Friday, September 09, 2011

Reflections "from the Hill:"

I'm in my 41st year of Tennessee football, so I guess I have seen almost everything. From Bobby Scott (my first quaterback), to Condredge Holloway, to lights in Neyland Stadium for the first time (I was outside looking in -- there were no tickets to be had), to the return of favorite son Johnny Majors, to that magnificent third Saturday in October 1982 when we finally beat Alabama in the shadows of the World's Fair, to the glorious Sugar Bowl in 1986 when we whipped Miami and should have been named National Champions (nobody in the country was a better team that night), to Andy Kelly, the greatest comeback quarterback I ever saw at Tennessee, to Shuler, to Manning, to the 1998 national championship, and so forth.

In good times and bad -- and we had some terrible times -- there was always one constant: Neyland Stadium was always filled. Whether the team was good or bad, we always approached capacity. When the north upper deck was filled in, we always had in excess of 100,000 fans on hand. I would often quip: "101,000? Small crowd today." But it was no joke. Even when we were going 5-6 in 2005, we were still filling the place up.

Alas, no more.

At last Saturday's Montana-Tennessee game, the PA announcer was clearly thrilled to announce an [optimistic] attendance figure of 94,600. He's thrilled; I'm sad. For the opening game of the season. And not on broadcast TV? And no rain in the forecast? How is it that the stadium was so (relatively) empty?

The simple answer: the unbridled greed of the University of Tennessee Athletic establishment.

What do I mean by this? How about increasing mandatory "donations" from $500 to $4,000 per season for pairs of seats between the 20 yard lines?

How about building a very nice -- and totally unnecessary -- brick facade outside the stadium, and shaking down the fans to pay for it?

How about the east side skyboxes, which you don't get unless you have the net worth of, say, Warren Buffett?

How about the also-expensive club seats which took away prime seating from long time season ticketholders, with no real recomepense?

How about the apparently really nice concessions area for the club seating that we peons aren't allowed into?

How about the commercialization of the stadium experience, to the point where the constantly running ribbon ads around the bottom of the upper deck are actually more brilliant and vibrant that the football game we are there to see?

How about the concessions which, while not great before, are now licensed out to some outfit which charges more and gives less?

How about charging more for tickets to the "good" games, like Alabama, Georgia, LSU and Florida, while charging less ("less" meaning $40) for games like FCS opponent Montana?

How about the total prohibition on smoking (no designated smoking areas on the concourses), which affects probably half the fans in the stadium, making their game experience that much more difficult,stressful, and unpleasant?

Finally, and worst of all, how about charging the students of the University an activities fee which covers tickets to University sports, and then charging them an additional fee for football tickets?

To paraphrase Martin Sheen's classic line from Wall Street, "I know what these guys are all about, greed. they don't give a damn about football or the fans. They're in it for the bucks and they don't take prisoners."

Look, I know I'm one of the disaffected. I used to go to games under any conditions or circumstances. For example, I went to the Duke game in 1988 with a raging flu (I talked myself into believing I was over it, and promptly relapsed for another week; maybe because we lost, 31-26; still bothers me). If I could physically get into the stadium, I went. I used to say that Neyland Stadium was my church, and I attended six times a year.

I showed loyalty to the University that was loyal to me. When we paid a $500 mandatory "donation," it was a pain, but it didn't break the bank. But when it became clear that U.T. was interested in me only to the extent it could soak me for as much as possible, the bloom came off the rose.

And this disaffection afflicts many, if not most, of the Volunteer faithful. Along with the advent of HD TV, there are a lot of die hard fans -- me included -- who would rather watch the game in high definition than fight for an ever-more-expensive parking spot, pay a ton of money for concessions (last week: 2 hot dogs, 2 soft drinks, total $20.00. And no chicken sandwich, dang it!), get jammed in a too-small seat, get inundated by mindless and incessant advertising come-ons, not be able to smoke (for those who do) for hours on end, and ultimately watch a mediocre football team promoted by a greedy and insensitive athletic department administration. I began my football game trip at 2:55 pm last Saturday. I got home at 11:15 pm. Almost 8 1/2 hours. That's a major investment in time and energy.

