Friday, July 1, 2011

Any Given Saturday

Alexander Road, which connects Princeton to Route 1, was closed for the last few weeks, leading to massive traffic all around town.

Getting to Route 1 now meant mostly having to go down Washington Road, which was backed up to Faculty Road every minute of every day, as were the Princeton Pike and Route 206. The first few days were the worst, before everyone finally figured out a preferred alternate route.

Yesterday was the big re-opening for Alexander, and TigerBlog made his first drive along the newly renovated road expecting to find that the bridge had been straightened or something. Instead, it appears that the road is a bit wider, perhaps, and that's about it.

Later in the afternoon, TigerBlog was talking to a Penn State alum who was saying how much he likes to go back to his alma mater.

TB remarked that he'd been to the campus a few times, for lacrosse and basketball, and he wondered what in the world the traffic must be like for days when more than 100,000 people show up for football.

After all, it appears that there is one road in and one road out of State College. In TB's mind, it's the Alexander Road situation taken to a much higher degree.

The alum said that the Penn State people are used to it and that most of them come back the day before or simply tough it out.

TigerBlog has never been to a football game at Penn State, or any other BCS conference school other than Rutgers.

He's been to basketball games at any number of schools who play in the power conferences, and he's sat in most of the top arenas in Division I.

When it comes to big-time FBS football, nope. TB has never seen a game in person.

He once read a book called "Big 10 Saturdays," in which the author spent a week at each Big 10 school and detailed what it was like for the days leading up to the game and the hours immediately following it. The book wasn't about football per se; it was about the flavor of the game as an event, complete with local traditions, places to eat, etc.

It must be wild to be part of a regular-season football Saturday for a game on that level, where the event transcends anything else in American sporting culture.

And TB isn't talking about going to see, say, Auburn-Alabama or Notre Dame-USC or something like that. He's talking about any random game, like South Carolina at Mississippi or Baylor at Texas A&M, on an early Saturday in October.

What TigerBlog has seen is Ivy League football, probably more than 150 games worth. He's been to every campus numerous times, with of course more than half the games at Princeton.

The contrast between what TB sees in person and what he sees when he watches college games on television is rather obvious.

Rather than drawing full houses of 50, 60, 70, 80,000 or more, Ivy League football plays to smaller crowds in smaller stadiums. The fan bases aren't as large or rabid, and the money being generated from the games isn't, uh, corrupting.

It makes it more of a challenge for those who market the games, as rather than printing tickets and having them all accounted for for years down the line, there is a real effort to maximize attendance.

Still, there is something very appreciable about Ivy League football.

On the field, every week offers multiple rivalries that date back three centuries, and even teams that have fallen out of the league race can look forward to playing a long-time opponent. The league, top to bottom, is very competitive.

Off the field, the dynamics of the crowd are different. Instead of being dominated by male alums ages 25-50, the average crowd for Princeton football is more heavily weighted to local families with kids and alums who are slightly older.

For Princeton, the challenge is to provide the best possible experience for fans, so they'll want to come back again And to use football as a vehicle to introduce these fans to the rest of the athletic offerings at Princeton.

For those who work in Princeton Athletics and who have been there for years, it's hard to get a real fresh feel on the experience and what is appealing to the new fan and what isn't. The quest for feedback is never-ending, as beyond that, what's left is what Princeton has done for years - making its best guess.

As of today, practice for the 2011 season starts next month. It's a rather unique schedule this season, with three straight home games and then only two more home games over the final seven weeks.

As usual, Princeton will be trying to make decisions and reach conclusions about its marketing efforts for football and beyond. As usual, there will be too many variables to make any hard-fast analysis.

Other than this one: TigerBlog is pretty sure that going to a Princeton football game is fun.

And now that Alexander Road is reopened, traffic flow won't spoil that.

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