The Selling of ASU Football

No matter what happens on the field, ASU athletics hits pay dirt every game--with a nonstop stream of advertisements

Ten seconds to kickoff.
Cut back to the Scorpions. The head-banging music continues until the instant Washington's kicker boots the ball into the air.

As the ball sails toward the north end zone, some 30 Enterprise Rent-A-Car executives and their guests watch from the comfort of their VIP loge seats. The suite seats are part of a three-year, $760,000 advertising package Enterprise signed in 1997 with the ASU athletic department.

That might sound like a lot of money, but Enterprise only forks over $2,500 a year in cash, for a scholarship fund. The balance comes in trade. Enterprise provides at least 15 new Chevy Luminas for year-round use to selected ASU coaches and administrators.

In exchange for the scholarship money and cars, Enterprise is listed as sponsor of every kickoff at Sun Devil Stadium, and every men's basketball tip-off at the University Activity Center. Estimated value for the year: $20,000.

But that's just the start. Enterprise also gets one panel on a three-way, rotating sign on the stadium's southeast corner scoreboard. Value: $80,000 a year. Kick in two more 30-second public-address announcements during all ASU home football and men's basketball games valued at $24,500. Enterprise also gets two 15-second commercials with audio and video during each football game, worth $12,000.

The list of perks ASU grants Enterprise fills more than three pages of its advertising contract. There are trips to road games, banquet-hopping with ASU athletic director Kevin White and the "opportunity" to mail Enterprise promotional materials to Sun Devil season-ticket holders (a benefit with a listed value of $10,000).

All this for 15 vehicles and a scholarship that barely covers a semester of in-state tuition.

Enterprise's is the first of a wave of ads that pummels fans during play stoppages and even between plays.

While many spectators have a difficult time recalling the sponsors of the ads, there is no doubt that the audio and video blasts dampen the live experience.

"Quite frankly, the thing I notice most about it is it interferes," Harold Rowland says during halftime. A 10-year season-ticket holder from Phoenix, Rowland says he's disgusted with the promotions.

"It used to be that they would play 'Charge' over the PA system. Now all you hear are commercials. I don't need commercials."

Doug Calcaterra, another season-ticket holder, says the blitzkrieg of advertising noise is unlike any he's experienced in other stadiums.

"It keeps me away from the game. The marketing atmosphere as a whole just makes it feel like they are shoving it down our throats," Calcaterra says. "I have never been to a stadium that made me feel like that before.

"I've been to a lot of games in my life. I love ASU games, and I have had season tickets for years. But it is just very loud and annoying. I understand they have to market it. But there's a better way of doing it without taking away from the atmosphere."

Three minutes into the game, ASU scores on its first possession to take a 7-0 lead. The audio pitches are silenced as the crowd erupts for a prolonged celebration that stretches all the way through the ensuing kickoff.

The stadium throbs with football passion. A full moon beams through threatening clouds. The band plays flourishes. The crowd counts as Sparky, ASU's mascot, reels off seven pushups in front of the student section.

The fans are ready to fulfill their role as the "12th man" on the field during ASU's first defensive series--a crucial time when the fans can generate so much noise that they rattle the opposing quarterback and disrupt the offense. This 12th-man effect is no myth. Sun Devils fans have been known to unnerve the opposing offense with a unified roar that can be heard a mile away. Two years ago, Southern California and Nebraska unraveled under the relentless racket.

But not this night.
During Washington's opening possession, it isn't the rumble of the crowd that sets the tone, but a string of audio ads--most coming between plays--hawking products for Subway, Cellular One, Circle K, Samurai Sam's and U S West.

The U S West ad comes just before a critical third-and-10 play that Washington converts for a first down, moving the ball to the ASU five. Washington scores moments later to tie the game.

The touchdown triggers another spate of audio ads. The ASU band is drowned out by pitches for Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream, Circle K/Little Devil Endzone, Hancock Homes and a ticket promotion.

The crowd is subdued seconds before kickoff.
This pattern recurs many times during the next three hours. Fans rev up and momentum builds toward that rare moment of spontaneous frenzy--when traditions are born and memories forged--only to be derailed by an amplified voice.

The audio ads rain down, pimping Fox Sports Arizona, JC Penney, DiGiorno Pizza, Cox Communications (video and audio), Oscar Breadsticks, Fox Sports (again), Wells Fargo, Monti's La Casa Vieja (video and audio), Circle K/Little Devil Endzone (again), Arizona Public Service Company, Champion, Creative Communications, Met-Rx, Arizona Dodge Dealers, P.F. Chang's China Bistro, Dircks Moving, ASU's Web site, Wells Fargo (again), and America West Airlines.

Finally, halftime arrives, providing ASU with another, more controlled marketing opportunity--a dinner giveaway from P.F. Chang's and a football throwing contest, sponsored by Dodge dealers, that features an ASU student and a season-ticket holder.

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