Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Football: Enhancing Everyone’s Game Day Experience

Posted April 29, 2015, 6:00 a.m.

Notes: (1) This blog essay reproduces an op ed column by Nicholas Johnson in today's Press-Citizen -- the latest in what have been dozens of prior columns and blog essays regarding football-related issues.
(2) A selection of them is available at, where they are listed chronologically in categories, such as, The College Football Industry, its impact, economics, and future; Football's Ties to Crime; to Gambling; to Alcohol; and the impact of its fans on the Kinnick Stadium Neighborhood.
(3) Newspaper columns don't have footnotes, but for those who may wish they did a narrative discussion of some of the sources can be found following the text of the column. -- N.J., April 29, 2015.
(4) June 18, 2015 Update: Apparently the "enhancement" has not been enough to pull the money out of the pockets of reluctant former season ticket fans. Season ticket sales may fall as low as 30,000, compared with 2011's 55,457, for a stadium with 70,585 seats. So the latest gambit is an offer of a three-ticket package at a discounted $157 (at $52-plus per game, $3 below the per-game price for season ticket holders) -- with the worst seats in the stadium (south end zone) -- for one of two night games, one of two non-conference games, and one of the last three conference games. ("How's that working out for you?" I'm wondering.) Chad Leistikow, "Iowa hopes new ticket discounts will help fill Kinnick," Des Moines Register, June 18, 2015.
(5) [July 2, 2015]. And for another approach to why fans might decide to skip the games, see Don Campion, "Consider These Reasons for Declining Ticket Sales," Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 29, 2014, p. A7.

Enhancing Everyone's Experience at Kinnick
Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City Press-Citizen, April 29, 2015, p. A13

During a previous life, the University of Iowa’s athletic director set about enhancing fans’ “game day experience” at Wyoming Cowboys’ football games.

He bar-coded tickets and opened more stadium gates to speed entry. He provided parking lots and shuttle services — with discounts for flying the Cowboys’ flag. He added 75 handicapped parking spaces. He improved restrooms and concession facilities. Solid improvements.

Flash forward to Iowa’s Hawkeyes.

Well below national averages, only 64 percent of Iowa’s season ticket holders are even “likely” to renew. Of those not renewing, 68 percent have concluded that seven opportunities to watch Hawkeyes lose too many games (while fans sit unprotected in Iowa’s weather) is not a sufficient benefit to justify the cost: $790 for a couple’s season tickets — plus their added costs and hassles of attending.

When the fast-food hamburger chains see a decline in sales, they have a five-step program to increase sales. First they add salt. If that’s not enough, they add sugar. Next, cheese. Then two burgers per bun. If none of that works, there’s the nuclear option: bacon in everything. [Added photo (photo source unknown)]

AD Gary Barta is evolving his own multi-step program. When too many of the 70,000-plus seats in Kinnick Stadium were empty, he tried luring fans with a sound system, then a video board — acknowledging both need work. He offered $70 discounts on concessions for those renewing early. [Added photo: Video screens weren't enough to fill these seats. (Photo source unknown.)]

What bacon is for McDonald’s, alcohol is for Hawkeye football, a liquid lariat from Laramie for roping and corralling fans into Kinnick. Once praised for accommodating the handicapped with more parking, he has now grasped the revelation from Ogden Nash’s two-line poem that “Candy is dandy/but liquor is quicker.” He’s extended the hours for tailgate drinking and booked two night games — his way of enhancing “the game day experience.”

That is, enhancing fans’ memories of the party while forgetting the game. The theory? The more they drink, the more they party. The more they party, the more they forget what they were doing before they passed out. The more they forget the losses, the more they renew season tickets. [Photo credit: Nicholas Johnson]

Of course, the most effective food and football solutions, customer satisfaction and enhanced game days? Better beef in hamburgers, and winning seasons for the Hawkeyes.

So how to win? The problem is not with the athletic director, coaching staff and athletes. They’re entitled to our sympathy. The problems with big-money college football are systemic.

College football needs to take some lessons from the National Football League for which they are the farm teams.

