Someone’s in for a nasty surprise on Nov. 7, but I’m afraid it’s not the Oregon Ducks. It’s Stanford Athletics Marketing.
I can picture it now: Stanford Stadium bursting into a deafening roar as the Cardinal defends a late fourth-quarter lead against its Pac-12 North nemesis. Meanwhile, the Red Zone, only three-quarters full, collectively stretches its arms and yawns, and in the time it takes for the students to realize there’s actually a football game going on, the Ducks’ quick-strike offense gets off eight plays in a dominant, game-winning drive.
I hope I’m proven wrong in a couple of weeks, but I can say with confidence that in my three years standing in the Red Zone, students have never arrived later and left earlier than they have so far this season.
Back in 2011, campus icon Andrew Luck’s senior year, the line outside Gate 3 two hours before a game stretched hundreds (if not thousands) of students long, resulting in a mad dash for the best seats when the gate opened; nowadays, you can walk in an hour beforehand and only a few dozen will have staked their claim. If Stanford leads by more than a touchdown in the fourth quarter, moreover, those end zone sections start to empty out pretty darn quickly.
Frankly, the students’ football frenzy is gone, and if anyone thinks that’s going to change for a chilly, Thursday-night game in the middle of midterms, they’re dead wrong.
We’ll be able to see the letdown coming. First, we’ll get the email rewarding the most dedicated fans by requiring each student have a certain number of loyalty points to claim an Oregon ticket. A few days later we’ll get another email, all but biting its fingernails, letting us know that the requirement has been dropped. Stanford students can put two and two together.
In part, our student body is to blame for its overall lack of interest in football — we’re really lucky to have free tickets in the first place — but that’s a discussion for another place and another time. What really worries me is that the marketing department’s butts-in-seats mentality, while great for the TV camera that periodically pans over the Red Zone, does little to actually engage students, which is why I’m as likely to get a game-day text about an EE lab as I am to get one about football.
Ever since the loyalty points program was instituted, students have swiped in at qualifying non-football events and left 30 seconds later through a different gate, loyalty point in hand. Nobody says anything, of course; elevated “attendance” figures are a plus for the athletic department. But is that really the sports culture we want to build here? No wonder students leave a four-hour football game early; they’ve been taught that they should recognize the guy who takes tickets at women’s soccer matches, but that learning the names “Courtney Verloo” and “Taylor Uhl” isn’t all that important. (It is.)
What’s more, this season the marketing department botched the one form of student outreach that has been particularly popular: the free t-shirts that the entire Red Zone is supposed to wear. Despite the promise on the Red Zone’s official web site that all students receive a free shirt, there were no shirts being distributed at Stanford’s recent home contests against No. 15 Washington and No. 9 UCLA.
As Senior Associate Athletics Director of External Relations Kevin Blue confirmed to The Daily on Twitter this week, the department ran out of shirts due to “unprecedented interest.” Apparently, it’s hard to figure out how many students go to Stanford. Blue did not reply to tweets asking whether more shirts would be purchased for students, but he did add that they would be sold during basketball season.
Stanford Athletics deserves a lot of credit for keeping the Red Zone mostly full in the year and a half since Luck’s departure, and, again, for making free student tickets a possibility. But the marketing department needs to realize that if it wants students to stay into the second half, remain interested in football for all four years and maybe buy season tickets someday, it has to build a more complete game-day experience for students.
If The Axe and Palm is going to serve food at games, let students use meal plan dollars there and don’t put its station all the way across the stadium; if students show up early to get the free shirt they’ve been promised, give it to them. Marketing gimmicks, like the basketball team throwing out sandwiches against UCLA, are a good start, but they’re not a sustainable way to make football a priority for this truly unique student body.
One day, that camera is going to pan over the Red Zone after an opponent scores a touchdown, and instead of shocked faces, the world is going to see a bunch of oblivious Stanford students jumping and waving, hoping to get on TV. Stanford Athletics Marketing: Don’t let Nov. 7 be that day.
Joseph Beyda spends his nights reminiscing about the good old days of “Marecic’s Mane-iacs.” Ask Joseph about his petition to make wigs mandatory at football games at jbeyda ‘at’ stanford.edu.