I went to two games last year. I will probably attend more this year, but more for my kids than for me. I feel most sorry for the children; when I "got it" about Tennessee football at age 10, the subsequent years were wonderful -- rooting for my team through thick and thin. I wanted my boys to have the same profound football experience. It's a shame that the marketing geniuses at the Athletic Department have turned the pure joy of college football in the "First Tennessee Instant Replay," and other banal moneymaking devices. That is what I fear my sons and future Tennessee fans have in store for themselves: watching a series of commercials with a little football thrown in every now and then.

Until the University gets back to emphasizing the football game experience and starts showing some love to the 99% of the stadium-goers who, like me, sit in regular seats and have to work for a living to pay for the experience, it's going to continue to lose its previously loyal fan base. The way WE look at it is that, if the University doesn't show us any loyalty, why should we show any loyalty by attending games?

I'm still a Tennessee football fan. I will be rooting for the team against Cincinnati tomorrow. I'll still live and die by their (our!) wins and losses. But as great fans, we deserve better from an Athletice Department that wouldn't have a program without us.

Anyway, that's why we don't fill up the stadium regularly any more.


Jenny said...


The powers-that-be seem intent on turning the tradition of college football into the business of the NFL.

Anonymous said...

It appears colleges are making many of the same mistakes as the NFL. Here in Tampa the Bucs ownership seem to have finally realized that many (most?) fans are happier sitting at home with a large HDTV, air conditioning, controlled replay via DVR, $8 per six pack instead of $8 per beer, and lots of friends over to watch the game is not a bad alternative to the cost in time and money to attend the game in person.

It used to be tough to get a ticket, now many season ticket holders have a difficult time just giving the tickets away.

Anonymous said...

Second, wholeheartedly agree. I would add that drinking adult beverages in the stadium is not a federal crime, and should not be handled as such. Thanks for a great article.

Bill Peschel said...

It seems like they're doing it right.

They did all that to you, and they still got 94K to come out to the game.

Not bad.

Remember that, in retail, you know you're selling to everyone when you have 1 item left on the shelf. (If you have zero items, you don't know how many people came and left empty-handed).

So by having 94K fans turn out, they're telling UT that they did it right. They maximized income with a small decline in the fan base.

Get attendance down below 80K, say, and then you'll be right.

Anonymous said...

It's not just attending the games in person. Even televised, four+ hours of mostly commercials are just more than I can stand. That is, if your lucky enough for the game to be televised at all. Since I don't have cable, I have access to only a few games per season. Not enough to get interested in following the players or the teams. It has simply dropped off my radar.

Anonymous said...

Well, you had me agreeing with you for a while. However, the major part of your argument seems to be with the smoking ban. 1) I doubt that 50% of the people attending games smoke, and 2) I would consider giving up my tickets if smoking were allowed in the stadium. HD TV is nowhere near the same experience. I arrived in KTown last Saturday at 12 Noon, and was home in ChattTown at 1:30AM on Sunday. However, I agree that the athletic department is pricing the games out of the reach of the average fan.

Anonymous said... Cincinnati Bearcats are going to come into your stadium...your house!!...and be honest...get their rear ends whupped

Strelnikov said...

Here at Ilinois they've done all that and, even worse, added an obnoxiously load music system which inundates us with current R&B and rap at every available minute - even between plays. Awful.

Countertop said...

Didn't they also re-configure the stadium so that, with the additional expansions and extra seats, it actually holds less fans than it used to back in the pre sky box/club seat days?

I don't know how many less, but that would seem to account for the difference between 94k and 101k.

But, otherwise, I agree with you. Especially on the mandatory donations. And Andy Kelly. Thanks for giving him props and recognition.

gutless said...

Break it off in the bastards. The team is all new every four years. You never have to worry about replacements because they are always waiting at the door. The administration however is forever. Empty the place as long as necessary to bring these road apples to their knees.

Anonymous said...

Same thing is happening down here in the Swamp. Didn't sell out the first two home games under a new coach - broke a streak of close to 100 homegame sellouts. UF and UT must have had the same marketing folks because they jacked up the "donation" amount for season tickets when the unemployment rate is close to 10% and they act shocked they couldn't sell out. As a proud UF 96 Grad who watched the team win the first National Championship at our school it pains me to see what the game day experience has become.

Tex Taylor said...

