There’s no problem with an entity — like a sports league — engaging in what could be called “blockbuster marketing.” That’s different than Blockbuster Marketing, which didn’t ultimately work out so well unless you managed to avoid two years of late fees on that copy of “Kindergarten Cop” that you never returned.
Blockbuster marketing, in the sports sense, consists of selling “the big event” or “the big rivalry.” The NBA has done it for a long time, not just with the current Warriors vs. Cavaliers incarnation — ESPN just recently reprised the Celtics vs. Lakers NBA battles of the 1980’s, a glorious time that preceded the Michael Jordan vs. everybody era. Major League Baseball has been selling us on Yankees vs. Red Sox ever since the Babe Ruth swap went down.
Southeastern Conference football does it, too. In recent times, given Alabama’s success, the rivalry has been Alabama vs. Auburn, or Alabama vs. LSU, or Alabama vs. any other contender. Not too many years ago, when Steve Spurrier and Peyton Manning walked the league’s football fields, it was Florida vs. Tennessee. That rivalry spawned some great games, although it had sort of a Daytona 500 feel to it, timing-wise. That’s because it was played in the third week of September and tended to settle the East Division (at least) before the humidity in most SEC cities dropped below a summery 93 percent.
Huge rivalries are great, but the conference has always seemed at its best when certain pairings have taken on a personality of their own, whether in ancient and revered series like Auburn versus Georgia or relatively new ones like Arkansas versus Ole Miss.
The current candidate for a rivalry that has grown fun for the outside observer, at least, is LSU vs. Florida. Ever since 2016’s regularly scheduled game was delayed by the threat of a hurricane that wound up missing Gainesville by many nautical miles, the two schools have had an acrimonious back-and-forth ranging from some serious shade cast by athletic directors Jeremy Foley (now retired from Florida) and Joe Alleva at LSU. The fact that Florida went to Baton Rouge and won on a goal-line stand made things all the better. Then the two teams met in baseball’s College World Series and Florida won again, not a reflection on a great LSU season but a sure way to hit baseball-crazy, Omaha-loving LSU fans where they live.
Then came Thursday, when Florida announced that its 2017 home football game against LSU would also be Homecoming, rather than the home game against Vanderbilt the week before.
Now, the truth is, Homecoming games aren’t what they once were. There’s still a parade and a queen is crowned on some campuses, although that tradition is probably going the way of Blockbuster video in a few years. The days of the loyal alumni trekking back to the alma mater and expecting to cheer the boys to victory over a hot buttered rum are gone. You don’t always schedule a cupcake. Alabama plays Arkansas for Homecoming this fall and it’s not a message, just the way the calendar falls. But one of many great things about LSU fans is this — to them, the difference in an actual slight and a perceived slight is no difference at all.
(As my Twitter follower Doug Simpson noted, if Florida wants to put a sting into it, they’ll award the Gator baseball team with its national championship rings in the pregame.)
It’s just one added element to a series that should be a rivalry every year. Ed Orgeron may make a big deal out of it after his eighth Red Bull of the day at SEC Media Days next week. Jim McElwain may mention it so he doesn’t have to talk about the stupid “naked dude and shark” controversy. All of it should be fun — and gives us a chance to talk SEC football, which is what matters to the fans, and the SEC.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.