Archive for Sunday, December 7, 2008

Marketing money takes hold of university decisions

December 7, 2008


Staging the annual showdown between the Kansas University and Missouri University football teams in Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium is a cause of legitimate concern, to fans as well as commercial interests in Columbia and Lawrence, the two slighted university towns. It ought to be self-evident that the games belong where the respective universities are located. The whole notion of the “home team” is violated by hijacking the events to Kansas City. The festive spirit aroused by the invasion of the rival’s obnoxious fans is lost. How can “town-gown” relations in Columbia and Lawrence not be poisoned by this sort of Babylonian Captivity?

As I understand it, the main thing Kansas City has to offer is a stadium that holds 30,000 more fans than Lawrence’s Memorial Stadium. The solution is simple: Build a new KU stadium that will seat 100,000. Skeptics may retort that Kansas City would retaliate by building an even larger stadium. But such bush league considerations must not daunt the legendary Jayhawk spirit. The answer is to up the ante. Keep building larger and larger stadiums until Kansas City exhausts its resources and goes belly-up.

How does Athens-on-the-Kaw avoid the same fate? First, it seeks a bailout from Uncle Sam. Second, it exploits the priceless KU brand. The time has come to question the wisdom of a stadium labeled “Memorial” and a fieldhouse known as “Allen.” Opportunities are being lost. The cash nexus has been forgotten. Where are the crafty “suits” on this issue?

Surely some New York Stock Exchange corporation would pay a king’s ransom for privilege of having its logo plastered all over the stadium. I’m not insensitive to the “Beware of the Phog” mystique, but imagine what it would be worth to a certain well-known purveyor of lingerie if the Goodyear blimp zeroed in on the Victoria’s Secret Field House in Larrytown. Cash must come before tradition and we’re talking beaucoup bucks here.

Here’s another idea whose time has come: Stop allowing access to the stadium for a mere ticket. Offer memberships in a Jayhawk Fan Club for the right to purchase a ticket — $50,000 minimum. Then stick members with exorbitant ticket prices. They’ll love it. People are contemptuous of anything that smacks of cheapness. They love the illusion of exclusivity. Employ this strategy and you’ll have Lawrence’s municipal airport crowded with corporate jets on game days. Brad and Angelina will be in the stands, waving the wheat, shouting the obscene kickoff chant.

I don’t want to hear any pointy-headed profs whining about how the university’s educational mission has been subordinated to sports. It’s time for you sages to understand that the university is a business. The name of the game is the bottom line. Chemistry and sociology are merchandise. Without marketing, they won’t sell.

Students can’t be expected to swallow lectures that go down like cod liver oil. Give them a little sugar coating. Package them in eye-popping colors. Accompany them with ribald, Animal House anecdotes and catchy, easy-to-remember jingles. Don’t forget, you’re in the entertainment business. You’re in competition with Facebook and Grand Theft Auto.

Imagine the interest that would be generated in a dry subject such as calculus if it were billed as X-rated, accompanied by a bit of pole-dancing and a car chase or two. You must learn to pitch boring, dog-eared knowledge as a form of sex. If you find this difficult, I’m recommending a little one-on-one with Dr. Ruth.

— George Gurley, a resident of rural Baldwin City, writes a regular column for the Journal-World.


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