Big XII too - must be the same all over. T. Boone gives $265M for renovations, he takes over the stadium in both name and flavor, they turn the worst football stadium in the Big XII into the nicest, and then turn around and charge the most expensive seats in the nation. The loyal fans who stayed with one of the sorriest football programs in the nation pay for the price of a vacation to attend now. Sky boxes and corporations make up the biggest part of the crowd.

I swore off college football attendance two years ago and haven't been back. Haven't missed it either. At least 9 of the 12 games are televised on HDTV, my bathroom is 10 seconds away, the beer actually tastes like beer and is about a dollar a bottle, and my recliner is infinitely more comfortable than an aluminum bench, which your butt freezes to come November.

I wouldn't walk across the street to attend if the tickets were free, and I've got to feel before too awfully long, most fans are going to come to the same conclusion.

Anonymous said...

I attended a football game at UT last year, paid $60.00 for the ticket and never got to set down the entire ballgame. Todays fan just does not care if anybody can see to satisfy themselves. The ushers and campas police just does not care. They have got the last $60.00 from me and my family, also my grandson is a senior at UT

Anonymous said...

Nothing nastier than sitting next to a smoker.

Anonymous said...

Hey Tampa fan; Amen brother. I absolutely detest the game experience at almost every level of sports now. I'm a lifelong DC resident who once upon a not-so-very-long time ago had hands down one of if not the finest game-day experiences in ALL of sports (and I've been to Columbus, South Bend, The Incerdibly Overated Orange Bowl, etc. It truly was a unique day when you went to a Skins g ame back in the day.

Now, the team I have always followed and a adored plays in a place with all the charm and ambience of a Wallmart and whose upper deck's FRONT ROW is somewhere in the lower troposphere. Oh and did I mention the screaming PA announcers, unjustiifiable amounts of pyro before, during and afternthe game, an arena that seems to endlessly vomit bright eye-catching bandsbof advertisement, and need I go on? This sucks.

Salviati said...

All the more reason to go to a small school. Go Georgetown College Tigers!!

Marcus said...

i disagree. the WORST thing is not sitting next to a smoker. it is sitting in front of a drunken, obscenity-yelling "fan" when you bring your child or teenager with you.

Anonymous said...

I gave up my season tickets to my alma mater about six years ago when they rolled out the seat licenses. I'm still disappointed when they lose now, but without a financial stake I don't get near as upset!

Anonymous said...

I agree 100%. I went to UT and graduated in 94. I use to live just to go to the games on Saturdays as a student. Back then they charged us the athletic fee and then $20 for the tickets, which even as a student I could stomach because it was just friggin awesome being in the stadium. Now I live in Dallas and while I would love to go to a game, I have seen the colleges turn into the NFL and follow Jerry Jones in the same business practices. It's a shame, because I consider college football much more interesting and fun to watch than the NFL. The rivalries of the SEC and the competitiveness are unmatched by any of other conference in my book. That being said, you can blame the AD and the Alumni for all this, the greed is beyond what the NFL is doing. I have friends still in Knoxville that use to have season tickets and they gave them up because it was such a hassle and cost so much to go see a game when they could just watch it on TV in the comfort of their home. Quite honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if they started paying the players. Until the fans start to revolt nothing will change. Maybe one day they will wake up and get their moral compass back.

Roux said...

Don't feel special LSU is right behind you. This year you have to pay $40 to park. It will be the end of the LSU tailgate experience. I turned down tickets to this Saturday's game.

I'll watch on TV.

PacRim Jim said...

The good news is that you Tennessee taxpayers are already paying for the university, so the football program allows you to pay twice.
Makes sense to me.

Anonymous said...

Well, everyone wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die. Everyone wants a championship SEC football team but nobody wants to cough up the cash.

You can have $10 tickets and 50-cent hotdogs, a pristine scoreboard with maybe a Coca-Cola logo on it. Then the T on the helmet would stand for Tusculum.

Whoever said UT was in business to furnish the locals with cheap entertainment, anyway? I swear, the people who grew up within twenty minutes of the stadium do more whining about money than the rest of the Vol Nation -- people who drive four, six, eight hours each way and pop for hotels and restaurants.

DADvocate said...

In one of his books, Kurt Vonnegut said UT fielded the first professional college football team. Problem is, Tennessee's performance on the field doesn't warrant paying extra, and it won't with Dooley as coach. High prices and mediocrity don't go together.

