What about the fans?
That’s a simple question too often forgotten in a modern era of sports that clamors for exposure and money by way of games made available on television, and by any other possible means.
Pac-12 leadership, namely commissioner Larry Scott, believes the conference is in need of greater exposure for football, and that one way to gain those extra eyeballs, and presumably more prestige, in more eastern time zones is to have some Pac-12 teams play games on Saturdays at 9 a.m. PT. Scott has had discussions with Fox to do exactly that.
What about the fans, though? The ones who actually buy the tickets, who sacrifice time and effort and energy and cash in planning their day around attending a college football game, who spend hundreds of dollars, and that’s just on parking and a hot dog alone, to watch their school’s team play?
What about those people?
Already, fans who go to games are asked to look past a thousand TV timeouts, delays in person that drag on and on when, like at home, a short walk from the den to the refrigerator for a stack of turkey sandwiches and a cold beverage bought for more reasonable prices is not available to them.
Fans, customers, shell out the Benjamins to have the in-stadium experience, to be … there, to support their teams.
But at what point, as attendance at college games already is in slow decline, does the goose that lays the golden eggs get cooked? At what point do fans who otherwise would show up for games say … enough is enough, too much is too much?
Being asked to attend games at 9 in the morning might edge in that direction. Maybe Scott is thinking about the teams like Utah in the Mountain Time zone — 10 a.m. — for those earlier Pacific Time slots. But either way, asking those fans, some of whom travel long distances, requiring hours of transit time, to arise long before the sun to get to a game is risky.
When Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald caused a viral sensation at Big Ten media day, condemning a technology-obsessed society — young people who stare at their cell phones all day instead of talking to one another, instead of living their lives — and blaming that craze for the declining attendance at games, he was only partially correct.
Humans should stop and, as he put it, “Listen. Watch. Take it in. Create a memory.”
Get their heads out of their phones and into the game.
But blaming a dwindling gate on technology is like blaming a tree for providing shade.
“I think it’s a big cause, the root cause,” he said, “I think the fans that grew up going and tailgating four hours before the games are getting a little older. And the younger generation of fans is more reliant on technology. They’d rather have 12 TVs set up in their cave than go to a game and experience the pageantry and tailgating.”
Fitzgerald didn’t make room for consideration that the powers that be in college football wanting more sun can move out from under the tree. They are the ones making the tech alternative more appealing to fans than the on-site pageantry, on account of rising costs and inconveniences caused by greed.
In this part of the country, late kickoff times have troubled many fans who otherwise wouldn’t mind going to a freaking football game. But they find it less than optimal to hack their way through to a three- or four-hour game on a Thursday night that kicks off at 8:30, forcing them to stumble back home at 2 a.m., all as they must face a sleep-deprived night before getting to work first thing in the morning.
Scott’s idea for early games might alleviate that, but pushing games to the other extreme isn’t the answer. When was the last time anybody around here had the sweet privilege of attending a game on a Saturday afternoon? What a concept. If Scott’s discussions with Fox about 9 a.m. kicks turn into reality, what will that do for the pageantry of the live experience? Will it come with a cup of strong coffee? With a wake-up call? As the Pac-12 seeks additional exposure back East, for those watching on TV, what does it do for the real customers, those who have some desire to pay to actually come to the games?
Those are the forgotten people, the people who, in terms of priority for commissioners and administrators and coaches, should be first and, in the day of bending the knee for TV, are last.
And then, those commissioners and administrators and coaches wonder where the customers are, where the fans’ priorities and loyalties are.
They are the ones who should stop. Listen. Watch. Take it in.
Instead of taking for granted the fans on whose backs, on whose dollars, the foundation of college football was built in the first place.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.