I’m sure most of you knew this long before I did. I sensed it, but it didn’t really hit me between the thighs until I was actually in New York last Saturday and waited impatiently to watch the Bears take on the Baby Bruins at 10:30 pm Eastern Standard time.
It was supposed to be a bonding time with my newly pregnant daughter, her husband (a former Bruin) and my wife. By the time the game came on, Cindy had taken a Cab back to bed, Casey was asleep between John and me on the couch, and John and I couldn’t yell at the TV for fear of waking up mama-to-be.
I always hated “Me-on” Deon Sanders—but he understood branding. He called himself “Prime Time.”
Alas, the powers that be at ESPN and the Pac 12 Network, have equated the Bears with Belushi, Ackroyd, and Rosanna Rosanna Danna. They’ve branded us “Not Ready for Prime Time Players.”
Ah. The world of unintended consequences.
You see, part of the deal with the Pac 12 Network contract is that though all schools are monetary winners (over 20 mil apiece), some get to make more money than others based on what hour of the day they play.
Kick off times have a direct effect on ticket sales and butts in the seats.
For over a hundred years the Cal—er Berkeley, fan base was made up mostly of families and Alumni. Loyally, they gathered on fall Saturdays to enjoy a day in the sun, collegiality, and maybe a beer or eight.
As proof, when daughter, Cody was only a week old she found herself sleeping in section CC, awakened only by the cannon when Cal scored. In those days she got a lot of sleep. But I digress.
Cal—er, Berkley built its brand on family entertainment. (In another life when we had a separate Women’s Athletic Department, I was tasked with coming up with an Ad Campaign for Women’s Athletics. We used illustrations which were bill-boarded around the Bay Area showing a mom and dad holding hands with three kids and the headline was “Take me out to a Bear Game.”)
The point was the level of competition of our Women’s Athletics program featured not only great athleticism, but a wonderful family experience as well.
Saturday afternoon football was the poster child for this concept.
Those days are gone. With tomorrow’s game at 7:30 pm (10:30 EST), next week at Washington at 7:30 (10:30 EST), and the opener against Northwestern also at 10:30 EST, the suits in the green room have tossed us with Perry Mason re-runs, Pat Sajak and Joan Rivers talk shows—in the trash heap of late night TV.
(On the positive side, for those high school athletes not out smoking their socks off on Saturday nights, 7:30 PST could be good for recruiting west coast players—which we like—a lot).
Each school is now treated like a television show—where ratings rule. And in College football (with few exceptions—see Notre Dame)—ratings are determined by won/loss records.
Thems’ the rules, folks. And they will always hurt schools like Cal—er Berkeley.
And it’s not our athletic department’s fault.
Actually, it’s nobody’s “fault” it’s the Faustian bargain that is made when one hops in the sack with TV “suits” who get paid to maximize profits—of which we do get our share.
But at what price?
If anyone thought there was pressure to produce a winning program before, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
As an old “Mad Man”—Creative Director at J. Walter Thompson in New York--(when people ask me if “Mad Men” is accurate—I was on Madison Ave. from 1972 to 1983, I always tell them that by the time I got there it was similar to the TV show, except there was a lot more drinking, smoking and sex—but again I digress)—I can assure you that when a Brand is destroyed, it is extremely difficult to bring it back.
Our TV contract, though providing Boo Koo Bucks today, is destroying the Cal brand for the average consumer, because it is not “Family friendly.”
If we win, everything said here is null and void.
But if we lose (as we have done for a fair amount since Joe Kapp took us to the Rose Bowl in 1959), then we are going to need those alumni families who come just for the TOTAL EXPERIENCE not just to see a W on Saturday.
As proof positive, I have 14 extra tics to this game (e-mail me if you want some) from friends from out of town who just can’t make it for two reasons: 1: The 7:30 start time is ridiculous (who wants to get home at one in the morning), and 2: since they don’t know what time it is going to start, they can’t plan their airplane flights or hotel rooms.
As a Cal fan, this comes under the 8th amendment regarding cruel and unusual punishment.
Are we sacrificing our Saturday afternoon family fan base to get late night TV bozos? Is this a good long term philosophy? Only time will tell.
So, re-read Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus. See if this pact with the Devil is exactly what you want and what you signed on for. If not, let your voice be heard.
Jeffrey Earl Warren ‘70