Anonymous said...

PacRim Jim, Tennessee taxpayers contribute relatively little to the university (maybe 25 percent of the operating budget) and nothing at all for the football team. Just thought you'd like to know.

Dantes said...

Glad I don't have the sports gene.

Too bad colleges have nothing but the sports gene.

Anonymous said...

I was living overseas, came back and attended an Alabama game last year. I saw the monstrosity of the new stadium, the Times Square flashing advertisements all over the place, the PA interrupting the pageantry of bands and cheerleaders (who are largely irrelevant now). I spent half the time watching the jumbotron behind me (my back to the game) because I couldn't watch the field without the sensory overload from all of the periphery. I attended Bama and have gone to games for decades, but this new stadium configuration was the worst "fan experience" I've ever had.

Anonymous said...

How about the fact that the football team SUCKS!

Anonymous said...

While I agree with most of your post, did you go to the game last week? "No rain in the forecast?" The game was postponed for over an hour, and the gates were locked leaving people with no place to go because of lightning and pouring down rain. That is why they didn't hit the 100k mark, not because of your valid points in your post.

Loyal Vol Fan who now could care less. said...

Hamilton put a knife in the back of the grandfather season ticket holders who backed the Vols through thick and THIN. See the result.

Anonymous said...

You people just don't get it. We haves want our elite experience, but we want you peons to pay for it. We can do what ever we want to you because most of you will take it and beg for more. We don't care if a few don't show up for the game, heck it would be ideal if only the haves were there anyway. That way I wouldn't have to even look at you leeches. Of course if only the haves were at the games we'd have to tax you or something to pay for it.

Anonymous said...

There was not rain in the forcast and the rain did not keep people away. They count the tickets sold not the actual attendance. There was a lot less than 94,000 in the stadium and the rain was a cell that originated out of nowhere. But that music they play is awful when the band is not playing.

John R. Johnson said...

100% in agrement! I go to an actual game now about every 3 to 4 years. I never eat in the stadium, or Knox for that matter. They treat me like dirt so who cares about them.

gutless said...

"PacRim Jim, Tennessee taxpayers contribute relatively little to the university (maybe 25 percent of the operating budget) and nothing at all for the football team. Just thought you'd like to know."

Money is fungible.

Anonymous said...

Bu-ut cutting out smoking in the stands is the best thing to happen to UT games! From the "other 50%" (more like 70%)

Donald Sensing said...

Not a UT fan, but a Vanderbilt grad, so you know ...

Some comments, nonetheless:

Top-tier college football programs nowadays indeed are all about the money (Vandy, of course, not being top tier and thus not so infected). But they shouldn't be.

The way i figure it, NFL teams are businesses and have the right to do whatever they can to increase their profits. But universities are almost always chartered as "not for profit" institutions - what part of "not for profit" don't the understand?

One commenter mentioned the drunken, cursing people you have to put up with at college games. One such guy was the row behind my 12 y.o. son and me at a Vandy game years ago. He'd have made a sailor blush, as they say. When I requested he lose the language in front of my son, he just intensified. Of course I foresaw that, but still felt I had to try.

Having been to a pretty fair number of Tenn. Titans games I can say that this problem I have never encountered there. Maybe it's because beer is so expensive that you can't afford enough to get tippled. But for some reason, the pro football crowd is much better behaved than college fans (excepting Oakland Raiders neanderthals, of course).

Anonymous said...

My daughter attends Texas Tech. So I feel obligated to go to the game on parent's weekend. My honest evaluation of a TTU football game is that it is a forum for a series of commercials delivered from the jumbotron interrupted occasionally by football plays.

In general I'd say that D1 college football could be classified as minor league professional football teams which are marginally affilliated with institutes of higher learning. Marginally.

Warren said...

Have to agree with all the points made in the original essay. I go back to the Bowden Wyatt era and the great teams of the 50's. As students back then we bought a book of tickets - $6 for 6 home games - at fall registration. The student section on game day took up seating on the (south) east side between the 25 and 45 yard lines. I've attended several games in each decade since and the experience has gotten steadily less enjoyable while the costs have gone up and up.

Two other points: The 1986 Sugar Bowl victory was perhaps our greatest and despite our current plight, at least Hamilton is gone.