A few weeks back, Ira from WTKA sent me an If I Was King article from a Penn State blog. Naturally, this got me thinking about what I would do if I woke up tomorrow and someone told me that due to a quantum something or other I was athletic director.
There are of course many things. I would let that hashtag guy go since he's supposed to be a public relations person but talks like a robot instead of a person, etc. But no one would see these changes. They may hear a deep rumbling basso laugh of evil. See it in their gameday experience they won't. So here are my top five-ish things I'd do in this alternate universe.
1. Start taking attendance, for both stick and carrot
three minutes to kickoff, check the packed endzone next to the students
One thing Dave Brandon and I are of one mind on is how gross it is for the student section to be half-empty at kickoff on certain gamedays. Since they're now scanning tickets they know who's coming early and who's coming late. They should start using this trove of data to reward behaviors they like and discourage ones they don't.
All season ticket holders, student or not, should start having an attendance score tracked. Max points are scored by being in the stadium 20 minutes prior to kickoff—bands—and something like 90% are scored by being there at kickoff, with a steep dropoff afterwards. For the first couple years Michigan does nothing with these except inform everyone of their score and their percentile range within their group (each different PSL level is a group w/ students separate) and within the entire fanbase.
Once they have a handle on the numbers they start making some use of this data with the students. Seating priority and away ticket and bowl lotteries are based on the score instead of straight seniority. Figure out the bottom 10% and set a threshold below which you can buy tickets but only at a full-cost rate. Take some of your pots of money and reward the most dedicated fans with reduced prices and special bonuses. What we're building is a religion, not a company.
For the folks paying full price there's not much Michigan can do. They're stretching everybody to the maximum dollar and at some point getting snooty about who you want on the list is going to result in no one showing up when you call out "next." But at the very least these scores should start adding to Victors point levels in some way, so that the guy who sat through the Ellerbe era at Crisler gets some credit for it.
Theme: Michigan's too focused on money as the end result of everything; they should make an effort to make the experience of being at a game better for everyone involved.
2. Stop playing the Penn State alma mater at every game
ignore the content of the song, project as 15 second clip
That would be "Seven Nation Army." I stole that joke from twitter.
Anyway. If Special K is going to run our lives for four hours every fall Saturday, the least he can do is not play the same six stadium anthems every other arena on the planet does. It is possible to both play music and build tradition if you pick something that you make yours.
Michigan accidentally did this when they picked a funky instrumental from a blaxploitation movie to lead Michigan Replay for 30 years. That worked because it was weird and ours and now I can't imagine our podcast without it; losing Across 110th Street was a traumatic experience that killed most of my interest in watching the Michigan Replay replacement (that and the internet making it a quaint relic). Special K should play that.
That should also serve as a lesson for any other in-game stuff. Make it weird, make it yours, stop playing "Sweet Caroline." Dump the overplayed Seven Nation Army and replace it with any of a dozen other White Stripes songs that would be equally or better suited. Make people think "Michigan" when they hear a song.
Michigan may have already tried this with "In The Big House," but the lesson there is never let a middle-aged white dude make a decision about music. Everrrrr. For it to be a beloved tradition people can't largely loathe it:
if anything this is kind since MGoReadership skews very young
Anyway. Figure out some stuff other people don't play that doesn't suck, play it at specific times so people get familiar with it, wait, and down the road you have a tradition.
Theme: By being different you can be loved.
3. Ask season ticket holders what they would like the schedule to look like, and ask them to pay for it
A corollary to this whole Alabama money debate is this: if it's going to cost extra to schedule a real opponent in a home and home, fine. When season ticket renewals are processed ask the people signing up if they would approve a surcharge for X games in X years against a BCS-level opponent in a home and home. Again, don't do anything with this information for a couple years as you gauge where you're at, then if you have a strong base of support for a more interesting schedule in those ND/OSU away years, announce that you're playing Team X and there will be a surcharge Y—or just price the ticket appropriately—for that year only.
You get permission to charge more in exchange for an exciting opponent; you bridge that gap between what a season ticket costs and what it's worth to scalpers.
Theme: Fans are more than teats to milk. We all participate in the decisions, and thereby become more invested.
4. Ask the Old Hat guys to do historical stuff for breaks
The one unqualified success in the modernization of the stadium experience has been the introductory videos produced by Old Hat Creative. Instead of filling dead air with Special K stuff it would be nice if Old Hat was tasked with producing 1-3 minute videos on Michigan history: Anthony Carter, the Virginia Kickoff Classic, Braylonfest, Tom Harmon, etc.
Basically MVictors: The Movie: The Short. The goal here is to do a little bit more than the occasional old highlight they've put on the board. Think little five-minute mini-documentaries about, say, the 1997 OSU game and what have you. You could play them in the nothing at the end of half time or split them across a couple commercial breaks.
Bonus: These can also be repurposed for Inside Michigan Football.
5. Think Carl Grapentine
This is more of a long-term feel than a specifically actionable thing one can do. If you don't know, Carl Grapentine is the PA guy at Michigan Stadium. If you've been to road games (or Michigan basketball ever) you know that he's a rare bird. Even Notre Dame's announcer burst out with something about how a rainbow had just appeared over the stadium—which was at least true—when Cam Gordon got torched for that billion-yard touchdown at the end of Denard's coming-out party a couple years ago.
Grapentine ain't havin' that. He's a just the facts ma'am kind of guy who brings boatloads of gravitas. He would easily win a presidential election contested between PA announcers. The Wings' Bud Lynch is another in that mold.
Many people have joked about The Brand The Brand The Brand in the past couple years as Brandon does whatever the hell he's doing with it. Mostly he's making it clear why we can't be Oregon. Say what you want about the Ducks' outlandishness, but damn if they don't communicate OREGON:
Even if the uniforms are incoherent, that is a coherent brand, one that supplanted a history of suck with success. Michigan has the opposite situation but they're just wobblin' around out there, claiming to be the home of tradition and coming out in no fewer than five different uniforms over the course of a season. That's not The Brand. That's the sad spectacle of a man going through a mid-life crisis getting "clunk" at da club.
Grapentine's the brand. Hoke is the brand. Refocus on that.
Theme: know who you are, instead of who the Knicks are.