Friday, September 7, 2007

Going Local: Football

As we head toward fall, I plan on posting a piece on "going local" from time to time. This week, let's start with something downright American: sports. In fact, in a strange way, rooting for our local university's basketball team is what originally pushed me to go to farmer's markets, explore my city, appreciate the climate, etc. That initial love of something local, peripheral as basketball may be, pushed me to seek new ways to support local people, businesses, and athletics.

I have blogged before about how television undercuts all that's good about athletics. To paraphrase something I said a couple of year's ago on my hoops blog:

Fans cannot tailgate with college buddies through television. There is no virtual or Hi-Def replacement for the smell of popcorn wafting into my section at Diddle Arena. In basketball, a last second shot to win the game registers as a measly two points in a computer-generated fantasy league, but in reality it wields the terrible power to spark jubilation or strike crushing despair into thousands of hearts the moment it hits the bottom of the net. It can suck the air out of an arena, or send it into total pandemonium. There is no plasma screen that can replicate nippy winter walks to a college stadium with wives, children, and family, nor the rush of warm air that hits your face as you click through the turnstile. Instead of encountering the power of a fight song or alma mater ringing in your ears, you get muted crowd noise with a "Brought to you by...State Farm Insurance" promo. Instead of engaging in halftime conversation with the elderly, living encyclopedia sitting next to you who has had season tickets for thirty-five years, you get an army of talking heads in suits and cakey make-up yammering at one another, all wrapped in more rapid-fire rounds of commercials.

We have a local university (WKU) that sells season football tickets for $25. That's for the ENTIRE season. To be clear: that's five college football games for $25. I once paid $125 for ONE game at Ohio State. Twenty-five bucks gives you access to five weekends to pack up the grill and head to campus with friends and family to tailgate, barbecue, throw around the pigskin, and interact with others from your community. Five weekends to meet someone new on the South Lawn. Five weekends to cheer in unison with thousands of others for a local team.

If the response to this is, "Yeah, but WKU is not playing anyone worth watching," then please go ahead and click on the TV and begin the game watching. Many fall prey to ESPN's ploys which cultivate the idea that the only important football is played by a handful of schools that play on TV every week. ESPN is a TV network! Of course, they would LOVE to foster this idea!

No, this is a chance to enjoy high level, local sports for a minimal financial investment. When a family of four can invest $100, and spend five Saturdays eating together, cheering together, connecting to something local together, it is at least worth thinking about.

Maybe football is not your bag, and that is perfectly fine. The message here is that this is just one of many ways to connect locally.

Do you want perfect picture resolution? Go see the game IN THE STADIUM. Do you want perfect color and amazing clarity? Try the view from Section HH. Do you want to go beyond Hi-Def? Try the real thing.

It not only works for football; it works for most areas of life.


Mai said...

Great post! I'm not huge into sports, but I definitely see the value of supporting local stuff.

For example, instead of driving to Seattle, I check out bands that play at my favorite bar in town. The booking agent gets some pretty good ones.

And I decided that instead of going to Portland to get my new computer at the Apple Store tax free, I am going buy it from the local Mac store here.

I look forward to future "Going Local entries."

Luke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Luke said...

I like the post, Cortney, but there is another side to this issue. Namely, WKU is selling a season ticket for peanuts to generate sales. In so doing, they can claim a spike in interest in the team and call the move to 1-A a success (regardless of how many people actually attend the games, the old--and now quite common--"paid attendance" vs. "actual attendance" fallacy).

If I lived in Bowling Green, I have no doubt we'd pay that price: I'm a proud alum and it is a great deal. However, it does seem to me that the argument is not as clear-cut (supporting local events vs. corporate-driven, consumerist national events) as it seems. If one had a principled objection to the reason for the cheap seats (ie, they might think that the university is going to lose a good sum in a venture that has already doubled a money-bleeding football budget; or they might think that it has little tangible payoff for the university's reputation--even excluding academic indices: it is one thing to take a pay day from likes of Florida, Kansas State, Wisconsin, Auburn, or Georgia for a butt whoopin', quite another to take one regularly from Bowling Green State or North Texas and have to pay to go there on top of it) they might not be as keen to support the effort. Moreover, if the principled objection was stated on the ground that WKU offers those cheap tickets because ultimately it just wants a slice of that same consumerist, corporate-driven slice of (potentially, hopefully, maybe-one-day) money-making pie, well, what difference does it really make?

(I wish this blogger thing would let us make grammatical edits without forcing us to delete the whole thing. It makes it look funny, like I dramatically had to alter my initial comments.)

Cort said...

Good thoughts, Luke. And, I am fully aware that someday, WKU football might price itself out of my family's budget for such things. In fact, I EXPECT that it will. There will come a day when I have to pick basketball over football for financial reasons.

And, I will fight that battle when it comes. "Going local" also means paying a fair price to support local sports (or farmers, or mechanics, or butchers, or shoe stores...). When WKU starts to bleed the people that have been there all along (people like me and you if you lived here), then I will write my letter and not buy overpriced season tix. I was VERY close to doing that with my hoops tix THIS season.

There were 16,150 at the game against WEST VA TECH. That is 4k more people than at ANY game last season. Granted, some of those were just curious, and some were new "cheap tix" folks.

Why were they curious? Why did they buy cheap tix? A good number were there because coaches and players went door to door in BG this summer to ask people to come. I doubt Ohio State or Mighty Michigan (0-2!) is doing that. This is still a local movement at this point. I hope it can stay that way even as we move forward. But I doubt that it will.

Your points are valid, and I'm not suggesting that IA is going to be a good move in the long run. And, I'm not arguing against high-level football or watching ESPN either. I'm more concerned with the direction these things take us, and I think you are absolutely correct in stating that WKU is wading into those waters. I have talked to many fans about my concerns about WKU looking to be "bigger and better." I think we are overly focused on "bigger." The "better" is lagging behind.

And, I am one of those strange fans who will lament the day we sell our souls to ESPN. The day when the attendance skies and students show up half-drunk and wild...FOR ESPN. Not for WKU.

THAT is ultimately what I am thinking about here. Right now, it's still about getting people behind WKU--the team. Someday, that will likely pass away.
And, on that day, so will my time as a season ticket holder.

For now, I can tailgate next weekend and enjoy a massive sellout against EKU next Saturday. But even that game is a harbinger of things to come: it's likely our last one against EKU (D-IAA) unless they are willing to come to BG every year.

WKU will always be "local" to me. But, the days of buying season tix to WKU football with a clear moral and financial conscience could be short. I hope not, but that seems to be the general direction.

Travis said...

Ultimately if it becomes less about supporting your team and more about going to an "ESPN" game or what have you, that is in your hands.

For me, WKU basketball was never about going to a big time, national event. It was about supporting my school's team. This season I made that decision to separate from WKU basketball because the price and the schedule forced me to make a hard decision.

But my love for the team is not tainted by this. It just didn't work out for us this time.

I think what WKU is finding out (especially academically) is that it is easy to get bigger, but getting better takes patience.

There are some steps in the right direction that are worth noting. Improvement to academic buildings, new buildings, and the Academy are some of those.