Calling Baton Rouge

Tower Drive Tigerfanz Tailgate

It’s tough to be the average fan these days; tough to keep the faith in a world of money-grabs, coaching changes, transient players, rising ticket prices, and bad behavior — both on and off the field, and in the stands.  And if you are the average LSU football fan, and a tailgater, specifically, life just got a little tougher again, as the 2012 season will see parking prices raised, spots eliminated for non-season-ticket holders, and the handicapped pushed to a satellite lot to await pick-up by a shuttle.

If all of this sounds like histrionics, consider that in a matter of two years parking has gone from free, to $40, and now, in the areas effected by the increase, $75-100 (as reported in Baton Rouge Advocate).  To make matters worse, along with the price-hikes, many spaces have been reassigned for season-ticket holders only, including a handicapped lot which has now been relocated somewhere west of the Box but east of the Mississippi.

And if you have an RV… well, you probably don’t even want to know, as game day spots will range from $250-500 per game, or between $2000 and $4000 a season.

Those are some pretty hefty numbers, and if you get the sense that the average fan is getting the squeeze, it would be hard to disagree.  Especially in light of these numbers, provided in an article by Morgan Searles in the Reveille.

  • LSU makes $2.6 million in profit after expenses for each home game
  • At an average of $50 a piece, season tickets account for $3.4 million in revenue per game
  • A non-student ticket, of which there are approximate 68,000, cost between $40-$70
  • Out of the total Athletic Department budget, only 5% is “donated” back to the University (ostensibly the reason for athletics in the first place, right?)

In fact, LSU’s Athletic Department (AD), under Joe Alleva, is so successful that it is self-sustaining, and is not constrained by the budget cuts that have ravaged academics and other programs at LSU.  For more on how this works, here is a statement from the LSU Budget Information Website:

Does the Athletic Department use up money that could be spent on academics?
No.  The LSU Athletic Department is a self-sustaining auxiliary unit of the university that raises its own funds.  It does not use any state tax dollars or any student fees.  Therefore, budget issues for the university do not necessarily mean budget problems for the Athletic Department.  It is worth noting, however, that LSU’s Athletic Department donates millions of dollars to the university each year, and the Athletic Department has been assigned some of the university’s costs if this next round of budget cuts take place.  So, the Athletic Department is assisting the university with its budget problems, and the university would be much worse off financially if not for Athletics.

Prima facie, this seems like a good thing, right?  The AD is an auxiliary, not funded by the budget, that generously “donates” money back to the University.  They don’t cost the school any money to exist. When you think about it though, this becomes a tail-wags-dog situation, as academics, the primary mission of a  Universitybecomes subjugated to athletics, greedily taking scraps off the master’s table while its own budget is ruthlessly slashed a few miles up-river.  Last time I checked, athletics existed at the behest of the University, and not the other way around.  Athletics, and the proud student-athletes were representatives of LSU, of academic excellence, of “Love Purple and Live Gold,” not pawns in some semi-professional developmental league promoted by ESPN and preyed upon by the NFL.

Of course, I realize I am getting pretty far afield here, and that LSU is far from the only culprit, but what I am trying to point out, clumsily, I know, is that college sports is huge money, and this money is generated by us: the fans. The same fans that are now being asked to reach into their pockets yet again.  Look in your closets at your LSU hats (I own four at $20 a pop), your game day jerseys, your t-shirts, koozies, mini-footballs, sweatshirts, et. al.  Think of the thousands of dollars, and thousands of hours you have invested as fans (many as students as well).  Now take that number and multiply it by the number of fans in Tiger Stadium, and those watching on Tigervision, or on ESPN or CBS, and you start to get an idea of just how big a business this is, and how much of a cog you are.  Tailgating already took a hit due to the CBS-SEC contract, which de facto destroyed a 75 year-old tradition at LSU, and now parking increases are threatening to be the nail in the coffin for the average Boudreaux.

The company line on all of this is that much of the parking money is used to provide port-o-potties and aid in post-game tailgate cleanups.  Now, I know from my own experience that most of the cleanup is done by the tailgating krewes themselves, but since the parade grounds got trashed, this has become a convenient scapegoat for the necessity of the fees. As is so often the case, the bad behavior of a few was seen as an opportunity to punish the many:  And punish they did, with NFL-worthy prices.  It is also worth mentioning, at this point, the absolute necessity of being a good fan.  While in my heart of hearts I recognize the parking increases for what they are — a flat-out ode to greed — with the increased scrutiny from the national media, it is very important for LSU to protect its image.  This means that they will do anything in their power to control the fans that they see as disruptive, and to this end, the easiest and most effective method is to price them out.  If the baby is thrown out with the bathwater, who cares, because there is already someone in line ready to take that space; there is always someone who can foot the bill waiting to take your spot between the oaks.

I realize that this increase doesn’t effect every tailgater… yet.  This money-grab is mainly designed to “punish” season ticket holders, who already contribute thousands to the cause each year.  Anecdotally, however, I can assure you that tailgating has already been mightily impacted.  I have friends that have to decide who gets to tailgate and who gets to stay home with the kids, as it is no longer feasible to take two cars so one can leave when the kids tire.  Others only come to select games now, the social tradition they have enjoyed, in many cases, since childhood, now becoming a sometimes thing.  Others, who travel long distances for those eight glorious fall Saturdays, have to make hard choices, choosing either the game or the tailgate, as they can no longer afford to do both.  And some have just stopped coming all together, preferring to spend there money in Happy’s or The Bulldog or some other venue where they feel their money is appreciated.

