By Rich Figel
In a few hours, I'll be heading to the UH football home opener against the University of Colorado at Aloha Stadium... on a Thursday night. Um, what genius thought that would be a good idea? Oh, that's right -- the Athletic Director who is no longer here. According to what I read in the sports section, Ben Jay made the move to accommodate a request from Colorado to make their travel schedule less taxing on them. I guess he wanted to share the aloha spirit with a team that is intent on beating the crap out of us on the field. Mahalo, Ben!
The first game is crucial in setting the tone for the season -- and even more importantly, luring skeptical or jaded fans back to at least give the current team a chance to show us what they have to offer. Changing it to Thursday night is one of the Top 10 Dumbest UH Sports Marketing decisions ever made. As if that dead horse needs kicking, I offer another based on my latest interaction with the UH ticket office when I wanted to renew my season tickets for football.
Yes, in spite of my grumbling and disenchantment with Coach Chow's predictable hand-the-ball-to-Joey (or Lakalaka up-the-middle) play-calling the past two seasons, I have tried to support the team by going to the games. I had become a lapsed season ticket holder after my wife and I had bad experiences at Aloha Stadium during the June Jones era when foul-mouthed guys in Warrior black would get drunk and spout profanities when the team didn't cover the point spread, or initiate fights in the stands. Things had gotten ugly.
When we first became season ticket holders during Bob Wagner's tenure as head coach during the late '80s, loyal fans were rewarded by being able to upgrade their seats the following year. If other fans didn't renew their tickets, you could put in a request and move to better seats at no extra charge if it was in the same section. So, eventually we went from near the endzone on the sidelines in the lower Orange section to near mid-field, which was great... until they began jacking up premiums for the best seats. The additional fees would seem quite reasonable compared to what they charge at big name football schools that regularly sell out their home games. But that's not the case at UH, is it?
We were paying a pretty high premium already for last season's seats, again back where we originally started by the endzone along the sideline in the Orange section. I renewed early and requested to upgrade our seats, knowing full well that many of the prior season ticket holders wouldn't be coming back this year. And sure enough, after the first deadline passed, I got a call saying I could move closer to mid-field -- for an additional couple of hundred dollars more per seat! Why? Because it was two sections over.
Okay, I get that those seats are worth more because they offer a better view. People who want first crack at those tickets and are willing to shell out that much more for them should get those seats. But now that they're empty and likely to remain unsold as season tickets, why not reward the few remaining loyal fans by offering them better seats in the same lower or upper sections for the same price they're currently paying? In other words, how about giving fans an INCENTIVE to renew season tickets, instead of disincentives by telling them you can upgrade... for a few hundred bucks more. I almost cancelled my ticket purchase right then because I felt like they didn't really care about holding on to what little remains of their fan base. We're just numbers to the UH sales and marketing people. Faithful fans should be treated like gold. Instead they keep bleeding us, asking for more money each year while giving us the same or less for our loyalty.
And guess what's going to happen to those unsold premium seats? People who buy cheaper single game tickets in the other sections are going to go and sit in the lower level empty seats anyway, because the ushers rarely bother to check if they're sitting where they are supposed to. Sheesh.
Speaking of premiums and incentives, I wish the UH sports marketing people would give away stuff you can actually use. For instance, they keep handing out those roll-out UH signs that nobody knows what to do with (except for that one kid who desperately hopes to get on the big stadium video screen by holding up the sign and jumping around whenever the sideline camera pans over to his section). Last year they gave us stretchy pieces of dark green material with the H logo on it, which I surmise you're suppose to wear as headbands or armbands like on Survivor. I didn't see anyone making that accessory part of their game fashion statement though.
You know what would be useful for Aloha Stadium giveaways? Sunscreens for your car windshield with RAIN-BOWS on them since our cars bake in the sun if you get there early on a Saturday afternoon. Or green ponchos for the heavy rains we keep hearing are coming! Another idea: they could hand out freebies for old folks like me -- seat cushions for their aging fan base, which keeps shrinking each season while our butts get saggier and sorer. BTW, I wonder if the parking lot will show any signs of improvement. Last year, parts of it looked like it had been strafed by jets from Pearl Harbor or Hickam. We can't figure out what they do with the $5 per car parking fee they collect at each game.
In any event, I'm hoping the addition of a new offensive coordinator with a wide-open style of play, coupled with a new defensive coordinator with an aggressive, keep-it-simple approach will combine to produce something we haven't seen in awhile: a UH football team that will somehow win enough games to put them back in our own Hawaii Bowl at the end of the season. We can still dream, can't we?
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