going to the game?"
  • Denny: "Why bother?  I can sit here, right in my chair, with my drink and watch it on my big-screen tv."
The learning lesson?  Today, there is not enough value added going to the games for those who don't go to the games.  Hollis is right - meet with the students and see what they WANT to get them to attend... unlike that program down the road who makes marketing decisions without asking their consumers.

Way, way, waaaaay back in the 1950s (the ES invites you to read the 1952 Collier's college football preview), colleges were afraid to televise football games because "attendance will suffer as people will choose to instead watch the game at home."  Well, that failed to materialize, and instead television, and eventually cable tv, helped enhance the marketability and interest of college football to the billion-dollar enterprise it is today.

But, now, after all those years, the prophecy from the 1950s seems to be happening.  Major college football programs and the mass media enterprises have created a product that looks even better on television.  Big time college football powers can blame themselves for creating such a great product that people can sit at home and watch it instead of going to the game.  Today, colleges from the Big Five conferences can make enough money from television broadcasts (more than $1 billion per year) even if the stadium is half full.

Whose to blame?  Universities and big-time athletic directors should point to themselves.  If college athletic directors want to keep their business model (and complain about there not being enough revenue to feed the expenses), then find a way to add value to the product to get those consumers (student attendees) interested.


MSU has already won the Rose Bowl for the first time in thirty years; went to two of the first three Big Ten title games; and, are poised for another Big Ten title and potential national championship playoff berth in its inaugural year.  Top 10 rankings are now commonplace in EL. So, success isn't the issue.

One way to fix this would be to stop this "Prime Time" nonsense; the result is devaluing lovely fall Saturday football afternoons.  We'd save electricity, too.  Or, another way would be to learn about new ways to add value to college football to keep Millennials coming to games.

Transform or go out of business.  That is up to the colleges, not the fans nor the attendees.  As for Michigan State, they've succeeded in the recent past with marketing challenges... and likely will meet this challenge as well.