Fourth And Long: The Excerpt Comment Count

Brian August 23rd, 2013 at 11:53 AM

John Bacon's latest book Fourth and Long is a look at four Big Ten teams in various places as the 2012 season progresses: Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, and Northwestern. While the Penn State stuff is unbelievably compelling, Bacon also touches on the increasing commercialization of the game—a hot button topic here—in multiple sections, including Michigan.

The following is an account of what went down during the Great Band Fiasco Of 2012. If you desire a look at the Northwestern and Ohio State sections, Sippin' On Purple and Eleven Warriors both have excerpts today.


Cowboy Stadium

On Friday morning, April 20, 2012, while I watched workers set up the stage for the groundbreaking ceremony for Penn State’s $104 million hockey arena the day before their football team’s spring game, I took my weekly call from Ann Arbor’s local sports-talk station, WTKA.

This being six days after Michigan’s spring scrimmage, I assumed the morning hosts would ask me how Michigan’s second-year coaches, who favored a pro-set offense, were meshing with soon-to-be senior Denard Robinson, the consummate spread-offense quarterback. So I was a little surprised when Ira Weintraub and Sam Webb asked me about the Michigan-Alabama game, scheduled more than four months away, on September 1 in Dallas.

It was already being hyped as a clash between two tradition-rich programs, both ranked in the preseason Top 10, and two tradition-rich conferences. But it was bigger than that, because the schools had struck a deal with the Dallas Cowboys’ celebrity owner, Jerry Jones, to play the game in his shiny, new, $1.15 billion, state-of-the-art pleasure dome, nicknamed Jerry World.

They called the game the Cowboy Classic, a four-year-old version of the former Kickoff Classic, and it had come to represent the apotheosis— or nadir, depending on your view—of all that modern college football was becoming: the colossal, professional stadium; the seemingly endless corporate tie-ins; and the orgy of interest in a game between amateur athletes.

Although Michigan did not sell out its allotment of 17,500 tickets for the Sugar Bowl a couple months earlier, the athletic department had no trouble selling all 25,000 tickets for the Cowboy Classic, before they could even offer them to the general public. They were gobbled up entirely by Victors Club members: first to those with the most “priority points” (which they accumulate largely through donations), down to those with just one priority point. Thousands of fans with no priority points got shut out.

It was all the more impressive because the tickets for the Cowboy Classic weren’t cheap: $125 for a seat in the rafters and $285 for one on the 50, plus $80 for parking across the street. Jerry World also offered standing-room-only tickets, which one website packaged with vouchers for a beverage, a hot dog, and a bag of chips for $89—and sold more than twenty-three hundred of them.

“Let’s put it like this,” the ever-quotable Jerry Jones said the week of the game. “I’m going to compare it even to the Super Bowl. They’re two different events—but this is the hottest ticket . . . of any game or any event that we’ve had at that stadium.”

Michigan would net $4.7 million for the Cowboy Classic matchup with Alabama, the highest payout ever for a Kickoff Classic/Cowboy Classic season opener. After the department publicized that fact, fans were surprised to hear athletic director Dave Brandon announce he would not be sending the Michigan Marching Band to the game because the athletic department couldn’t afford the $400,000 travel expense. That decision lit up sports-talk shows across the state.

This seemingly simple decision to leave the band at home raised an equally simple question: How important is the marching band to the fans?

A few weeks before Brandon’s announcement, he sent band director Scott Boerma an RFP, or a “request for proposal,” which is how CEOs ask for a sales pitch. Brandon told Boerma to put together a page of bullet points explaining why Boerma thought it would be better for the band to fly to Dallas for the season opener against Alabama, on September 1.

“We did so,” Boerma told me, “and we turned it in. We never expected Brandon to fly us down, but we hoped. At that point, it was my assumption that we would have a conversation about those bullet points, most likely making compromises on both sides. But a few days later, we heard that the answer was simply no. And that was it.”

