I ate seven hot dogs last night. Seven medium sized hot dogs, most with varying degrees of mustard and ketchup. And a big soft pretzel, and most of a lemonade smoothie that my girlfriend didn't want. And a beer.
But the seven hot dogs are what's going to remain in both my memory and my colon for weeks to come, because for the foreseeable future I will remember that on June 30th, 2014, the Columbus Clippers had Dime A Dog Night, where the Q-grade meat loving citizenry of Columbus, Ohio turned out in force on a beautiful night to eat something like forty thousand hot dogs.
Look, I'm not proud of eating seven hot dogs. That's a decent amount of hot dogs, but I'm not Joey Chestnut. I'm just sitting here on my couch, hoping that in the next several hours that whole night doesn't backfire on me in a very literal way. A logical person might look at my gastronomic adventure and ask why. But I know why. It's because there were hot dogs. And they were being sold for ten cents.
Doesn't matter what sport it was, what the weather was like, who was playing, or any other factor that goes into determining whether or not you want to attend a game of any sport. Last night, I was at Huntington Park, watching the Clippers play Louisville. Because there were hot dogs.
And they were being sold for ten cents.
During the game I had a conversation with my girlfriend about this topic: let's say that you were the public relations idea man for a small market sports team, especially one like a minor league baseball team that might struggle to put fans in the seats. Figuring out how to actually do just that might be, in my estimation, one of the more interesting marketing jobs in the country, and sounds like a hell of a lot of fun.
Goofy hat night, free t-shirts, anthromorphic food races, videos of a monkey doing something that a human would but cuter because it's a monkey, coupons for 25 cents off spark plug purchases, I absolutely love what small market teams do to get the public to their games.
But for whatever reason, Ohio State football is largely above that. It shouldn't be.
Especially since many other (less popular) Ohio State varsity sports do the same kind of things! Men's hockey gives away cowbells and has a Ladies' Night. Baseball has an Easter egg hunt. Women's lacrosse allows kids 8th grade and younger to do exercises with the team. Many others have giveaways, t-shirt tosses, and tons more.
They do those things largely to attract more of an audience, a problem that Ohio State football doesn't have, at least yet. College football as a whole has seen attendance decline, and while OSU hasn't felt the sting of that yet, it might soon. Even as Ohio Stadium undergoes an expansion this summer, Gene Smith and company also shouldn't forget that attendance numbers for the first three games of the season were less than impressive, at least by Ohio State standards. Florida A&M drew a stated 103,595 fans, still a ridiculous number, but a similar blowout against a horrible opponent in Eastern Michigan during the 2010 season had over 105,000 fans on hand.
In fact, if you look at the three "non-marquee" cupcake games, Ohio Stadium attendance has been dropping since 2010. 2012 was the first time since 2008 that Ohio Stadium saw less than an average of 105,000 fans for those type of games (and most of that was due to a truly awful Troy game that few went to or remember).
Last season the average attendance for those three "gimmie games" was 104,186.
That will continue to project downward, until Ohio State starts making fan interaction and engagement more of a priority, which they claim they they are going for:
“We’re looking at technology overall,” said Smith, who chairs the subcommittee. “We’re encouraging schools to get Wi-Fi if they don’t have it, so their fans can have access to that second screen.”
Smith said that this season leading up to kickoff, Ohio State will begin showing live shots on its video board of the Buckeyes prepping for the game in the locker room. It also will be airing behind-the-scenes footage of the players, such as team meetings at the hotel on Friday nights.
“Things you won’t be able to see at home,” Smith said.
Smith has been intrigued by the possibility of implementing a college version of NFL Red Zone, giving Ohio State fans the ability to watch key plays from around the Big Ten or even the country while waiting for the Buckeyes' game to start.
“The NFL shows Red Zone on its video boards,” Smith said, “and we’ve been thinking about how we could do something of that nature.
So that's a good start, but it's not enough. The wi-fi, for instance, is a complete no-brainer that should've been instituted a long time ago, as is giving fans a greater ability to watch video on their own. Still, while that technology is great, it won't make fans feel wanted.
So I go back to minor league baseball. Special offers for groups of people, like parents and their kids, might be a good idea. Handouts like rally towels or shirts, which almost never happen en masse at Ohio Stadium, could possibly be done once a year. A chance for greater interaction with the marching band before or after games. An actual concourse that might include a museum or other gardens, monuments, and attractions that remind people of why they're there.
No one is saying that Urban Meyer needs to dress in a chicken suit for a game, but all of these suggestions boil down to one thing: incentivizing coming to watch the Buckeyes play.
With that said, I recognize that a lot of what prevents more extensive fan interaction are logistical concerns. You can't exactly regulate, for example, a children's-only Punt, Pass, and Kick competition on the field after a game without some serious planning in place to ensure that 100,000 people don't turn up and make it a Party, Puke, and get Knocked out competition.
But what you can do as an organization is to give fans reasons to keep coming back to Ohio Stadium that don't just involve what is an almost biological urge at a genetic level among Ohio citizens to watch Buckeye football.
The truth is that right now Ohio State football views itself as the commodity that is to be cherished and taken care of, lest it go away. You, the money paying fan, are only at a Buckeye football game thanks to the great benevolence of the Ohio State Athletic Department, not because you toiled and worked and scrimped and saved up the literally hundreds of dollars that it takes to take a family of four to a game and sit in even the lowliest of seats. You, the money paying fan, are as disposable as the next fifty money paying fans who are waiting in line to take your tickets. You, the money paying fan, should be eternally grateful that the university would even deign to allow you to gaze upon the glorious visage of Ohio Stadium.
If Ohio State football (and by extension every other varsity sport that OSU offers) wants to remain strong and survive well into the future, they need to have the same mentality of a Single-A baseball club playing ball somewhere in the asscrack of Americana; that is to say that fans, alumni, and the greater Columbus community owe you nothing, and every year has to be seen as a new opportunity to prove how awesome Ohio State football really is.
Somewhere someone once said that you win with people. On the face of that's a pretty trite and obvious quip, but as a mission statement it means a whole hell of a lot. If Ohio State football wants to maintain the lead that it currently enjoys in terms of sporting goodwill in the state of Ohio, it needs to start doing more to continue winning with the people, the fans, that allow it to have success.