Every fall game day, I have a sacred routine.

My pilgrimage starts by walking over the Willamette River knowing that one day my ashes will be thrown off the footbridge into the north flowing current. Soon thereafter I will be partying with friends in the Moshofsky Center (Oregon’s indoor practice facility). Then about 45 minutes before kickoff, it will be time to head into the game. And finally, the three hours-plus of intensity and passion that comes from a no-holds barred game in the friendly confines of Autzen Stadium.

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I have it all figured out, or do I?

My best friend’s son, who loves college football as much as me, will almost never go to a stadium, any stadium. Presumably, he begins his autumn Saturdays with ESPN’s “College Game Day,” followed by a series of jousts at noon Eastern, and then the first set of west coast contests at 3:30 pm Eastern, and then the featured Saturday night epics at 8 pm Eastern and finally the late West Coast bouts at 10:15 pm Eastern. To wrap it up, he checks out ESPN “Sports Center” to cap off the day.

Does he appreciate what he is missing? Or is it me who doesn’t know what I am missing?

This coming August 15, the Pac-12 Conference will join the other major conferences (e.g., Big 10) in debuting its own network, ensuring that every football, men’s and women’s basketball game of each conference school is televised in high definition with superior video and audio. As welcome as the universal access to all of your alma mater’s games may be, it brings up an obvious question:

Why go to the game?

When I first purchased my Oregon season seats, 15 rows behind the opponent’s bench near the 30-yard line back in 1990; maybe…just maybe…one Oregon game would be televised each year. ABC had a virtual hammer lock on college football and only televised the glamour teams, but that quickly changed with cable.

Even with that change, perhaps four or five Oregon games would be televised each year in standard definition and those were usually the games against teams from the large media markets (e.g., USC, UCLA, Washington, Stanford, Cal). Now all of the games are televised in high definition, including this year’s body-bag game with Tennessee Tech.

The ones-and-zeroes mastery of digital television teamed with telecommunication satellite technology and HDTV with LED, LCD and plasma screens resulted in a viewer experience that absolutely blows away standard definition. We can now actually see the puck during Stanley Cup playoffs. Many times the problem with progress is the unintended consequences.

Even the staid Economist this week noted that better television broadcasts combined with escalating ticket prices have resulted in the NFL seeing a drop off in its attendance.

This perfect storm has to cause even the most devoted fan (I qualify) to question spending $1,000 to participate in the Duck Athletic Fund (substitute your own school’s athletic supporter fund), and then spending $81 or more per seat for the best games (e.g., $345 each for the BCS National Championship game) for the privilege of standing up for the entire game in either 94-degree heat or 32-degree freezing temps. And let’s not forget the slow crawl home with 60,000-plus of your most intimate friends.

Sure, the live game includes marching bands with fight songs and ornamental cheer leaders or as the late (ABC college football announcer) Chris Schenkel said, “What better way to spend an autumn afternoon.” Well, there is an option even for the most devoted fan.

The alternative is the living room with superior sound and picture. The game is free. There is no line for the bathroom. It is easy to dash during a time out for your personal refrigerator. The networks provide replays of key plays for not only the game you are watching, but for all of the other big games. Heck, you can even watch two games at once with picture in picture technology.

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Maybe this conundrum has prompted many professional franchises and college athletic departments to go slow (e.g., Oregon) in expanding the capacity of their respective stadia or in certain cases actually reduced the capacity (e.g., Stanford). Too many seats (supply) can depress demand (fans), while too few seats (supply) may stimulate demand (fans). Call this the Beanie Baby effect.

Perfect examples in beisboll are the Chicago Cubs (e.g., Wrigley Field), the Boston Red Sox (e.g., Fenway Park) and the San Francisco Giants (e.g., AT&T Park). In contrast, the Oakland Athletics have too many seats in the Oakland Coliseum, prompting the franchise to cover whole sections with embarrassing tarps. How’s that for “Money Ball?”

Oregon has sold out every game at 54,000 seat Autzen Stadium (60,000 with standing room) since 1999. And as long as the Ducks keep winning (e.g., three straight conference championships and three straight BCS bowl games), Oregon fans will pack Autzen even when Tennessee Tech comes a calling. But what happens (and it’s inevitable) when some sub par seasons creep into the mix? It wasn’t that long ago when the Ducks were weak sisters and they were not seen as ultra cool. I don’t want to see a fall off, but I have to be reasonable.

Will hardy fans be tempted to follow their team (and college football in general) by means of the superior quality and convenience of HDTV? The Pac-12 network will reportedly bring up to $30 million in additional revenue to each of the dozen schools in the conference. That is good news to the green eyeshade crowd. One must wonder long term whether this influx of cash will be counterbalanced by dwindling attendance in the face of high ticket prices and awesome high definition sound and picture.

Doesn’t that sound like an unintended consequence?

http://www.economist.com/node/21555606

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_Schenkel

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pac-12_Network

http://blogs.mercurynews.com/collegesports/2012/05/20/pac-12-network-what-it-worth-heres-one-projection/

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/budwithers/2018252077_withers21.html

http://world.ty.com/catalog/catPage.cfm?status=Current&lineid=3

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