Building a Fanbase
Today's announcement, sent as an e-mail to football season ticket holders, that the school will offer tickets to the BYU game to season ticket holders for $20 apiece is one more disturbing piece of evidence that the team's fanbase, once huge, is withering. With the move to the ACC, excitement for BC football should be at an all-time high; yet the athletic department is practically giving away single-game tickets. The offering of Clemson tickets (albeit packaged with Buffalo tickets) to the general public, despite the department's knowledge that Tigers fans will be swarming Boston the weekend of the game, was bad enough; the (obviously false) claim of a 90% season ticket renewal rate was bad enough. Yet now, by offering tickets to the BYU game--the 4th most attractive ticket of 7 home games--at such a steep discount, as well as offering tickets to the ACC home games (sans Clemson) for $25 apiece, the administration has not only severely insulted its most loyal fans but also raised a huge crisis flag above the Conte Forum ticket office. One poster on the EagleAction message board quipped that he could've spent less money by simply waiting to buy single-game tickets rather than a season ticket; a quick crunch of the numbers reveals that while this is not quite true, buying an "ACC mini-pack" (VT, Maryland, Duke) plus the cheapest single-game tickets available to each of the other contests brings you to a total of $190--a figure that includes a premium lower-level sideline seat for the Clemson game and lower-level end zone seating for Maine. I paid $189 for my season ticket in section LL (upper-level end zone).
The root of the problem is that GDF wants the kind of ticket revenue brought in by the Tennessees and Ohio States of the world, without doing the nuts and bolts work to build up a fan base large enough and committed enough to support that kind of revenue. The athletic department tries to bridge the gap by jacking up ticket prices, instituting donor-based seating systems for basketball this year and football next year (can hockey be far behind??), and requiring that fans take out a second mortgage if they wish to partake in the school's prime on-campus tailgating location. What GDF and his cronies do not realize is that this is counter-productive. BC's football policies have driven the situation to the point where the team's fanbase (aside from students) is comprised virtually entirely of alums living in the Boston area and their families. Few alums from outside the area return to campus to take in a game more than maybe once a year, and virtually none of the team's fans are simply folks who may not have gone to BC, but grew up in the Boston area and have always been fans. As a result, the fanbase dwindles.
The thing is that it doesn't have to be this way. While BC, as a private Catholic school located in a pro sports town, is likely never going to be able to pack 100,000 screaming fans into Alumni for every game, it can nonetheless do better than it does now. It was just 21 years ago that 25,000 BC fans, in the largest single airlift ever out of Boston, followed their team to Dallas to see the Flutie-led Eagles defeat the University of Houston in the Cotton Bowl. BC can return to those days, and when it does GDF will get the ticket revenue he craves; but what our athletic director needs to realize is that you cannot exploit a fanbase that barely exists.
BC's football team is among the best in the country. While I am not a TOB fan, I will be the first to acknowledge that he has done a very respectable job in turning the team into a perennial Top 25 squad. But BC's football program still has quite a ways to go. That said, BC should follow a three-pronged strategy in developing its football program to the point where it can compete with the NCAA's elites: Reach Out, Advertise, and Excite.
1. Reach Out
Boston College is New England's college football team--whether New England likes it or not. BC needs to reach out to college football fans in the Boston area and turn them into BC fans. The trick is to get 'em young. For many decades BC was able to build up a large following by playing themselves off as a cheap and convenient alternative to heading to Foxboro for a Patriots game. The days of DBS, mandatory several-thousand-dollar donations to tailgate on Shea, and the general air of exclusivity surrounding BC's football program have made this a thing of the past. A BC game should be a mecca for New England's college football fans; the school should play itself up as New England's team. This means reaching out to high schools and Catholic parishes in the area; it may mean selling package day trips to bus people in from Providence, Manchester, Portland, Springfield, and other New England cities who lack their own college football teams. Ideally, a kid growing up in Boston would follow the Eagles as his college football team just as naturally as he follows the Red Sox and the Patriots. Obviously, the core of the BC fanbase will always be the school's students and alums and their families, but if the program ever wishes to become a behemoth like many of its ACC rivals, it is absolutely neccesary to bring non-alums into the fold as well. The best way to do this is to hook them young, but in the meantime, you can get a quick fix by lowering ticket prices. BC's hoops team has attracted much attention in Boston sports circles in the last few years and the hockey program (admittedly a traditional national powerhouse) has always had its share of followers; there is no reason the football team cannot do the same.
Many had hoped that, with the Red Sox-owned Fenway Marketing Group taking over BC's sports marketing 2 years ago, that the Boston metropolitan area would be plastered with promotions for BC athletics. Sadly, that has not been the case. The fact is that BC does little or nothing to sell its product, and this lack of effort shows in the ticket sales. The team should be advertising at Boston pro sporting events, local high school games, minor league baseball games, etc. Get creative. Another aspect related to this is media coverage. Of Boston's two major dailies, the Herald generally has very good (if not superb) coverage of BC football, yet the Globe's coverage (or lack thereof) is a disgrace. Whatever the reasons for this (some have attributed it to a political bias against the Catholic Church, others to the fact that the Globe is owned by the New York Times, a paper with strong ties to the Big East), BC fans need to lean on the paper to provide better coverage of the Eagles. This is one area where the administration can really do little; we as fans need to take charge here. The fact that the Atlanta Journal Constitution and Charlotte News & Observer provide more in-depth coverage of BC sports (football and basketball anyway) than the Globe does is sickening. There is a silver lining to this cloud, however--the Times recently named a BC grad, Robert P. Kempf, as Vice President of content for Boston.com, the Globe's Internet site.
