College football attendance is at its lowest point in 22 years, and a 34-year-old Virginia Tech administrator has an idea how to goose it.
Yes, KISS, the face-painted classic rock band that is on yet another farewell tour fronted by 69-year-old lead singer Gene Simmons.
Brad Wurthman went to his first KISS show at age 11. He was hooked by the music, the pyrotechnics, and — lately as VT’s senior associate athletic director for external relations — the entire presentation.
“I joke with people, ‘This is how I got into the marketing side,'” Wurthman said. “I wasn’t an athlete. For me, at least, the fundamental [way] how you run an event is the way KISS runs a show.”
Wurthman went to describe the anticipation built by the band’s introduction hype video on the jumbotron — KISS walking from dressing room to stage — and the same old songs that are the foundation of classic rock radio.
Yeah, they rock the house. They could also lead a morning athletic department staff meeting.
“It is,” Wurthman concluded, “quintessential sports marketing.”
That’s not even the saddest thing about Dennis Dodd’s article. Sadder is that there isn’t a single mention, even a half-hearted one, about upgrading scheduling to attract and retain fans.
The saddest thing of all, though, is the air of resignation.
“The reality is that the national attendance numbers are going to continue to go down,” Bulls AD Mike Kelly said, “mainly due to the comparative social and leisure experiences that can now be had outside the football stadium even if those experiences still center around the game itself.”
The issue doesn’t end with students.
“We’re competing more than ever before against the television product we helped create,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said. “There’s no line at the restroom, the beer is always cold [at home]. You don’t have to invest 8 hours going to the stadium. There’s no parking fees. You don’t have to pay seat license, and on your 70-inch TV it’s a pretty good viewing experience.”
That’s the sound of a man who knows Mickey’s footing the bills now. And that’s why this is the future of live attendance:
Another is stadium renovation. There is a push to build smaller stadiums in order to create a premium — higher demand — ticket.
That explains USC, which fell off in attendance by more than 17,000 in 2018. The school is in the middle of a renovation that drops capacity from 93,000 to 77,500.
It’s easier to be fan friendly when there are less fans to be friendly with.
Here’s your clueless epitaph, college football game day experience.
“When you look at the work we put in, it’s remarkable to me how slow our industry is to put change on the overall game day experience,” Martin said.
The work they put in… jeebus.
“[Professional sports] just had the changeover sooner than we did,” Wurthman said. “We lost sight of the fact it’s supposed to be a sense of camaraderie. Saturdays are supposed to be an escape.”
One of Wurthman’s great regrets is that his 17-month-old son won’t get to experience how it all started for him.
KISS — it’s hard to rock n’ roll all night, never mind party every day — has a retirement looming.
“As a band, they had it figured out,” he said. “It wasn’t about selling records. It was after the show they sold records [because of the audience experience].
“We try to sell records first.”
Like I said, just shoot me now.