DESTIN, Fla. | As the athletic director at Alabama, Greg Byrne has the single greatest marketing advantage for football attendance that one can possibly have.
Winning. Winning games and winning championships.
“We’re all smarter and better-looking when we win,” Byrne said at the Southeastern Conference’s annual meetings at the Sandestin Beach Hilton. “But we cant let apathy come into our program. We won an SEC Championship this year. That’s a big deal. There are thirteen other schools here (in Destin) and that’s what they are all trying to accomplish. But we can’t just say as an athletic department that ‘that’s what we do’ and leave it at that. That’s when apathy gets you.”
Alabama actually has two great advantages at the moment. The first is the tremendous success that Nick Saban has had with the program. The second is that Alabama football is not merely an entertainment fad, certainly not in Alabama. A century of success has caused the Crimson Tide to be a generational component of the fabric of the state — that’s why attendance and ticket demand doesn’t entirely disappear during the occasional rough patches that the football program has had. Times, though, are changing and much of the discussion in Destin, not just for Alabama but for all the schools attending, is how to keep the stadium full and the revenue flowing. From television contracts to alcohol, that’s the bottom-line component of many of this week’s discussions.
“There’s not just one button you can push,” Byrne said. “There are a lot of factors. I’m from a generation where it wasn’t as much of an issue. You went to the game and you stayed for the entire game. Now, you have people who show up as late as possible and try to leave in time to beat the traffic. We are working on some things with the students, some rewards for staying for the whole game.”
There is also the question of alcohol, an annual topic at the meetings. Byrne was non-committal on the beer/no beer platform but noted that the SEC had formed a working group to study the issue.
Some factors are out of Byrne’s control, including the early-season television schedule. In 2018, Alabama — in part due to its own success — had a preponderance of afternoon kickoffs, with some games played in conditions that would cause Saharan camels to go on strike. A few of those opponents were also scarcely competitive, an unavoidable function of Alabama’s team being very good. One answer to that has been the upgrading of the schedule with home-and-home series. Byrne said he had already gotten “very good response” to upcoming visits with Texas (in 2023), Notre Dame and Oklahoma and noted that Alabama was “still working on some other home-and-homes,” although they may not be in the immediate future.”
Byrne also commented on Alabama’s recently-announced 2-for-1 series with South Florida.
“One, we’ll get two games in Tuscaloosa,” he said. “South Florida’s an excellent program. They’ve had a lot of success. It’s an area we recruit a lot, so go playing a game in Tampa made sense for us, too, to play in an NFL stadium.It checked a lot of boxes for us and what we’re doing.”
Byrne noted that although the deal was not a straight 2-for-1 swap, Alabama would play USF a discounted rate for its second Tuscaloosa appearance. The Crimson Tide is set to pay USF $1 million for its 2025 visit. By comparison, New Mexico State will receive $1.7 million for playing at UA this September.
There are other issues, from concessions (likely to be addressed in the scheduled Crimson Standard-funded upgrades) to Internet access for 100,000 users in a small area for roughly eight days per year.
“Wi-fi is still a bugaboo,” Byrne said. “We are working on it but it’s very expensive.”
He’s also looking at other, less costly amenities.
“‘Dixieland Delight’ worked pretty well,’” he said.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.