Yet, with each person that decides that they can do better elsewhere, a little bit of what makes football Saturdays so special at LSU dies.  That vaunted Louisiana hospitality, that fierce loyalty, and that inimitable home field advantage slowly eroded: the wildness of the Bayou Bengals tamed by the button down banality of the overzealous, image conscious, money-hungry AD and national media.  And this makes me sad, because I’ve seen it happen before, as it happened to me.

Many of you know I am a northerner by birth, a Louisianan by choice.  You probably don’t know, however, that I was a New York Yankees season ticket holder for ten or so years.  It was my social life for countless summer nights, as our section, Box 310, Row H, seats 1 and 2 became our pew in the church of Yankee baseball, and our fellow fans like family.  We would watch each others’ seats, bring back beer and hotdogs, inquire about family and work, celebrate wins and mourn losses, as if lifelong friends.  Early April was always a time of rebirth and expectation, a time to reacquaint and reunite.

And then the New Stadium was built, and all of us partial season-ticket holders were told full-season or back-of-the-line.  The seats we had held for years were now unavailable to us, although the Yankees “generously” offered to relocate us (usually to vastly inferior seats for the same or higher price).  That is not to say the seats went unused, however.  In fact, they were bought up by people with money, but little loyalty.  The distinct home field advantage that made Yankee Stadium Yankee Stadium was gone, and the first game I went to had more opposing fans than hometown fans.  I dropped my season tickets and have only been to about 10 games since 2009, after averaging between 20 and 30 a year.

I realize that this analogy is not perfect, but it illustrative of how the average fan is getting his ass kicked in every arena.  Yes, the defense of the parking increase is that it allows ticket prices to remain a relative “bargain” at $50 a piece, but what good is that if the culture that makes LSU so special is being ablated in the process.  The cynic in me, of course, sees the reasoning.  In lieu of expanding Tiger Stadium itself (which is already underway), the AD has found a way to charge those freeloaders who have the temerity to hang out on campus on game-day with no intention of every entering the Stadium; those who would instead prefer to hang-out, cook-out, and chill-out.

I know how seductive the tailgate is, as I had to be dragged kicking and screaming from in front of our generator powered flat-screen to the actual game after my first one, leaving behind the beer and the boudin and the gumbo.  I would hazard to guess that if you asked most fans, even opposing ones, the LSU tailgate’s joie d’vivre ranks close to the top of the list of reasons to attend a game.

The kicker is, I don’t think most fans would even mind paying a nominal charge for parking — somewhere in the neighborhood of $10-15 dollars — especially if the money left-over after cleanup was earmarked for academics.  It would be an easy way for many to donate and do something they enjoy at the same time.

By the same token, other revenue raising means, like beer sales in Tiger Stadium during the first half of games, should be explored.  There is no NCAA regulation against it, and it may actually prevent some of the rampant pre-gaming that goes on (doubtful).  At any rate, if people are going to show up drunk anyways, you might as well find a way to profit from it.  I am sure liability issues exist, but West Virginia does it, so there is already precedent, and by limiting sales to the first half, it would give people time to dry-out before the end of the game.  At the very least, people are paying for a product, which by extension, is probably how LSU views parking spots, but it is much easier to convince someone to buy a beer than a parking spot, and the cost is allayed by 100,000 others.

In the end, with rising gas prices, food prices, and other assorted cost-of-living increases, tailgating will probably see some attenuation anyway; it probably can’t be helped.  That doesn’t mean that the AD has to take an active roll in this process.  With choices being as tough as they are, don’t be surprised if that stalwart purple and gold army chooses not to take that road trip, if the fans that made every game a home-game instead stay home.  As prices rise, don’t be surprised if Tiger Stadium becomes a more button down affair, as those with money will replace the sweat-equity of those with passion.  And don’t be shocked if the oaks fall silent, the energy, the kinetic force that lights Saturdays ablaze in Baton Rouge, slowly extinguished as more and more krewes are swallowed up in the manifest destiny of parking lot payola.

While I know this sounds extreme, one friend already put it best; “I guess, in the end, we’ll just go ahead and watch it in the bar, like they do in any other city.  We’ll be like Houston.”

Calling Baton Rouge, can you hear me Baton Rouge?  Baton Rouge, we have a problem…

5 thoughts on “Calling Baton Rouge

  1. I agree with you completely. I have been attedning LSU games since I can remember and that has been a long time. One thing you forgot; season tickets holders also have to pay the TAF Fee in order to have the pleasure of purchasing season tickets. It is becoming absurd. I am thinking of letting my tickets go too much money too much hassel.

    • I didn’t forget about TAF’s, but I didn’t have a a total handle on how they worked, and the blog was getting really long, so I left them out. You make a valid point though, and it is sad that fans have to make tough choices while the AD is rolling in dough. At any rate, hope to see you at a tailgate this year, while there still are tailgates.

  2. This great article was sent to me by a longtime fellow tailgater.
    Last year was a perfect storm – LSU changed parking policy & had an almost perfect season on the field. But if you attended every home game last year along South Stadium Drive you would have noticed a much subdued crowd. In years to come we will have up & down years – And the down years will bring traveling fans that will be introduced to a watered down tradition once worldly reknowned for avid Fans of college football.
    To compare this to Mardi Gras Parades: The true die hards show up hours or days before to claim their spot in anticipation of the start of the parade. The spots they claim are not paid for or reserved and there is no admission for the parade. If New Orleans started charging for both – the atmosphere would change and become less enjoyable. Attendence would drop. And a once unique experience would be lost. This is beginning to happen at LSU now. Historically, once the money has begin to flow LSU responds way too late when traditions fade away…see Alec Box Stadium for example. The group of pregame baseball tailgating that brought some of the best fans ever together now has turned to get every dollar you can from the fans and make it hard for them to visit their tailgate spots between innings.

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