The first step towards building a fan base is to draw the people in in the first place. But no matter how many people you draw in, they won't stick around if you don't make it worth their while. Boring programs do not build huge fanbases. Ridiculous tailgating regulations do not excite people; BC has enough financial and political power and enough pull in the local community that it can, if it wants to, ensure all-day tailgating on gamedays, and it needs to do so (having RVs pull into campus on Wednesday afternoons would be nice but I'll take tailgating from sun-up to sun-down on Saturdays). The acquisition of the Seminary land, much of which will go towards parking (and towards a new baseball facility which will allow greater flexibility with Shea Field) will help with this. Contentment with on-the-field mediocrity does not excite people; this team has the talent and plays a reasonable enough schedule that it should not settle for anything less than 10-win seasons and annually finishing in the top 2 of the Atlantic Division, with regular (if not neccesarily annual) trips to the ACC title game and BCS bowls; if the current coaching staff cannot accomplish this, then they need to go. Horrible out-of-conference opponents do not excite people; BYU is a decent squad, but Maine and Buffalo are absolutely nothing. One home OOC cupcake game per year is acceptable, but any more than that is not. If Notre Dame is too scared to play us then playing Syracuse on an annual basis is fine, but do not attempt to pass them off as a "marquee" OOC opponent (barring a return to the McNabb era for the Orange, anyway). Once the series with the Domers ends, it is vital to get a Texas or an Auburn or a USC (that's Southern California, not South Carolina--although the Gamecocks would still be a better matchup than anyone on this year's OOC slate) on the schedule, particularly in years when we do not face Miami in conference play. Yes, I'm demanding both improved results AND a tougher schedule. BC's motto is "Ever to Excel", right?? Boring, overly-conservative playcalling does not excite people; stop throwing wideout screens 10 times a game, start installing nickel and dime packages, start actually blitzing some LBs and DBs, maybe install Buddy Ryan's 46 defense (Jamie Silva is an ideal fit for this), stop fucking punting on 4th-and-inches from the opponent's 42 yard line as Tom O'Brien is so often wont to do.
You get my point. Create a buzz, make BC football fun again. Give the program some swagger. It can be done but it will take a radical re-thinking of the current state of things at Yawkey. Floating along, happy with 7- and 8-win seasons and meaningless bowl victories over mediocre opponents won't do it. It's time to roll the dice and see what comes up. As a relatively short-time fan of BC I'm still on my honeymoon period with the program but one of the major complaints I hear from older fans is that being a BC fan simply isn't fun anymore. Something's wrong with this picture, GDF. Change it.
Some nice press for BC today. The Providence Journal has a very nice piece on Silva. I've had a self-admitted man crush on Brian Toal for the past few years but despite this I may be even more excited to see Silva play on Thursday night than even #16.
Herald has an article on the numerous freshman on this year's two-deep, focusing especially on long-snapper Jack Geiser. Also a fairly humorous piece on the big boys of BC's D-Line, Ron Brace and B.J. Raji. The Globe even got into the act, for once, with articles on Kevin Sheridan, L.V. Whitworth, and Geiser.
In an interview with EagleAction, former BC, Seattle Seahawks, and Washington Redskins linebacker Peter Cronan has outlined his goals for the program this season (subscription required):
If this Boston College team doesn't win 10 games it won't be a good season. That's the feeling I get in listening to the fan base. The only two teams on their schedule that they don't match up well with are Florida State and Miami, and I have to think these kids learned something against Florida State a year ago. Virginia Tech is a tough opponent but having them play up here this year is an advantage. I know BC now has the attitude that they can be competitive in the ACC and that they can match up with anybody, and that has created high expectations. Let's see if this is the year those high expectations can be met. I really believe 10 wins is a reasonable goal, and we'll find out soon enough starting on Thursday night.Excellent words. 7-8 wins really isn't good enough for BC anymore; and to be honest, 9 isn't either, at least not on a regular basis. I should say that when I expect 10 wins that means 10 regular season wins, and from the context of Cronan's article it would seem that he agrees with me.
Anyone remember that old Staples ad for back-to-school shopping with "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year" (the Christmas carol) playing, kids moping around, and the parents dancing up and down the aisles?? I used to hate it growing up because it was always just rubbing in the fact that summer was about over but I would love to see it again. Except instead of running around grabbing school supplies I'd have the dad grabbing football preview magazines off the shelves, making ludicrous claims about his team's coming successes, planning trips to remote locales to see his team play. Now THAT'S a fucking commercial I'd watch.
41 hours baby.