Ann Arbor Torch And Pitchfork


Boerma and his band were stunned, but not as much as their loyal following, who blasted the decision through just about every medium available. For a week in late April, the band’s fate dominated Ann Arbor sports-talk radio—a first, to be sure. Invective aside, the callers’ main complaint was that if Brandon eliminated a home game or the possibility of an attractive home-and-home against Alabama for the chance to play in Jerry World primarily for the record paycheck, as he stated, then why couldn’t Michigan afford the $400,000 it would cost to take the marching band? After all, the band had to be one of the main attractions of college football Jerry Jones surely expected when he invited two college teams to play in his pleasure dome.

There seem to be a few reasons behind Brandon’s initial decision. A $4.7 million payday sounds like a lot, but according to MGoBlog’s Brian Cook, it was actually about $300,000 less than Michigan would have made if Brandon had scheduled Alabama for a home-and-home series, on the same terms Michigan had with Notre Dame. The deal looks even worse when you take into account the team’s travel costs to Dallas, and the substantial revenue from parking and concessions Michigan would have kept for a home game—not to mention the excitement such a game would generate among season-ticket holders from the day it was announced. Cook concludes, “This supposed financial windfall simply does not exist.” [Ed: the department would later cop to this fact.]

But if you looked at Brandon’s initial decision to leave the band behind purely from a short-term business perspective, it made sense. The band trip would cost real money, coming right off the bottom line, but would not necessarily influence the outcome or ticket sales or TV ratings. Fans would not wait in long lines to buy Michigan Marching Band uniforms—be they classic or “alternative”—and EA Sports was not champing at the bit to put Michigan’s drum major on the cover of its next marching-band video game.


from "Day 2 Marching Band Not Going To Dallas Rage Thread"

If you bring it back to the simple question of keeping your fans happy, however, Brandon’s decision was as foolhardy as the CEO of Cracker Jack eliminating the prizes at the bottom of the boxes because, hey, you can’t eat them, and those things cost money. If there is one symbol of college football that distinguishes the irrational, romantic notions fans feel for their favorite sport from the streamlined sensibilities of the pro game, the marching band might be the best place to start. When the band plays, the students feel connected to their parents, and their parents feel connected to their past, traveling back in time to their college days.

It is the prize at the bottom of the box.

Shortly after Bill Martin became athletic director in 2000, he commissioned a survey titled “Fans Speak Out on Game Day Experience,” by his good friend, Republican pollster Bob Teeter. The response rate alone told them how passionate Michigan fans were about their team. While most consumer surveys attract a 6 to 8 percent rate of return, fully 64 percent of the three thousand Michigan fans randomly selected responded—or about ten times the average.

When these season-ticket holders were asked to rank the importance of twenty-three aspects of the game-day experience, the survey readers weren’t too shocked to find seat location atop the list, with 88 percent of respondents ranking it “important.” But the marching band finished a close fourth, with 83 percent, two places ahead of the final score, and four ahead of the quality of the opponent. Thus, whether the Wolverines won or lost, or which team they were playing—in other words, the football game—was less important to the fans than seeing the marching band. After all, the band remained undefeated.

Brandon took some hits for his decision from fans, who flooded his e-mail account, but donors soon stepped up to cover half the $400,000 tab, leading some to believe the whole incident was a ruse to get someone else to pay the bill. But UM’s band director at the time, Scott Boerma, wasn’t buying it. “I do not think he planned on the backlash,” Boerma told me, “nor do I think it was some clever way to get donors to pony up for it. Dave was genuinely surprised.”

After Brandon finally capitulated, he told the Detroit Economic Club in August that it was all a “misunderstanding,” akin to a “family squabble.” He said he had agreed from the outset to fund the $100,000 necessary for the band to take buses down to Dallas, allowing them to play concerts along the way."

“The band changed their mind,” Brandon said. “They decided they didn’t want to be in buses and they didn’t want to play their way to Dallas, and they came and said, ‘We’re planning on coming to Dallas, everybody’s planning on coming to Dallas, but we’re not going to ride in buses—we’re going to fly in a jumbo jet and here’s what it’s going to cost.’”

