Enter At Our Own Risk

Let’s face it, in my lexicon, “excellence” is to “Ann Arbor” as “taste” is to “Kardashian”. Unless we’re talking about things like this or this or this, of course … one must recognize facts when they’re presented, after all.

But today my hat must tip, because this morning I read an article in the Ann Arbor Chronicle by John Bacon chronicling the decline in the fan experience at Michigan Stadium. Mr. Bacon has put more fine a point on the issue than anyone I’ve read, and what disturbs me the most about the article is if you replace the Michigan references with their Notre Dame analogues, chances are in a couple years a non-captive press would be writing something similar about gameday in South Bend.

The parallels between what Bacon wrote and what’s happened (or will be happening) at Notre Dame are distressing. PSL’s for season ticket holders? Done. New student ticket policies breaking down the class camaraderie? Check. Glitzy spectacle taking the place of timeless experience? Yup. Anything that doesn’t move (and some things that do) being slapped with a price tag? Been there. Advertisements for “fan enhancement” on a blaring video screen? It’s coming. As Bacon puts it, “the program had always followed basic business practices … but had never been run strictly as a business, until now.”

The two key paragraphs are here:

Is that really what Michigan is all about? Fly-overs, blaring rock music, and Beyonce? Beyonce is to Michigan football what Bo Schembechler is to – well, Beyonce. No, Michigan is all about lifelong fans who’ve been coming together for decades to leave a bit of the modern world behind – and the incessant marketing that comes with it – and share an authentic experience fueled by the passion of the team, the band and the students. That’s it.

And then…

After a friend of mine took his kids to a game, he told me, “Michigan athletics used to feel like something we shared. Now it’s something they hoard. Anything of value they put a price tag on. Anything that appeals to anyone is kept locked away – literally, in some cases – and only brought out if you pay for it. And what’s been permanently banished is any sense of generosity.”

Older fans are sometimes criticized for their fear of change. But as we often respond, change for its own sake isn’t necessarily a good thing. The “authentic experience fueled by the passion of the team, the band and the students” is so easily trampled underfoot by those obsessed with bringing the best of their home-watching experience to Notre Dame Stadium. Trouble is, those two experience were never intended to be merged, and attempting to do so devalues both.

I’m not going to claim Notre Dame has always eschewed making a buck in the interest of preserving a unique experience for its fans — that would be foolish. The Congregatio a Sancta Cruce are called the “Cash, Strictly Cash” for a reason. Bricks and seats and goldleaf have been sold or auctioned off for long and long and no doubt reside in places of honor in the homes of ND fans and alums, including (in the interest of full disclosure) the one in which I grew up.

But while there was always a distasteful shimmer around the practice, the tawdriness was never obvious. There was a subtlety. The things that were sold truly were meaningful, either in a general or particular sense — part of a building that had stood on campus for decades, a bench seat someone actually had sat in for years as a season ticket holder. Now that tawdriness stands out like a gold lamé dress at a Confirmation, culminating in the sale of three-week-old grass that allegedly couldn’t grow packaged as Hallowed Ground.

Yes, Rockne was an innovator. But I’d like to think he’d have enough class to recognize this crap for what it is.

Slowly but surely, a tacky veneer is being wrapped around what Notre Dame football has been, ostensibly to “enhance the fan experience” and/or serve as a revenue enhancement. But we’re getting evidence of where this road leads from another elite program that has progressed further down it than we have. Notre Dame ignores this evidence at its own peril.

26 thoughts on “Enter At Our Own Risk

  1. It is inevitable as all schools and conferences seek more and more revenues.

    College football has radically changed everywhere, forever.

    Now, tradition and rivalry take a back seat to TV contracts and Personal Seat Licenses.

    This will continue to accelerate everywhere, including at Notre Dame.

  2. Peter J. Welling says:

    College football as we knew it is no more. The handle has been pulled. That flushing noise is history circling the bowl. In a few years there will be 8 mega conferences (including ND) and a playoff with players who are paid to play, education not required. The NCAA will be a feeder to the NFL. The NFL will be happy. ESPN will be happy. Mindless louts will be happy. The rest of us will turn to memories and YouTube and remember what was.

    • I agree with you, i think college football is reaching its end. There will be a tipping point where people quit caring. Once the players are paid perhaps? No one is watching minor league baseball. There may be a market for minor league football, however it will be a small fraction of the market for college football.

      • I stopped caring when it became clear that University policy was to aspire to mediocrity. That was about the time Malloy forced Holtz out.

