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The SEC's streak of seven straight national championships has "coincided with sagging attendance," and the conference has responded by forming an "eight-person working group on fan experience to conduct market research on campuses this fall," according to Edgar Thompson of the ORLANDO SENTINEL. The conference needs to "find ways to fill some of the game's largest, most-celebrated stadiums." But college football "remains king in the SEC," which has "weathered the dropoff better than others." The conference last year "led the nation in attendance for the 15th straight year" with an average of 75,538, but that was down from the '08 peak of 76,844. Nine of 14 SEC schools last year "drew fewer fans" than in '11. Ole Miss AD Ross Bjork said, "It's easy to sit on that couch and watch a 70-inch or 80-inch, high-def television. ... TV is important, that obviously pays a lot of our bills, but we have to make sure we have the best atmospheres on campus because that is our livelihoods in many ways." Florida Exec Associate AD/External Affairs Mike Hill said that a focus group at the school revealed the "spotty Internet connectivity" as the top reason students leave games. He added that some schools throughout the nation "have installed WiFi or DAS (distributing antenna signal) with mixed results." But Thompson wrote a "modernized gameday experience still might not stem dwindling ticket sales." Mississippi State AD Scott Stricklin said, "The tailgating, the energy in a stadium ... you can't recreate that at home on your couch. Our TV partners do a great job of showing it, but it's not the same as being there" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 7/30). SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL's Michael Smith recently examined the SEC's efforts to improve fan experience at its football stadiums.
American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco "wants everyone to know his league has the resources and the will to be included with the top college football conferences in the country," according to Ralph Russo of the AP. Aresco yesterday opened the conference's first football media day "by touting its accomplishments and making the case that the American is not so dissimilar" to the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC. He said, "Whatever the highest level of Division I is in the future, we expect to be part of it." Aresco added that he and his members "share many of the concerns of the big five conferences" (AP, 7/30). In Providence, Kevin McNamara writes what Aresco "doesn't want to see ... are changes to the NCAA basketball tournament." The AAC "currently has the NCAA basketball champ" in both men's and women's hoops. Aresco: "I like the basketball tournament the way it is. We have a wonderful gem that needs to be protected. The fact that you have teams from all conferences qualifying means you have all parts of the country involved and any change in that would change the tournament fundamentally" (PROVIDENCE JOURNAL, 7/31).
THE SCARLET LETTER? In Newark, Tom Luicci writes there is a "sense of detachment between Rutgers and the AAC." The school and the conference remain "in court trying to resolve" Rutgers' exit fee. Any signs of Rutgers' previous association with the Big East "have been erased as well." The AAC has "decided not to accept the old Big East statistical records, meaning the conference will start with a clean slate from that standpoint." Rutgers AD Julie Hermann has "offered an olive branch of sorts by reversing a decision by her predecessor, Tim Pernetti, and allowing the AAC logo [to] appear on Rutgers' athletic facilities, including the football field, for this season" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 7/31).
HOME SWEET HOME: The PROVIDENCE JOURNAL's McNamara notes the AAC’s offices remain in Providence as a "long-term lease is in place on beautiful office space and there are no plans to move elsewhere." Aresco said, "The office still being here is a source of pride for our employees and the community, I think. But I think the people in Rhode Island, like people everywhere, will care about our conference because we intend to be a player on the national stage" (PROVIDENCE JOURNAL, 7/31).
Single-game tickets for two Northwestern Univ. football games this fall will "be sold using the school's 'purple pricing' system," according to Danny Ecker of CRAIN'S CHICAGO BUSINESS. The concept, "similar to the Orbitz price guarantee model," will apply to "just less than 5,000 tickets each" for NU's Oct. 5 Big Ten home opener against Ohio State and Nov. 16 against Michigan. Tickets along the sideline "will go on sale Aug. 1 for a price the school sets." They will start on the "higher end of what NU thinks fans might pay -- and buying a ticket will give you the right to choose whatever seat you want in a given section." As gamedays approach, the school will "lower the price of the seats based on demand and what they are selling for on the secondary market." The tickets can "only come down in price." Once all tickets in a given section are "sold out or the game days arrive, everybody who bought a ticket pays the lowest price paid." Ecker: "In other words, if you bought a ticket for $250 and someone else bought the cheapest similar ticket for $200, the school sends you a $50 rebate." NU Deputy AD/External Affairs Mike Polisky said that football tickets have been "hot sellers heading into a highly anticipated season, with the school on track to reach its highest number of season ticket holders ever." NU also may "try to leverage the high-demand games into more season-ticket holders" (CHICAGOBUSINESS.com, 7/29).