Create the College Football MLB Stadium Tour

The NHL crafted a regular season event with the Winter Classic, MLB and the NBA have All-Star games, the NFL and MLB have taken the show on the road to play overseas, college football has an opportunity to ratchet things up in the regular season that has started to take form.

Grant it college football has fewer issues selling regular season tickets than do teams in most other sports due to the much shorter season (less supply), general football interest, and passion for school spirit. However, new revenue opportunities always exist. I propose the NCAA consider an MLB Stadium tour. Two possibilities – select a weekend and host a game in each region at a major MLB park, or make it a season-long entrenchment with one game played each weekend in an MLB Park around the country. It could be one game per conference, or one game per region between two non-conference rivals, or geographic rivals.

Notre Dame signing to play at Yankee Stadium is the start. Fenway Park for a BC rivalry game, Dodger Stadium for USC or UCLA, the new outdoor Minnesota Stadium for one of those funny trophies Minnesota plays for against Michigan or Wisconsin. Yes, less capacity could mean less ticket revenue, but if prices accordingly it could even out. The conferences (as an alliance, similar to the BCS) could sell the rights to the Stadium Tour independent of other TV contracts to bolster media revenue, they could sell a sponsorship for the event and come up with a number of creative, integrative activations in each market. For the NCAA and the schools at large, it’s a brand extension opportunity into the heart of the biggest media markets, some of which are dominated by professional teams and lack a strong college presence. Despite its wild popularity and success, without a strong hold in all of the Top 10 media markets, the NCAA still has room to grow. Besides sponsorship and TV money, this initiative could boost merchandise sales for schools, elevate key TV ratings during bowl season, which have stumbled slightly in recent years (possibly due to the BCS), and in general make the sport more valuable.

Something consider at least consider.

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Business of Yankee Stadium: College Football Good, Open-Air Bad

The new ballpark in the Bronx will rekindle one lost tradition from the old Stadium, when it hosts a college football game in 2010, the first at Yankee Stadium in what will be 23 years. Army-Notre Dame will carry the flag, not exactly a 1 vs. 2 match-up, but two teams steeped in tradition with strong national followings and a link to the Northeast.

The game, the matchup, the setting – this deal just feels right. Army subsequently announced matchups for 2011-2013, making it a 4-year annual game deal. For those who go back a few years, it’s impossible to believe Yankee Stadium has not hosted college football since 1987. Given the tradition, the draw that New York and Yankee Stadium bring, and the simple visual of a packed Yankee Stadium on a crisp November day, its even harder to believe.

From a business perspective, it appears part of a bigger plan to make Yankee Stadium an all-purpose facility that monetizes its assets as often as possible. The initial allure of a major college game in the New York area, the venue, and two teams with strong local ties that travel well, should assure a sell out, if not very close. Depending on the deal, the Yanks could reap a few million dollars through tickets/rental fee, food and beverage, parking, and other ancillary services.

Talk of a bowl game is circulating, which would make sense for college football. The sport could use a foothold in the country’s biggest market to help grow its popularity, and boost interest in some of the local teams. And don’t think the Yankees would settle for one of those 7th place mid December bowl games. Either way, Yankee Stadium and NYC have the power to tip a mediocre bowl game into a sell-out. Fans will want to travel, locals will want to catch a game viewed more as an exclusive event given its non-recurring nature. Besides the few million in game day revenue the Yankees would reap, they could extend their tentacles into travel packages and other ancillary activities to grow the pot.

Beyond college football, where it can easily become the neutral site hub in the Northeast for big games within the next 5-10 years if it chooses, hockey is on the radar, and I can’t imagine major boxing events and concerts as far behind. If you look at the history of Yankee Stadium it hosted historical events in each of these genres, with a new state of the art facility it again becomes a destination. Given the expenses the Yanks need to recoup, expect them to slowly dip their toes in every possible revenue stream.

Speaking of costs, the Yankees should have chopped a few of the excess amenities that helped run the bill up way over $1B, and used a few hundred million on a retractable roof. Though I have not run the numbers, I’d be interested in studying how much revenue the team loses when it has to delay games for 1-2 hours and play in front of half empty or a completely empty stadium. No food and beverage revenue, less parking as many who now know the Yanks ways decide to wait it out elsewhere, and typically a free ticket in the future. All lost revenue. While it sounds small on the surface, project it out for the season, then project the season out for 10-15 years, and suddenly the number becomes more significant. Now think of the other revenue opportunities a roof creates – indoor fan fests, indoor basketball games, college basketball tournament, major business or political conferences, year-round concerts. Start projecting potential revenue for all these events, plus the revenue not lost from rain outs and rain delays, now magnified with an in house food and beverage opportunity. An interesting study, but a roof may have paid for itself over time. And, seriously, how much revenue does the cushioned seat in Left CF add.

Poor Timing for IU

Scout.com reports that Indiana University reached an eight year extension with adidas for $21M to remain the official outfitter for all teams and coaches at the school. At $2.6M per year, the contract is an annual increase of $500k over the previous four year deal.