For starters, college ball, like the NFL, needs to be split off from academic institutions. Trust me; it would make it easier for everyone — university presidents, faculty, staff, students, coaches, athletes, sports writers, broadcasters, advertisers, investors, sports gamblers and fans.

Examples? Barta notes that stadium beer sales "potentially could be a big revenue stream," but that’s not now possible. Also, because of the university affiliation, the commercial ties between the football program and Riverside gambling casino are both a violation of the spirit of NCAA regulations and an academic embarrassment. [Photo credit: Nicholas Johnson]

Second, the teams need to recognize that, like the NFL, college ball is a single industry in which every team’s income would increase if talent were more equally distributed. They need a draft, in which teams with the poorest records get the best new players.

Third, the Iowa Hawkeyes play in Iowa weather. Kinnick, wedged between a railroad track, an expanding hospital and residential neighborhoods, was great in the 1920s. Today? Not so much. The team needs a domed stadium, with plenty of parking, preferably centrally located among eastern Iowa’s population centers.

More alcohol (Barta’s “fun factor”) impacts Kinnick’s neighbors. Parachuting 60,000 to 70,000 uninvited visitors into a neighborhood designed for 250 people, give or take, shifts football’s costs to the neighbors. Students urinating in residents’ yards, breaking glass beer bottles into shards, throwing trash under bushes isn’t “Iowa nice.” [Photo credits: Nicholas Johnson]

These three proposals could truly enhance everyone’s game day experience.
Nicholas Johnson, a former sports law professor, is a fan of Iowa women’s basketball, and offers links to more such commentary at http://FromDC2Iowa/2015/04/football.html.

Narrative Footnotes

"Improvements Announced to Enhance Fan Experience at War Memorial Stadium; New location of Pepsi's Cowboy Tailgate Park among changes," Wyoming Official Athletics Site, Aug. 18, 2004 (description of Barta's improvements; note that the Wyoming "Tailgate Park" is named for a soft drink); "UW Athletics Director Gary Barta Announces First Interstate Bank Gift; Funds go toward the Strategic Plan for Intercollegiate Athletics,", Wyoming Official Athletics Site, June 17, 2005 (reference to efforts to "enhance the fan experience" and the improved restroom and concession facilities). And see, "Gary Barta Profile," Wyoming Official Athletics Site.

"Hawkeyes Offer Bonus to Fans Who Renew Season Tickets," Quad City Times,, Feb. 16, 2015, provides the stats regarding attendance, season ticket sales, forecasts of season ticket renewals, and makes reference to the "concessions and souvenir discount opportunities." ("Of Iowa fans who indicated they were undecided or unlikely to renew, 68 percent indicated a price compared to value and benefits of being a season ticket holder was a factor in their uncertainty and far outweighed other concerns.") And see, "Marc Morehouse, "17 Years of Trust," The Gazette, May 20, 2015, pp. B1, B4 ("Iowa has sold around 30,000 season tickets for the 2015 season. That's about 7,000 below last season's 37,823, which was the lowest since 2009. Iowa . . . recorded just one sellout (Iowa State) . . . in the last two seasons.")

The details of the extended drinking hours are explained in "UI to Lengthen Postgame Tailgate Time; Extra Hour Added to Postgame Opportunity for 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Start Times,", Hawkeye Football, April 17, 2015 (making reference to the "fun factor" and "game-day experience": "We know the opportunity to enjoy pregame and postgame time with friends and family is an important part of the game-day experience for many of our fans. . . ." said Barta said in an official statement released by the UI on Friday. "The `fun factor' surrounding Hawkeye football is an important focus of ours as we plan for 2015").

AD Barta's saying of stadium beer sales, "it potentially could be a big revenue stream" is found in a video from July 25, 2014, posted on the Press-Citizen's Web site. In that video he asserts that the idea has never even been discussed at either Big Ten meetings or at the University of Iowa.

There are a number of NCAA statements regarding gambling. Here is a sample: "The NCAA opposes all forms of gambling — legal and illegal — on college sports and specifically prohibits coaches, administrators and student-athletes from gambling on any sports event or providing information to anyone gambling on sports. Sports gambling threatens the well-being of student-athletes and the integrity of the game. The NCAA works to preserve sportsmanship and to provide every student-athlete the opportunity to win fairly." "Gambling on College Sports: What is the NCAA policy on gambling on sports?" This page has much more regarding the NCAA's objections to gambling and discussion of the issues, and is a good place to start on this subject.

