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

"I think it is really disruptive and says better than anything else the spectacle sports has become," says Feeney.

Spectacle or not, some believe football fans have only seen the beginning of the televisionization of the stadium experience.

Rick Burton, director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon, says he hasn't seen a university yet that is overusing video and audio technology during football games.

The former Miller Lite advertising executive says stadiums are destined to be dominated by huge video screens beaming in action from not only the game on the field but from around the country.

"People will go into the stadium to have a big-screen experience," Burton says.

What about action on the field?
"It will be critically important if the team is winning and perhaps be a little bit diminished if the team is losing," Burton says.

The jumbo-screen culture will jack the financial stakes even higher, at the risk of turning off fans.

"If the team is not competitive, will people desert the team if the entertainment is not what they expect?" Burton asks.

Paul Kalil is widely regarded as the master of stadium audio and video shows.

The 38-year-old owner of Los Angeles-based Big Screen Network Productions Inc. has produced the past 14 Super Bowls, coordinated stadium shows across the nation during the 1994 World Cup and handles in-stadium productions for the Los Angeles Dodgers and UCLA football.

Kalil is acutely aware of the powerful force he controls.
"A lot of people take this for granted," he says. "But there is potential for either enhancing a game or destroying a game."

It is essential, Kalil says, to keep the event as the central focus.
"My position is, very simply, that the media has to be first and foremost a complement to the game on the field. That's what people are there for. To watch the game and support the school," he says.

Kalil says the best use of the video screen is to "deliver the inside story of the game" to fans in the stands.

This can be accomplished by using instant replays, providing statistical information during the game, background pieces on players, coaches and the school. During lulls in the action, such as time-outs, the video screen can provide entertainment, but it should be closely tied to the venue, the team, cheerleaders, the marching band and fans.

"Historical memories, plays from previous games, funny plays, providing news about other games around the country" enhances the stadium experience, he says.

But even these forays must be moderate.
"Care needs to be taken so that you are not interrupting the game," Kalil says. "You have to be very careful and very aware of the game."

The inclusion of advertising increases the risk of running amok. This can be avoided, he says, by retaining the flexibility to forgo broadcasts at inappropriate moments.

Blasting a car ad before a key play late in the fourth quarter--as ASU did in the Washington game--is clearly an inappropriate moment, Kalil says.

While such a grievous mistake jumps out at Kalil, ASU's top marketing officials were oblivious to the commercial. Neither Collins nor Blazevich said they were aware of its timing.

Kalil says one way to avoid clashes between advertising and athletic drama is to shed the television-production mentality that is frequently incorporated.

"This is very unlike television production," he says. "You're combining television with theater. The dynamics don't play out the same. The dynamics of live theater cause you to have to make adjustments."

Yet ASU's execution leans heavily toward television production.
The athletic department contracts with KTVK-TV Channel 3 television news director Dennis Dilworth to direct the video and message screens during home games. An avid Sun Devil fan, Dilworth operates from a television production control room, which is located at the south end of the press box.

The control room contains more than 50 television monitors of all sizes. About a dozen workers, all wearing gold tee shirts bearing ASU's marketing slogan, "Playing With Fire," operate computers and control panels that command various electronic signs in the stadium.

Dilworth sits about 30 feet from windows overlooking the field, which are kept closed. He never glimpses live action of the game. The roar of the crowd barely penetrates the thick glass of the control room.

"I'm blocked off from the game," Dilworth says. "I'm not seeing what's out the window. I'm not seeing what's going on. All I'm looking at is monitors, just like if I'm directing a game from the truck or directing a newscast."

Dilworth watches monitors that display feeds from seven cameras and selects which image fans should see on the video screen.

For years, ASU did not display live action on the video screen. But that policy has changed under White.

"I like to compare it to sitting at home watching a football game," Dilworth says. "That's basically the way we try to do our coverage out there--live action, a replay if it is warranted and then a sponsor if there is a time-out."

Dilworth says he relies on Munn to keep him abreast of crowd reactions because the public-address announcer has a direct view of the field and nearly always keeps his window open to get a good feel for the mood in the stadium.

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