Let them eat cake in the cheap seats
By Marcus Fitzsimmons | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I used to love the cheap seats.
As a kid, I loved it when I got to go along to the Tennessee football games. It was during that time when Johnny Majors walked the sideline, coaches still wore sports coats and most games weren’t on TV.
Dad took me to my first one, which turned out to be ‘The One,’ in 1982. That’s right, the game where Alabama’s win streak came to and end and the last time Bear Bryant coached in Knoxville.
Honestly, I was more interested in the rides at the World’s Fair outside that afternoon, at least until we started walking up the ramp and the impact of Neyland Stadium and the atmosphere of then 91,000 sank in to a little boy. It was the Coliseum of ancient Rome to a kid.
We sat under the cover where the upper deck hangs over the lower stands on the river side 40. A few years later, I was using mom’s season tickets in the upper deck to make most home games. She’d drop best friend and I off, we’d walk over to the stadium and walk back out after to where she’d pick us up.
I don’t know if any parents still do that with not quite teenagers these days — even now that they all have cell phones, but I kind of doubt it.
Times have changed, prices have changed, entertainment has changed.
We got a thrill when I got old enough to drive by parking behind the Rocky Top Market on Chapman and walking the railroad tressle across the river. The upperdeck — we sat between the ‘O’ and the ‘L’ in the old ‘V-O-L-S’ letters where the jumbotron now resides — was the second most fun outside the student section.
We were midway up where it got hot in September and very cold in November. We didn’t care. We were at the game and knew most everyone who sat around us game after game, season after season. We high-fived for touchdowns. And I mean we high-fived.
Didn’t matter if it was Akron or Alabama, a TD was a TD and our section had tribal customs. If you had a date, you kissed her first, then it was high fives to the boys beside, in front and behind you — their girl friends and wives got the high-fives too, but only if they stood up to cheer.
So when UT announced it would be one of the first schools to do flex pricing in the upper reaches of the seating, I was torn. Sad that many of our then mountain goat regulars are no longer there, but also glad to see that UT was willing to consider making games really affordable again.
The price of all those improvements and new athletic buildings is born largely on ticket sales. It’s a requirement of keeping pace in the SEC to have those things and outside of Vandy, Tennessee is on par with its league brethren on ticket pricing.
Not saying the athletic finance wars are good per se, but they are a fact of life. But the possibility of cheap seats once again being available, that’s a good thing in my book. It should have happened years ago when all the other options — and let’s face it, some Saturdays the alternative options of just watching it on tv seem really good — are driving down demand and the supply is just sitting there in glaringly empty seats.
Several people have pointed out to me in recent days that for various reasons they wouldn’t buy season tickets.
“They’re just too expensive,” — on that I have little argument.
“Don’t want to go see all these nobody teams.” — OK, I got an issue there.
For those folks that like to point to the good ol’ days when the Vols had all these big games at home, I look at the record book.
In 1932, when The General was coach and had UT on a 53-4-1 record, the Vols had five home games in a 10-game season with a pair of conference homes game — Mississippi St. and Kentucky and nonconference a very good Duke team followed by North Carolina and Maryville College.
In 1987 — a season I remember — the Vols had six home games. Season ticket holders got to see SEC foes Auburn, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. Nonconference it was a very bad Colorado State team, a so-so Georgia Tech squad, California and Louisville. None of them except Tech were any good at the time and it showed in the blowouts.
We loved every one of them and taunted anyone who started leaving before the final five minutes of the game. It was harsh but we were the cheap seat season ticket holders and it was one of our customs.
This season, the home slate has SEC foes Georgia, Auburn, Vandy and South Carolina — that’s plus one on conference home games right there. Austin Peay, Western Kentucky and South Alabama make up the non-conference home slate.
Not as good in name, but in terms of quality? Not really that much difference if you toss out Tech.
I hope the cheap seats proves to be a good option once more this season. I don’t know that it will and it just isn’t as easy to inspire a true sense of awe in a kid today, but I’m hoping that some little guy out there that might not have otherwise gone to his first UT game will one day be over heard saying, “I was there the first time Coach Jones won an SEC game.”
Making memories is what it’s all about — on the field and in the stands.
Marcus Fitzsimmons is sports editor at The Daily Times, who enjoys reading comments posted to this column at http://thedailytimes.com .