Chad Leistikow, "Barta's Goal Is an Improved Kinnick: The Athletic Director Wants Great Fan Experience," Des Moines Register, April 20, 2015, p. C1 ("Barta's goal in all of it is to improve the fans' gameday experience"; "Barta spoke about wanting to increase the fun while continuing to stand against past 'deep-seated alcohol abuse'"; reference to "concession vouchers"; reference to "the video board" and "gripes about the new sound system"; "A dip [in attendance] is expected this year . . . -- there's no Iowa State, Wisconsin or Nebraska on the schedule to pad the numbers.") And see, "Efe Ayanruoh, "UI to Extend Tailgaiting: The University of Iowa Extended Its Tailgating Hours Starting This Fall, Depending on the Start Time of a Home Football Game," The Daily Iowan, April 20, 2015, p. 1.

Comments Entered on Press-Citizen Online Publication of Column

Rudolf Schmidt - University of Iowa
Nick's right. On the other hand, building a new domed stadium would probably cost a billion dollars. That's a lot of beer to sell. Apr 29, 2015 8:02am

Nicholas Johnson
For an "enhanced" version of this column, complete with illustrative photos and supporting documentation, see "Football: Enhancing Everyone's Game Day Experience,"

For a catagorized list/index of some 40 prior blog essays on football-related issues, see "Football," Apr 29, 2015 10:18am

Nicholas Johnson
Thankfully, most of the feedback I'm receiving on this column suggests that those readers (like Rudolf Schmidt) have grasped that my three proposals are not intended to be real and practical suggestions at this point in college football's evolution -- for a wide variety of reasons I won't bother to list here.

As painful as it is to try to explain humor, for the others I will try. While those proposals have within them an occasional sprinkling of facts/truth they are primarily designed to illustrate (by way of these alternatives) some of the problems (that many in and out of this industry acknowledge) with the present system. And yes, I do know that many college football players do benefit from their opportunity for a college education. Apr 29, 2015 10:28am

Joseph Dobrian - Principal and Founder at Dobrian, Frances, Bowie & Long
Night games make me less inclined, not more, to renew my season tickets. Night football is for high schools, on Friday. I hate night games at Kinnick with the burning heat of a thousand artificial suns. 23 hrs [noted May 1, 2015, 8:05am]

Consider These Reasons for Declining Ticket Sales

Don Campion

Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 29, 2014, p. A7

In the agonizing to which so many column inches were devoted in your June 24 edition with respect to the declining sales of Iowa Hawkeye football tickets (Our View: More to success than winning), various possible causes were identified, including a poor recent won-lost record, a weak upcoming season, fans’ feeling exploited by blatant commercialization, and so forth.

I would suggest that you consider some alternative hypotheses: that more and more Iowans are 1). weary of seeing the football tail wag the university dog; 2). taking to heart the proposition, based on a large and growing body of medical evidence, that watching football amounts to witnessing brain damage for profit; 3). deciding that participatory sport is better than spectator sport and spending game time in healthy physical activity; 4). tired of seeing student athletes overworked and under-rewarded for participating in a dangerous and injury-ridden occupation; and 5). simply finding more interesting and profitable things to do with their time.

A good starting point for learning about the medical evidence is available online at, the website of the Patrick Risha CTE Awareness Foundation, which fights chronic traumatic encephalopathy in the name of Risha, a casualty of college football who, after suffering for years from the effects of repeated concussions, ended his own life at age 32 on Sept. 17, 2014. The organization was founded by Risha’s family after the posthumous determination that the physical and emotional symptoms he endured after years of high school and college football stardom were attributable to CTE. The Centers for Disease Control, the National Institutes of Health and many other governmental and medical organizations provide a wealth of information about CTE and other neurological deficits associated with playing football.

Dan Campion
Iowa City

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1 comment:

Nick said...

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