While lucrative, the deal comes on the heels of the Kelvin Sampson scandal, which is still sure to garner negative attention when the NCAA convenes in June, or if Sampson makes headline by accepting an NCAA job. Tom Crean takes over a decimated roster, losing its two star players, and multiple other contributors to graduation, the NBA, transfer, and discipline. With the school’s most valuable athletic asset reeling, destined for at least a year or two of rebuilding, how much, if anything, did that cost IU at the negotiating table?

Michigan garnered about $8M per year, if you include its signing bonus, Notre Dame rakes in $6M per year from adidas. IU is considered one of college basketball’s crown jewels because of its rich history, but its recent struggles on the court and controversies with each of its last two coaches have tainted the program, knocking it down in popularity and national prominence. Instead of basketball’s version of Notre Dame, a great name struggling on the field, Indiana’s contract closely matches Nebraska, a former powerhouse struggling on and off the field. Ironically, both schools bring new coaches, and renewed hope to their cornerstone programs this year. Unfortunately, it will not recover the few million Indiana may have left at the table.

Rutgers-UConn: Who Wins in Notre Dame Football Debate?

Earlier this week UConn reached an agreement with Connecticut state legislators that allows the Huskies to enter a six-game football series against Notre Dame from 2011-2017 with the three Connecticut “home games” staged at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, MA, or Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ. The agreement scales down the original 10-game package where Connecticut would have forfeited five home games to surrounding states, and comes days after Rutgers University rejected a similar offer from the South Bend football machine.

The Huskies elevated to Division 1-A in 2002, joined the Big East in 2004, and grabbed a share of the conference championship last season, along with its second bowl bid. On the heels of joining D-1, Connecticut taxpayers shelled out $91.2 million to build 40,000 seat Rentschler Field in East Hartford, which draws a loyal, devoted fan base for home games. Those same loyal, devoted fans who paid for the stadium get pushed aside by the almighty Irish money-making machine in this deal.

In exchange for the lost home games, UConn gains national exposure that the school hopes will help with recruiting, publicize the program, and draw revenue. On the surface it sounds good, especially given Connecticut’s incoming recruiting class ranks last in the Big East and 70th nationally according to Rivals.com, but does simply playing Notre Dame add that much value anymore.

Last season NBC ratings dipped 40% for Notre Dame broadcasts to 1.8, exactly half the 3.8 rating it enjoyed in 2005. The Peacock networks $9 million a year exclusive contract with Notre Dame expires after the 2010 season. Diminished ratings have led to softer advertising dollars. If the trend continues NBC may choose not to renew with Notre Dame, thus none of the six games in this contract guarantee national television exposure.

No longer a perennial power, Notre Dame has resorted to bully tactics to gain a competitive advantage by forcing the home field change.  The Irish played at Boston College, in a similar size stadium, multiple times, yet refused to travel to Connecticut for any games. If BC does not require a 70,000+ stadium to host the Irish, what’s wrong with Rentschler Field?

For one, Rentschler will sell out with Husky fans, a true road test, while Gillette and the Meadowlands, will have at least half Notre Dame fans. UConn’s AD can say what it wants about tickets, the Golden Domers will have a major presence in those so-called UConn home games. Second, the New York and Boston games probably will help with recruiting – it may help more with Notre Dame recruiting. With the program slipping in recent years, facing fierce competition for the best athletes, an extra game in the Metropolitan area will help the Irish establish more of a presence in the area. UConn is already here, half way between the two major metropolis’.

UConn mentions the games will help with fundraising and connecting the two big cities with alumni. I buy that, but is it worth deserting your students and local alumni and donors to do it? Still in its growing stages, if it makes sense for any team, its UConn. The annual Big East schedule can use an extra boost, and the program will take the publicity as it tries to crawl from behind the shadows of the wildly successful basketball team.

However, Rutgers, made the right decision not bowing to almighty Notre Dame. Embarking on a $102 million renovation to increase capacity to 55,000 seats, already down the block from the Meadowlands, the Scarlet Knights don’t need to back down to other programs. They put together multiple bowl seasons, just had a second-round draft pick, and convinced the coach to stay put, refuting various overtures from big schools. Recruiting continues to improve each year, and Rutgers proved it can capture the attention of New York when it fields a good team, generating buzz during its unbeaten run in 2006. As I mentioned, an solid out of conference game always helps in the BCS standings, and for the program at large, but Rutgers should not do it at the expense of building an identity at Rutgers Stadium.

Almost 20 years removed from a national championship, annually overrated both on the field and in recruiting circles, Notre Dame has arguably lost its clout to the USC’s, Ohio State’s, and LSU’s of the world. America’s fascination with the football team continues thanks to the rich history, unless, of course, Navy beats them a few more times, or god forbid, Duke wins in front of touchdown Jesus. Rutgers showed that teams no longer need Notre Dame, and made the right choice doing it. The verdict remains out on UConn’s decision. A bigger question remains, is this an omen of things to come for the Irish. Two years from now will they lose their exclusive television contract, and potentially their unique, powerful position in the BCS contract, up for renewal later this year. Stay tuned.