On any fall Saturday, close to 350,000 people would have seen Indiana-Penn State, Army-Notre Dame and Northwestern-Illinois. However this past Saturday, even with less people seeing those three games in person, about 200,000, the brand value of college football took another step forward. The three games, all at staggered times, were played at FedEx Field in Maryland, Wrigley Field in Chicago and Yankee Stadium in New York, three “non-traditional” college venues with a heck of a lot of brand power for the schools and promoters who took the risk to move their home games to those spots. It made for great story lines, great buzz, and great brand growth for college football in major markets which have huge alumni followings but no real home base for the sport, especially with all the goings-on and trappings of major city life. Yes there are games in each area on campus that draw thousands on many weekends, but the cache of the venues gave brands and casual fans a way to experience major college football and its pageantry in a way that is rare in a major market. L.A. has USC and UCLA, but in reality most major markets are devoid of consistent flow of big time college football. It is true that the urban campus does not fit that well with what millions know as the beuty of college football, but these one off games, maybe even for a brand looking to string together a spnsorship, could be a big hit.
Now there is the danger of over saturation, which would lose the charm (even with the issues of Wrigley Field yesterday) and the cache of what occurred in these venues yesterday. It was a throwback, feel good type of weekend that was different from the big business that college sports has become. It is not something that can occur every weekend, and we will see if there is a halo effect with the Pinstripe Bowl is played at Yankee Stadium in a little over a month. Other sports have captured lightning in a bottle by moving key events to unusual venues, with the NHL's Winter Classic being the preminent success (and its duplications in college and minor league hockey and in hoops garnering some, but not the same, success). College hockey caught a nice pop when Cornell played Boston University before a sold out Madison Square Garden a few years ago (the game will be at the Prudential Center this year), but other tries have failed for one reason or another.
The bottom line is the game has to have mystique, tradition and great buzz to draw, and then one must move on. What will be interesting is to see if other cities devoid of college football and with buildings that need ancillary income (Fenway Park anyon.) try to follow the lead of what occurred on a great November Saturday. Awake the legends and bring the dollars.