  3. The USC tickets are $130 face value this year. The only way I’m going to that game is if it rains, because I’m sure someone will sell a ticket for $40, right along the sidelines. To pay ND for that much then to sit up in the nose bleeds, is a disgrace.

    I started going to games in the Colluseum when they bumped the ticket prices up to $18.

    The wheels are off the wagon

  4. Have to agree with Coffey. The parallel’s are striking and disturbing. And he didn’t even mention the dismantling of the Irish Guard traditions.

  5. Haven’t been inside a college or pro stadium for 5 years. Tailgating, yes, but walking and not paying $25 to park. Haven’t bought any apparel with a college or pro logo on it in over 7 years. I’m done. I follow the games on television, on line and in the papers. I’ll make a wager or two when I’m in Las Vegas in September and December. The intelligence of the game has gone away to which I blame the coaches. When I can call the plays from home and be accurate 70% to 80% of the time why pay to see it. The product just doesn’t command the overall price and time it demands.

    • There is litterally a zero percent chance this statement is true… It’s facinating that every poster who claims to be able to “call the plays that are coming” does so on a message board. I’d pay American dollars to see you call the plays that are coming in real time. I have no doubt that you may get 1 or 3 right over the course of the game and then declare yourself some kind of sevant… I will leave out which kind…

      • Mike Coffey says:

        Perhaps. But in the past couple years, I’ve watched games with folks whose ability to predict run vs. pass on an individual play borders on the uncanny.

        • predicting run vs pass isn’t even close to predicting the play. It is a 50/50 proposition at worst, and probably an 70/30 proposition depending on down and distance. If guessing run vs pass is going to count as “predicting plays” then a person could do so in any college or NFL game… Heck, Kliff Kingsbury throws the ball almost 100% of the time, would I be able to ‘call the plays’ from home if I just said ‘I bet he passes here’ every play? You get my point, it’s just a peeve of mine that people actually claim to call plays….

          • Mike Coffey says:

            Actually, they were pretty good at predicting where the run or pass was going, too, based on who was in the game and where they lined up

      • Mike Coffey says:

        Oh, and it’s “savant”. If you’re going to insult someone, take the time to use the correct word.

    • I do not understand the end of this post. Offensive and Defensive schemes have become exponentially more complicated over the last 15-20 years. QBs for Kelly allegedly need the playbook dumbed down for them or require years to learn it. The predicatble offenses are the ones that win (see Alabama “you know whats coming and you cant stop it”, and Lou Holtz Irish teams (7 total passes in NC game). I wish Kelly would hand the ball off like he did in 2012. GMoney could predict it and be mad while the rest of us could enjoy winning.

  6. Irish Tool says:

    It hasn’t helped that the worst era of ND football coincided with the hyper commercialization of the sport in general. The fans’ natural reaction to a mediocre on-field product can easily be misinterpreted (or reframed by shrewd consultants) and used to justify a need to improve “fan experience”. In reality, all we want to experience is a winning program.

  7. John Adams says:

    Add to your comments the destruction of traditions, such as disbanding the time honored 65 year tradition of the Irish Guard this year and you have a double pronged attack on the very core of our football experience.

  8. Yep, nothing but youtube clips to watch a time gone by. A trip to any pro or college game probably ranges $300 to $500 when it’s all said and done, more for folks out of town – hard to justify for 4 hrs of commercialization – although there’s no shortage of demand. Spring game is the only game I’d consider paying for. It’s a ‘made for TV’ game now, so I could care less what they waste on stadium downgrades.

  9. domerboyirish says:

    I hate to say it guys but most changes are not going to be for the better. While I think the field turf will actually help our team on the field, the remainder of the changes will hurt the game day experience. I’d even say that this is old news. When NBC took over and the stadium addition was completed, I felt something was lost then. Start times were pushed back an hour. The stadium simply didn’t look or feel the same. Now the Irish Guard is changing (for the worse). The university is going to eventually create more areas to advertise and make more money. Ticket prices will continue to soar. Ugh!

    I used to try and make a few games a year but now I’ll make one IF I feel like it. At my age I no longer enjoy being crammed onto a bench either roasting my ass off or sweating like crazy to sit through more commercial breaks than watching actual football. I have a nice 70 inch HD TV and a DVR that allows me to start watching a game an hour after the start of the broadcast and catch up right at the end of the game just by fast forwarding through commercials. This includes the little ‘during game action’ advertising for what’s else is coming up on NBC. AND, I can do this all of this from the comfort of my own home. Great picture. Alcohol. Replays. No lines at the bathroom (well sometimes if my family is around).

