If all I told you was that a local company has entered into an agreement with the local high school to pay $750K for naming rights to the school’s athletic field, you would probably think this was a high school football venue in Texas or maybe this was the high school from which emerged the fabulously wealthy CEO of a business. In either instance, you would be wrong.
- The location is not Texas – or even the US. The location is Leamington, Ontario, Canada and the high school field will be a multi-purpose facility. Leamington is a small town (population about 27,500 in 2016) located in the southwest part of Ontario on Lake Erie; physically, it is closer to Detroit than it is to any of Canada’s major cities.
- The benefactor is Nature Fresh Farm a company that provides greenhouse grown non-GMO produce on a year-round basis.
This high school is relatively new and the athletic facilities have been evolving for the last decade or so; there was a student/community fund-raising effort called “Finish the Field” that had raised a bit more than $100K – but even so the “finished field” was going to be a grassy area for football and/or soccer with a few bleachers for spectators. That is when Nature Fresh Farm honored its ledge to support the school and its quest for a sports facility and kicked in the $750K for the “naming rights”. Now the vision for the facility has expanded to include a track around the fields with an all-weather surface.
Take the story above and file it under “sports/business stories without a lot of smarminess”. There just aren’t a lot of them running around out there these days. And as evidence for that assertion please consider this report related to sports and business.
The topic here is college football in the US – and so you can immediately set your smarmy meter to the highest range setting available. You might be tempted to dial it back just a bit when I tell you that the story does not involve one of the “football factories” or one of the “power schools” – – but do not be too hasty.
The school in question here is Miami (Ohio). The school is often referred to as the “cradle of coaches” for having produced people like – inter alia:
- Paul Brown
- Paul Dietzel
- Weeb Ewbank
- Sid Gilman
- John Harbaugh (father of the current “Harbaugh brothers” in the coaching business)
- Woody Hayes
- Sean McVay
- Ara Parseghian
- Bo Schembechler
- Jim Tressel
Now, they seem to be involved in activities that could label them as the cradle of creative accounting. According to the school newspaper – – The Miami Student – – the school athletic department purchases about 10,000 tickets for each football game so that the school can meet the NCAA minimum attendance requirements for the school to remain in Division 1-A. And where does the athletic department get the money to buy these tickets that are never used but count as “paid attendance” so that Miami can keep its Division 1-A status in the MAC? Why they get it from the student fees charged by the university over and above tuition. Cue the Church Lady from SNL:
- Isn’t that special?
Miami (Ohio) along with just about every MAC school has trouble getting people into the stadium, but college football attendance is a problem even at the highest level of the sport. Recall last season that Nick Saban chastised the Alabama student body for leaving games at the end of the 3rd quarter when Alabama had the game in hand. Saban’s concept then was that the team worked hard all year to be able to dominate those games and that the student support through to the end was the student acknowledgement of the team’s accomplishment. [For the record, I think Nick Saban is out in left field on this one – if you will allow me the use of that mixed metaphor here.]
I think all these attendance problems for college football – from the really good programs down through the truly mediocre ones – stem from two major sources;
- Twenty-five years ago, there was no comparison between the “game-at-home experience” and the “stadium experience”. Seeing the game in person was the way to go each and every time you had a shot at tickets for the game. Today the “game-at-home” experience is a light-year better than it was 25 years ago and, in many ways, it is better than the “stadium experience”. When you watch – or merely tun in briefly – on a Wednesday night in November and see a MAC game in progress you will notice that there are few folks in the stands and that the ones who are there universally look uncomfortable. That is the Miami (OH) problem – bad conditions on a weeknight in games that really don’t mean a whole lot.
- The ability to see top teams play one another more than once ever couple of years in that excellent “game-at-home” environment has made the college football fan more discriminating in the way he spends his time. After an Alabama fan watches the Tide take on LSU and Georgia and Florida and Auburn – live or on TV – he might not be nearly as excited to stay to the bitter end to watch Alabama toy with the likes of New Mexico State or Western Carolina (two of this year’s sacrificial lambs).
Television has brought more than merely prosperity to college football programs; it has brought the ability for fans to be more discriminating in what they will watch and what they will not watch. So, maybe instead of buying up phantom tickets to games and pretending that many people showed up for the game (as Miami (OH) has done) or instead of trying to come up with ways to reward students for staying to the bitter end of blowout home games (as Alabama is going to try to do starting this year), maybe some out-of-the-box thinking is in order here:
- Maybe Miami (OH) and the rest of the MAC schools should consider playing games on Saturday afternoons and not on Wednesday nights? It is warmer in the afternoon than it is at night – – particularly in MAC country once Halloween comes and goes.
- Maybe Alabama might consider scheduling fewer cupcake opponents. Next year they will play Duke, New Mexico State, Southern Mississippi and Western Carolina as their 4 out-of-conference games. Yes, I know that the conference schedule for any team in the SEC West is a tough one; but look at those four cupcake opponents and ask yourself if you would want to sit through an entire game watching them get trucked by Alabama.
Finally, business considerations plague sports programs/teams and the sports media too. Here is an observation from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times on that topic:
“Golf Digest is struggling to come up with advertisers.
“New in-house marketing slogan: ‘Get out of the hole’.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………