Mike Herndon Commentary On USA Football Approach And Times

August 25, 2009 · Filed Under Commentary, Football · Comment 

On August 12, the Mobile Press-Register writer Mike Herndon wrote a commentary article titled “South Alabama football has right approach, questionable times.” He talks about the widespread thought that Mobile is not really a great sports town, but is a good sports-event town.

In the article he points to minor-league franchises that have come and gone in Mobile. Then points out how the Senior Bowl and the GMAC Bowl have both thrive as one-game commitments each year and that USA is building up its seven game home series as events in their own right.

South Alabama has several special promotions for the games such as Parents Day on September 26 against Army Prep, Military day on October 10 against Georgia Military and the first homecoming day on November 7 against Milford Academy. Even the first football scrimmage was billed as an event for Family Fun Day.

At the time of the writing of the article, more than 6,000 season tickets had been sold and the usagameday.com website showed less than 20,000 tickets were available for the September 5th season opener against Hargrave Military Academy. A look today shows that 18,743 tickets are still available for the game.

Travis Toth, USA’s associate athletic director for marketing and promotions, said that he feels pretty good that they will fill the 40,000 seat Ladd-Peebles Stadium for the opener. But he is not going all out and saying that all seven games are going to sell out as well. “We’re not naive. We know we’ve got our hands full with that second game, third game and afterward to maintain that momentum. We’d be comfortable with 20,000 to 25,000 from there on out.”

He then talks about how that is similar to how UAB has been faring, averaging about 19,062 fans per game last year. UAB has a big struggle against the draw for the University of Alabama as well and Auburn, which will also be problem for South Alabama as well. However, I would point out that UAB has never really fully committed itself to football. It is somewhat known for its basketball program, which isn’t garnering the attention it did a few years ago either.

Birmingham and Legion Field was huge once as being the home for most of Alabama’s big football games as well as the annual Iron Bowl contest. But Birmingham became a place that you don’t really want to go to anymore. The politics there has been sketchy for years and Legion Field’s maintenance was sorely lacking. In recent years the upper decks were condemned and had to be removed, making it a shadow of its former self.

Coach Jones makes no bones about it. Alabama and Auburn have established themselves as the top two teams in the state. They can get the players they want because of the names and exposure. The other battle could be game schedules. The Jags kickoff at 4pm on September 5th with Auburn kicking off at 6pm against Louisiana Tech and Alabama takes on Virginia Tech in Atlanta at 7pm.

USA could have set a bad precident by scheduling around those two games, but they didn’t. With national broadcasts of SEC games, kickoff times change every week and moving times around could confuse some people or become something expected every week for the Jaguars. The only thing USA really scheduled around was giving fans plenty of tailgating time and avoidance of morning youth sports.

Herndon was correct that playing chicken with SEC games is something they can’t really win. USA could have scheduled the game earlier to avoid overlap with the Tide or Tigers, but realistically, should they? At some point you have to stand up and ‘be your own man.’ Its easy to record or tivo an Alabama or Auburn game these days. But when you have college football in your back yard how can you not justify going?

Mobile’s so called ‘fickle sports market’ isn’t really as fickle as one might think. I think they are looking for something they can really get behind. When the Jaguar basketball team was having a stellar season in 2007-08, the Mitchell Center was packed. But during the 2008-09 season attendance dropped off when the Jags could not produce the same results as the season before.

But basketball, and baseball for that fact, is not what Mobile is itching for. We southerners really like our football. If you haven’t been out to Ladd-Peebles Stadium in previous seasons or UMS-Wright or McGill-Toolen for high school football games, you have missed rather large crowds out there watching them play. I think the product that South Alabama and Coach Jones will put on the field this fall and in the coming years will definitely draw the ‘fickle sports fans’ out of Mobile and into the stadium. But its a step-by-step process and Mr. Herndon and I agree that USA is starting on out on the right foot.

You can read Mike Herndon’s article in its entirety on al.com here.