But Boerma recalls the dialogue differently. “I think it’s important for people to know that we never ‘changed our mind.’ We never agreed to busing down and playing gigs along the way. We offered to look into that possibility, but when we did, we determined that it really wouldn’t be best for all concerned, especially because it would be the weekend before classes started, and we would lose several days of our pre-season rehearsals, when we prepare for the entire fall ahead. We never refused to bus down, as Brandon said. We were never given the opportunity to refuse anything, because there was no follow-up conversation.

“When it all hit the fan, I made sure that it wasn’t the band students and staff causing a commotion. We just laid low and waited for it all to work out. If the decision to not take the band down remained intact, we would have been fine with that. It was Brandon’s decision; he was paying the bills, and that’s his business.”

Of course, some fans angered over the decision included big donors, who ultimately stepped up to cover half the cost of the band’s trip.

"The band is coming to Dallas," Brandon told his audience. "And I hope you enjoy every note."

Leaving the band behind for a big game proved not to be an option—at least in 2012.

As the arms race escalates, Brandon does not seem terribly interested in slowing down to ponder it all. He is too busy pressing full steam ahead. “I don’t talk the past,” he said several times in his first year as Michigan’s athletic director. “I create the future.”

He might just be right.

If the future of Penn State was in the hands of its players, and Ohio State in the hands of its new head coach, Michigan’s was in the hands of its new athletic director.

Fourth and Long is available everywhere: 11  bucks on Kindle, 16 for a hardcover. Worth it just for the story about Jay Paterno getting chased out of his own locker room, and there are 200 more pages.


Everyone Murders

August 23rd, 2013 at 12:12 PM ^

"When these season-ticket holders were asked to rank the importance of twenty-three aspects of the game-day experience, the survey readers weren’t too shocked to find seat location atop the list, with 88 percent of respondents ranking it “important.” But the marching band finished a close fourth, with 83 percent, two places ahead of the final score, and four ahead of the quality of the opponent. Thus, whether the Wolverines won or lost, or which team they were playing—in other words, the football game—was less important to the fans than seeing the marching band. After all, the band remained undefeated."

What is wrong with people?  Or is this simply the result of a poorly-worded question?  (Not hatin' on the band, but ... dah fuq?)

Yinka Double Dare

August 23rd, 2013 at 12:19 PM ^

It sounds like they asked about the "game day experience" and yeah, the band is a huge part of the game day experience for most people.  Try to imagine a home game without the band.  To me it would barely feel like Michigan Football without them. They're a huge part of the atmosphere and experience of a game in the Big House.

Everyone Murders

August 23rd, 2013 at 12:59 PM ^

This is a reasonable way to explain it, but in that case Bacon does a poor job by stating "Thus, whether the Wolverines won or lost, or which team they were playing—in other words, the football game—was less important to the fans than seeing the marching band."  First, the inquiry is properly limited to "season ticket-holding fans".  Second, the questions seem to be limited to those ticket holders' perception the nebulous (but real) notion of the "game day experience".  (I wonder if the survey included student season ticket-holders, by the way.)  So Bacon seems to be greatly overstating his conclusion by extending it to all fans and not limiting it to an evaluation of the "game day experience".

It would be far more accurate - but much less dramatic - for Bacon to state, that "(t)hus, for many season ticket-holders, the marching band's presence at the the game was more integral to the 'game day experience' than the team's success on the field".  That's a sentiment I can understand, even if it's not one I agree with.



August 23rd, 2013 at 2:58 PM ^

If the band is more important than the opponent then how come I can get CMU or Appy State tickets so much cheaper and easier than OSU or ND tickets? Same band is at all those games.

If the band is more important than who wins why are the lines in the bathroom so long at half time? That's when the band is playing?  

Why are they even at a football game? Go to a band concert.

If a survey like this returns results that defy reason or observation, you should probably start questioning the survey.