    I’m not the only one with this opinion. Knowing this, with all of the points Mike listed above, at what point to people really stop going to the games altogether? Isn’t Michigan already experiencing this with their students? I’ve heard sport stadiums are all being upgraded with better WiFi so that you can use your tablet or smart phone to watch replays, or sometimes the broadcast itself. So what’s the point of a Jumbotron? Why go at all if you are going to watch on your tablet anyway? I just see diminishing returns here. If you charge people a ton of money to experience something that looks like the zoo at the end of the movie Fierce Creatures, people are going to stop coming. So at the rate we are going, upgrade the sound system because someday you may need to pipe in artificial crowd noise…

  10. Avon Domer says:

    As someone who has attended games at Notre Dame Stadium since 1973, I welcome some of these proposed changes. I’m all for field turf and I’m grateful that it’s finally being installed. Our field has been a disgrace in recent years and the turf has been replaced many times to no avail, so this is long overdue. And besides, I’ve never heard our players complain about playing on it, and many have spoken out in favor of this change. I’m also for Jumbotrons as long as there is NEVER any advertising played on them. Let it show replays of the game, beauty shots of the campus, highlights of former great players and games, etc., and nothing else. I’m also in favor, like you Mike, of hearing the band play throughout the game with music over the loud speakers prior to a kickoff or similar rare instance only. Regarding the costs of tickets to ND games, while I hate to see the prices skyrocket as they have in recent years, my strong hunch is that games will continue to sell out, so what’s the problem? I am 100% against the changes forthcoming for the Irish Guard. There’s always been a mystique and curiosity to the Guard that will now disappear, which is a shame. GO IRISH!

  11. Mike – can i ask if you have read “The System”, “Bowls, Polls and Tattered Souls” or “Meat market”? Before you continue your constant criticism of every tweak ND makes you might want to learn what goes on out there in this game.

    • Mike Coffey says:

      Yes, I have. I know plenty about “what goes on out there in this game”.

      “Tweaks” are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. I do not, for example, care all that much about the conversion to artificial turf. I do, on the other hand, care a lot about the unseemliness of selling the old turf.

  12. One big aspect to our football game-day experience that is hardly mentioned; the changes regarding tailgating. Way back when, in the 80’s, going to a ND game was a great experience. 60k people tailgating in area that could be covered by seven or eight football fields, all within a five minute walk to the stadium. Rows and rows of RV’s parked for days on end with its occupants having essentially three things on their mind, meeting their friends, having drinks, and ND kicking ass. Games ending at 4:00 in the afternoon, which allowed for people to kick back after the game, have a little food, and still be able to drive home before midnight

    Today people need to park so far away from the stadium buses are needed to shuttle you to the stadium. Parking passes only for “preferred” donors, or for people who want to pony up $100 for the priviledge of parking within sight of the stadium. Games ending at 7:30 at night, which means, with traffic, you don’t get to Chicago until 10:30 at night. No one allowed to stay on campus after a certain time of day.

    And then they wonder why people are opting to have their game day experience else where or why the ambience in the football stadium is moribund.

    • Mike Coffey says:

      Good points, I’d forgotten about that. Kowtowing to the almighty dollar (read: 3:30pm starts for TV purposes) claims yet another unique aspect of college football.

    • I, too, remember when RVs would be parked outside of Notre Dame Stadium for days prior to a game. My hunch as to the reason that no longer exists is that with Notre Dame being a Catholic institution of higher learning, perhaps those in charge decided that open drunkenness on campus should be limited to game days as opposed to throughout an entire week.

      I also remember that at the beginning of the NBC contract it was agreed that all games would start at 1 p.m. or 1:30 p.m., if memory serves me correctly. Now start times are set at 3:30 p.m. or later for a primetime matchup once a year. I’m not a tailgater, so I have no problem with this at all, and I’d rather have those start times and the NBC deal, than no NBC at ND.

  13. Switching gears (although in the same vein with this article), I attended my 15 year anniversary at ND
    last June (class of 1998).
    Everything about this Reunion completely and totally turned me bitter towards Notre Dame. The entire
    process was run like a business, and at every turn, I felt the only reason ND was putting on this event
    was to make money. Check in – pay your $250 reunion fee. Beer Tent pass – $30; attend a seminar – $25;
    buy a crappy Reunion t-shirt – $25; etc. etc.
    Of course it was great to catch up with friends and stay in the dorms (for free), but once the weekend
    was over, I felt saddened by the entire process of the weekend. Every transaction and event during the
    weekend was about making money off of the alums. Sad really…if I knew all of the funds were going to
    charity I would have been thrilled….but to simply go into the ND coffers made me sick to my stomach.