Wednesday, July 31, 2013

July 31, 2013
A couple of weeks ago, I did a piece about losing momentum with the marketing of Oregon football. I really liked the piece and thought I would reprise the piece here.

The thing that brings this to mind is capitalizing on the opening of the new Operations Center. The Oregon athletic department has been spoiled by the demand for football tickets over the past decade. There was a waiting list of people looking to buy in... with the rising prices over the last few years, though, that waiting list has eroded to all but nothing.

We saw last year how difficult it was to sell out less than marquee games. I place the lame for that squarely on the shoulders of an Athletic Department that once had the balls to put up a billboard in Times Square.

They seem to have accepted that winning will take care of fans in the stands; but it doesn't always work that way.

Without further adieu, here is the article from a couple of weeks ago:
A couple of weeks ago, the University of Oregon lost the matriarch of a family that literally defines the program with the passing of Elfriede Prefontaine. Few Oregon fans think about Elfriede as they review the legend of her son in their minds. She played no real part in either of the major motion pictures about Prefontaine's life; but make no mistake, without Elfriede, there would be no "Pre" legends.

It is believed that Prefontaine's attitude towards track and life are a direct reflection of Elfriede. Of course, as any man knows, the lessons from the mother are often subtle, but in some cases, such as this, they become a direct reflection of the matriarch.

Prefontaine's most famous saying is a direct reflection of Elfriede's toughness. "To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift." This saying attributed to Prefontaine explains his approach to every race.. IT was never about a "time" and always about winning; giving every race your best.

Let me say that Prefontaine was different in just about every sense of the word. A former team mate of his at Oregon told me once about Prefontaine's approach to one particularly grueling workout. To lighten the mood, Pre stripped down; ran naked, but he still ran every workout to win the workout. There was never a reason for not giving everything to the moment at hand.

Prefontaine was also very intelligent in an understated way. The saying he made famous is a derivative of the words of Aristotle. In <i>Nicomachean Ethics</i>, Aristotle  says that each human being should use his abilities to their fullest potential. This seems mightly reminiscent of Prefontaine's quote. Aristotle contends that human achievement requires a certain purpose and autonomy. In the view of Aristotle, people should take pride in being excellent at whatever they do in life. This is a statement that to not fulfill your full potential shows a lack of character; a lack of virtue.

Re-read Prefontaine's quote and you can see that it is a restatement of Aristotle's view on potential.

For the Oregon athletic department, the question is, are they sacrificing the gift?

The University of Oregon has been incredibly lucky over the last few decades to have incredible support from a number of very well known benefactors as well as the lesser known boosters who have become the backbone of a now elite program.

But there is a disconnect that threatens to tear down the very foundation that has been built. Right now, the athletic department looks almost complacent in the success that has been achieved.

No one denies that Oregon athletics are in a "golden age" of success. What happens when that success wanes just a bit? What happens when the football team has back-to-back 8-4 seasons? The athletic department has raised prices out of necessity, but they have begun to price out the backbone of the program and that is a dangerous problem for the long-term health of the program. No one can count on contending for a national championship every season; there will be "down seasons" at some point.

In the SEC, where football is a way of life, there are waiting lists to get season tickets for the elite teams. The Pac-12 has always struggled with the notion that there are plenty of other options. People in Oregon have so many other things to do with their money and time; hunting, fishing, camping, hiking. You name it and there are Oregon football fans that will replace their time and money on Saturday afternoons with those activities. When the team goes 4-7 as Tennessee did last season, will Autzen still pack in 60,000 for every game? Or will fans take their $600 plus for season tickets and use it for other activities?

This is where the athletic department is failing fans of Oregon. To stay with the truly nationally elite programs and ride out the leaner seasons that do not end in BCS Bowls (or playoffs beginning next year), the fan base has to feel more passionate about attendance; it has to become their priority. In a state that offers so many wonderful opportunities to enjoy nature, people need to feel that Saturday at Autzen is more important than elk hunting.

Oregon fans are notoriously passionate on Saturdays at Autzen. Slowly but surely, though, some of those most ardent fans have left the building to watch from the comfort of their seats at home. This comes from the complacence of unprecedented success. That will change; will those lost fans come back when the team falters?

The athletic department has rested in their laurels, to some extent, over the last several years. Where's the hype? Where is the excitement surrounding the beginning of the season? It has been gone for quite some time. The funny part is, with the closing of practices, the athletic department had an amazing opportunity to capitalize on the lack of information through hype building, but chose to "let the product speak for itself." That is fine when the team is ranked in the to five and a national title contender, but it does not work for a team that goes 8-4.

The athletic department owes it to the program and its fans to begin generating excitement around the program. Yes, the non-conference schedule last season left something to be desired, but the professionals that are supposed to market the team spent more time apologizing for the weak schedule than pointing out the exceptional opportunity the softer schedule presented for those who normally do not come to a game, but have been wanting to do so for quite some time.

In the Portland area, listening to common radio, I rarely hear about anything related to Oregon athletics. There is no television advertising, no radio, no billboards. Nothing here suggests that there is an elite football team less than two hours away. There is no hype surrounding anything about the football team.

Covering this through traditional media does little good. Sports writers, news broadcasters and radio hosts have to cover multiple programs and tend to give a bland approach to stories surrounding the team.

Games against teams like Nicholls State are a great opportunity to get non-traditional fans into the stands. At these opportunities, Oregon has repeatedly missed the mark.

Bland stories about players being named to awards watch lists do not create the kind of hype that makes a ticket to a football game have meaningful value to a fan. It's time for the athletic department to make Oregon fans have the kind of passion to "be there" that fans of other elite programs have on Saturdays. 

If they don't, they are sacrificing the gift for all fans.


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