August 23rd, 2013 at 7:02 PM ^

If the band is more important than the opponent then there shouldn't be such a huge swing of prices based on a lesser consideration. Once one of the games got too expensive, everyone would realize that they could see the band for much cheaper at a lower price and buy another game.

But that isn't what you see. What you see is everyone wants a few tickets and there are other games that no one wants.

I seriously cannot believe that people are actually arguing that the band is more important than the opponent or who wins. Maybe we can get Cook to UFR the band. Think how awesome that would be.


August 23rd, 2013 at 1:19 PM ^

If you're trying to get people to come out to the stadium to watch the games and spend their money, it's obvious that the band is a major contributor to the stadium-only experience.  You can't watch the band on TV.  I don't understand why Brandon would ever try to marginalize it the way he did; you would think that he would emphasize the band more, because the desire to stay at home and watch it on TV is only going to increase as TVs continue to get bigger and better.

The FannMan

August 23rd, 2013 at 12:35 PM ^

The queston may have asked about the game day "experience."  You still experinece a Michigan football Saturday win or lose.  However, that "experience" really suffers if there is no MMB.

If the question was "What is more imporant to not being completely pissed off for the rest of the weekend to the point where you mumble profanities like a crazy person?" then I think the final score beats the band - by a lot.


August 23rd, 2013 at 1:03 PM ^

the entrance of the band leading up to the entrance of the team raises a lot of dust in the stadium.

Also, remember - the survey was in 2000 - when Michigan was expected to win most games, well before we were rudely reminded we could loose even to an FBS school. If you did the same survey now, and the question was about not loosing embarassingly - that would probably be number one. (They probably didn't ask "not loosing annoyingly" or "beating OSU" back in 2000 either.)

The FannMan

August 23rd, 2013 at 12:31 PM ^

If there was a contest for the most arrogant, douchey thing ever said by an AD, that comment would win by a mile.  The implication that he owes the alumni and fans zero explanation for a mistake (especially after the "Band changed its mind" line was fisked) is pretty revealing.

 He got the big decision (Hoke) right.  He screwed up on the band thing, but fixed it.  Why can't he just own his mistake?  What is so damn hard about just saying, "You know, I really made a mistake on that one"? 


August 23rd, 2013 at 12:36 PM ^

He may be a good (bottom line) business person, but he most assuredely does not understand Branding, what that means for Michigan, and what makes the Michigan brand special. Over and over again we see that, this is just the most recent example. A strong brand is made up of intangibles, in fact a strong brand is an intangible concept, because it relies not just on the manufactured product, but on the emotional elements that are associated with that product. He has zero clue about this.


August 23rd, 2013 at 1:12 PM ^

When it comes to respecting Michigan tradition, it often seems like Dave Brandon's clear cutting the forest, not replanting any trees, and then claiming the only way we can keep this forest going is off the profits off all these dead trees.

The tradition and goodwill may run so deep that the well may not go dry in his lifetime, but Brandon fails to operate in a manner which aknowledges that the institution he leads is supposed to operate over several lifetimes.


August 23rd, 2013 at 2:01 PM ^

MMB and The Victors are a huge part of the brand that the University puts out into the world.  They are front and center from public service ads, to literature to prospective students, to mailings to alums and donors.  They are instantly recognizable and create huge goodwill for the school.  One has to believe that Brandon understands this because he does not hesitate to use the MMB's image/sound to market athletics. 

Der Alte

August 23rd, 2013 at 2:06 PM ^

Well now.

Here's a guy who made a whole lot of money selling pizzas. Given that most pizzas are pretty much alike (IMHO anyway), branding is probably the main way to sell more pizzas than the other guy.

Dave Brandon spent a career "branding" his pizzas. He knows more about branding than the rest of us put together. And yes, he crunched the numbers (or had someone crunch them for him) and decided that for the band to travel to Dallas wholly on his dime was not worth whatever extra sizzle the band would bring to that steak. And no, I don't believe either that his "nyet" was a clever ruse to get some high-rollers to pony up so that the band could make the trip.

