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Collegiate Stadiums Projecting Pro Brands

My son and I throughly enjoyed watching The Ohio State University Buckeyes shred the Miami of Ohio Redhawks on a recent Saturday afternoon. Following an early afternoon downpour, the humidity and recently-cleared skies brought a healthy glimmer to everyone's skin. It was hot. Which makes folks thirsty.
A few years back, Ohio State, like many other universities, began selling beer during football games. As a college student and later as an alumni, I experienced some of the greatest tailgating in the country--frequently enjoying a beverage or two. Why not bring it inside and further line the pockets of the university? The argument at the time centered less around the fiscal and more around alleviating the need for ticketholders to drink intensely immediately before the game knowing they would need to last through a 4 hour contest. The university claimed people would enter the stadium less intoxicated knowing they could get their fill inside. I would love it if the Sociology department performed a study to judge the efficacy of this hypothesis.
Rather than debate the merits or transgressions of alcohol, I would invite Ohio State (and any other public institution) to further scruitinize and debate their position in choosing to sell alcohol at stadiums--as it relates to their brand. We enjoyed great seats from a friend right on the north goal line. They were right on the aisle. Despite these amazing seats with an incredible view, I missed a good chunk of the game. Was my view obstructed by a support pillar? Did my son suddenly take ill? No, the constant stream of fans exiting and entering our row as well as walking up and down the nearby steps disrupted our viewing frequently if not near-consistently. Hey, I get it. It's a venue with 103,000+ other fans. We need to be accommodating and graceful. Everyone needing into or out of the row exhibited politeness and cordiality. It was the fact that in all of these interruptions, almost everyone returned holding a beer or two in their hands. As a fan and an alumni, I love going to Ohio State games. There's nothing like the excitement, energy, and antics. And maybe as I age, different things are important to me. I think Ohio State needs to think deeper about what sort of brand image all these people constantly wandering around getting beer (and relieving themselves) projects. Personally, I want to watch the game. I don't want to watch massive groups of people filling the aisles. If it becomes a better experience to watch at home or to even tailgate without buying tickets, how does that impact Ohio State's brand? Maybe Ohio State doesn't care--but I think it should. I always tell my kids, "pay for experiences--not stuff" but if that experience is poor, folks are unlikely to return. The NCAA continues to try to preserve the mystique and innocence of college athletics. They're fighting the pay-the-players argument more fervently now--especially with pending legislation in California. Professional sports has long embraced alcohol and now looks certain to leverage gambling to increase the business vibrancy and lucrative opportunities. Professional sports is business though. Amateur athletics is not. For many universities, sports creates an incredible and vibrant revenue source--hundreds of millions of dollars annually. It won't be easy while treating amateur athletes fairly and providing a great in-person fan experience all while competing with everything vying for our attention. Both the NCAA and collegiate athletic programs must constantly strive to preserve their brand. I think that brand revolves around team spirit and connect, amateurism, and academics. Perhaps it's too late to turn back but we must remember the sport is the entertainment--not the alcohol, gambling, or revenue structure. And the sport only exists because of the academic institutions.


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