Nike U no excuse for Arizona not to replicate
Eugene, Ore.-- No matter what traditions a school follows the most important thing is that it remains. Fans go to games and look forward to singing the same fight song they’ve sang for the last 100 years, but times are changing. With the increase in technology and ability to watch the game on your phone, tablet, 80-inch TV and get a live feed from a drone you are flying outside of the stadium, simply going to the game and enjoying the sport itself is a lost art. But Autzen Stadium is the exception, home of the University of Oregon football team.
Eugene and Tucson have many things in common. They are both small cities, somewhat in the middle of nowhere and home to Pac-12 universities. The one thing that brings these cities together is college sports. In Tucson, it’s all about the Wildcats and in Eugene it’s about the Ducks.
Despite the obvious "Nike U" assimilation Oregon has with Nike founder Phil Knight, Eugene has made the Ducks priority No. 1 in ways that Arizona could learn from.
Each university has its own way of making game day on campus unique. For the Wildcats tailgates on the mall and the dry desert heat. For Oregon it’s walking across rivers through the woods to Autzen stadium and the yellow and green school colors. And yes, let's not forget about the Nike swoosh everywhere you turn.
Last weekend I traveled with my dad and brother to Oregon for the UA vs. Oregon football game. It was my first time in Oregon and the experience was impressive. First, getting to experience football in the fall is something Arizona may just never be able to do. Flying in to Portland Friday night when earlier that morning in Tucson I was wearing flip-flops and shorts just enjoying the 80-degree weather in the middle of November was a drastic change. I forgot how 40 degrees felt.
Fast forward to game day and the experience just kept growing. As we drove into Oregon’s campus you could see Autzen Stadium standing tall on the other side of the freeway. The green top of the stadium poked out of the trees with the huge “O” painted in bright yellow just in sight. We parked about a mile away from the stadium so we could take part in the legendary “walk to the stadium” that everyone was talking about.
Following the sea of green and yellow clad fans to the famed Autzen Footbridge was amazing; this bridge gets you across the Willamette River that flows about a half mile in front of the stadium. The river is lined with yellow and green leaf trees that mimic the school’s colors. After crossing the bridge you step down into the woods. Soon you’re surrounded by trees on a muddy and wet trail that’s partially paved. After a few minutes the trees fade away and the next thing you see is Autzen stadium with the huge Oregon “O” looking directly at you.
This is the first of many differences, that I believe, set up a table for success and fan involvement, it's a tradition that everyone seemed to be into. Unfortunately, Arizona has no such tradition. The tailgate is housed on the side of the mall where you can't see the stadium. It's a separation that in many respects causes fans to disconnect from the game itself. Thus fans will attend the tailgate and then go home without going to the game.
Then there's the stadium.
Arizona’s stadium can hold over 55,000 at Autzen stadium it’s just over 54,000. Oregon had no problem filling the stadium despite their 5-5 record, Last week Arizona was 6-3 with a Heisman candidate and couldn't get over 40,000 for the game. The students also stayed the entire game, or at least until the game was no longer in doubt, unlike the ZonaZoo who departs after halftime no matter what.
One touch to keep the fans interested was allowing them to go on the field following the game. I'm not even a fan of Oregon and I wanted to stay just to do that.
Oregon fans know how to have a good time. It was just barely over 40 degrees and looked like it could rain at any moment but the fans still showed up. Oregon is going through a tough season. Just three years ago they were the No. 2 team in the country and winning the Pac-12 North, now the team is 6-5, after beating Arizona but that didn’t matter to fans, they still showed, perhaps the biggest difference between Arizona and Oregon.
Is it a lack of passion, loyal fans or too many late start times? There is no way to exactly pinpoint the reason as to why Arizona loses fans every year but one thing is for sure, something needs to be done.
Another nice touch by Oregon was the tailgating set up. Thousands of people were tailgating in front of Autzen and they even turned the indoor practice facility into a tailgate area. As previously mentioned tailgaters are located away from the stadium, despite a wide open field literally located right in front of Lowell-Stevens.
Surprisingly what got the crowd most pumped up was the playing of “coming home (Oregon)” by Eugene native Matt Kearney. It’s a slow, country style song but everyone was signing it at the top of their lungs. It was a nice touch.
Autzen stadium is ranked in the top 20-college football stadiums so it’s hard to compete with, but that’s no excuse for Arizona fans to step up their game. The Wildcats are now 7-4 and performing better than anyone expected, except maybe Rich Rod and the players themselves. Arizona has a Heisman candidate in quarterback Khalil Tate and a roster full of young, talented players. Arizona fans should be excited but they simply aren’t. It’s time for fans to buy back into Arizona football. If Eugene can do it, Tucson can too.
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