But Dave really has nothing to apologize for. He's a careful steward of the department's bucks and will only part with them when he sees enough bang. Good for him.


August 23rd, 2013 at 2:17 PM ^

Here's the difference though. Dave Brandon spent his career "branding" shitty pizzas. In fact, as soon as he left the new ad campaign was "our pizzas were shit" (paraphrased)

That's great and all, but now Brandon is running the department of the Winningest Program in history. He's not selling the pizza equivalent of Budwiser, now he's in charge of Le Fin Du Monde. If he doesn't care about the band, or not having piped in music, or not having ads then he misses part of what makes Michigan different. Sure, we're arrogant, but dammit we're better. And when you're better you're different. We don't need to be Oregon when it comes to uniforms, we've got the best. We don't need to go to Jerry World, we've got the best stadium (which is very NOT corporate/sterile like Dallas was). Making us the best of everyone else makes us like everyone else. I think Brandon has done lots of good things and some bad ones but Michigan doesn't need a CEO. Michigan needs an Athletic Director.


August 23rd, 2013 at 2:27 PM ^

Given that the department is ostensibly non-profit, I would hope Dave Brandon would aspire to something larger than "carefully stewarding" higher revenues at all costs. I have however been repeatedly disappointed in this. The extent of his vision seems to be "make more money, don't ask why we need more money, shut up and give me your money because I know you're too loyal to leave no matter how much I degrade your experience"

Doc Brown

August 23rd, 2013 at 2:49 PM ^


When it came to hiring a new AD when Martin retired, I was foolish enough to believe than Brandon was my number one choice all the way. I felt Brandon's experience as a CEO of Dominos Pizza and as an alum of the Michigan football team would allow him to brand Michigan for the future. I honestly, believed he would respect tradition while having one eye out for the future. It was no shock to anyone that Bill Martin allowed public relations and branding slip. If anything Brandon is the polar opposite of Martin. Martin had a love of Michigan past that caused him to not look out for the future as other programs past us in their branding (IE night games, social media, and media outlet partnerships).  Brandon on the other hand refuses to acknowledge the past. When he does reference the past it is in a bastardized form to drum up revenue (uniformZ and Michigan Football Legends) or save a cheap dollar (refusing to send the band to Jerryworld). 


August 23rd, 2013 at 12:37 PM ^

Bacon hears the two viewpoints through his vested prism. Erring on the side of forward thinking and fiscal stewardship in this day and age is not bad and fan passion checks and balances duly noted produced healthy results less a favorable score.


August 23rd, 2013 at 12:43 PM ^

Anything to do with our current athletic director is always sure to bring out the torch and pitchfork crowd.  What this shows is that the alumni and the donors and the customers remain in charge guys, because the final analysis was that the band went.  Now, if you can get and rally the same people to change other things, I'll bet Dave will listen.  Apologies and explanations are way over rated, in the end, it is what he does or does not do that truly counts!

The FannMan

August 23rd, 2013 at 1:07 PM ^

I disagree for two main reasons  Frist, this isn't a corporation where all that matters is money.   Even though he is the AD, he still represents the University of Michigan which is, after all, a public institution.  His budget may be independent, but the Atheletic Department is part of the University.  It is not good enough to piss off a lot of people, send the band, float a line of BS and then give some quote about creating the future.  The University of Michigan sould expect better than that.

Second, the AD represents the Michigan athleic tradition.  In that way, he becomes part of the "brand."   In this case, he has made the brand appear arrogant, dishonest and incapable of admitting its mistakes.  That is not consistient with the classy image that Michigan wants to present.  The thing that I really can't get is that a brief acknowledgment of a mistake would have turned this issue into a big win for him.  He would have appeared responsive, understanding and humble.  I think everyone would have readily forgiven and we wouldn't still be talking about this.


August 23rd, 2013 at 1:30 PM ^

a simple "I'm sorry, I messed up and will try to not let it happen again in the future" would have looked much better...but in the world of CEO's, that kind of arrogance is almost expected...which leads me back to my post about him getting canned sooner or later