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

Dilworth says he and Munn decide whether an advertisement should be broadcast as scheduled in the script or delayed and, if necessary, skipped entirely because of a game situation.

"We let the game, in a lot of situations, dictate what we are going to do," Dilworth insisted.

But not always.
Dilworth says that as the Devils prepared for the critical fourth-quarter fourth-down play, he and Munn discussed whether to run the Biddulph ad. Dilworth recommended broadcasting the spot because it features Sparky, flames and ends with a "Give 'em hell, Devils" sound bite.

"We felt the spot maybe lent itself to spurring people on," Dilworth says.
If the Biddulph ad had been a straight car commercial, Dilworth says he might have done otherwise.

"That would have really brought things to a screeching halt," he says.

The sun beats down on more than 90,000 fans inside the Rose Bowl on September 12 for UCLA's opening game against No. 23 University of Texas. The temperature hovers near 90 degrees as the No. 6 Bruins take the field.

A depleted UCLA band unleashes the fight song (most of the band is missing because classes don't begin until later this month).

As the teams prepare for kickoff, the focus is on the field.
There is no canned music, no kickoff sponsor, no video board commercials--although the Rose Bowl has a state-of-the-art, Panasonic video screen.

It's simply football.
UCLA takes a far more conservative approach than ASU to corporate advertising at its football games. The impact of advertising on fans is something the university carefully monitors.

"It's a touchy subject," says UCLA marketing director Scott Mitchell. "We try to keep the game clean and pristine, and when we do tie in an advertiser, we try to have some fun with it so it's more than just a plug for one of our supporters or sponsors."

The differences between ASU and UCLA--both publicly funded institutions--are dramatic. ASU's audio and video script book covers more than 120 pages; UCLA's broadcast plugs don't fill four pages.

While ASU broadcasts TV-style 30-second commercials on its video screen, UCLA shows highlights of games from around the country and great moments in UCLA football history.

While ASU audio ads will go on for paragraphs, UCLA limits sponsorship plugs to no more than 25 words. In addition, UCLA's PA system is much softer than ASU's.

UCLA recognizes corporate sponsors with brief thanks over the PA system. But at no time during the Texas game were audio ads, let alone video, broadcast at crucial moments in the game or even between plays.

UCLA is also careful not to distract from the game with giveaway contests.
The result: UCLA fans enjoy fine college football in a historic setting with minimal commercialization.

With setting, tradition and focus on their side, UCLA fans avidly embrace their supporting role; thousands wave blue-and-white towels emblazoned with "UCLA 12th Man" while yelling "One, two, three, move the chains!" after every first down. The towels sell for $1.

Fans had plenty to cheer about Saturday as the Bruins, led by sensational quarterback Cade McNown, routed Texas 49-31.

A few hours later and 25 miles south, tens of thousands of University of Southern California football fans mill about on the private college campus, enjoying picnics before the Trojans game against San Diego State University in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

As kickoff approaches, fans drift toward the venerable stadium, passing the giant magnolia and eucalyptus trees that tower over the pathway. A massive rose garden flanks the facility that hosted the 1932 and 1984 Summer Olympic Games.

Inside the Coliseum, the dominant sound is the famous USC marching band, which seldom stops playing. Packed into a tight formation between the 10- and 20-yard lines, and filling the first 15 rows, the band literally sets the tone for the stadium atmosphere.

The 55,000 fans barely fill half the seats. But the place seems full because the seats behind both end zones are roped off. Giant banners promoting USC's corporate sponsors are placed over the roped-off sections.

While the Coliseum's signage is more prominent than Sun Devil Stadium or the Rose Bowl, the Trojans' use of the Mitsubishi big screen and audio advertising is similar to UCLA's.

One of the few audio/video promotions is an anti-drinking advertisement in which head football coach Paul Hackett and a highway patrolman encourage fans to use a designated driver.

There were only a couple of audio giveaways, and no ads after touchdowns. During long TV time-outs, the video screen broadcasts images of the band, cheerleaders, players and people in the stands. The screen zooms in on the referee when penalties are announced.

USC marketing director Mark Ryan says that while the athletic department is always seeking more revenue, the university doesn't want to give up what it sees as an important element in winning football.

"We want to maintain the home-field advantage," he says.
The No. 22 Trojans did, routing SDSU 35-6.

Most major colleges--including some storied programs--take a far lower-key approach to advertising than ASU.

Notre Dame, which plays at ASU October 10, eschews nearly all forms of advertising during football games--other than a corporate logo on the back of tickets.

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