Marshall: Marketing Overkill and Football 06

Columnist Phillip Marshall takes a look at Auburn basketball and the 2006 football schedule.

Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum was almost full for Auburn's 56-52 loss to Alabama at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum on Wednesday night. Maybe it was just me, but the sustained energy that should come from such a crowd seemed strangely missing.

Some folks in the seats didn't seem to know that it's a good idea for the home team to make a whole lot of noise when the other side has the ball. The fans seemed to cheer lustily for Auburn baskets, then sit back down and wait for the Tigers to get the ball again. There was never a time in the game when it was as loud as it was at halftime when the football team accepted the Foy Trophy for beating Alabama in the Iron Bowl.

But that was only part of the puzzle, a small part. Auburn's cheerleaders had few chances to inject energy into the game.

Many fans have been irritated by the constant introductions that effectively quell crowd noise during timeouts at football games at Jordan-Hare Stadium. But football games can't hold a candle to Wednesday night.

At almost every timeout, there was a promotion--someone shooting a basketball, holding up a sign to answer a question, something. Alabama coaches didn't have to worry about making themselves heard in their huddle. They could have almost whispered had they chosen to. That's because the crowd, instead of being up and screaming, was often watching a college student on the court shooting airballs.

I'm no marketing expert, but I am convinced those promotions have a negligible impact on attendance. They definitely have a negative impact on energy in the arena. At most SEC schools, only one thing will fill arenas: Winning. You can have students shooting baskets, dogs catching Frisbees, clowns jumping on trampolines, whatever you want. None of it will matter if you don't win. And if you win big, you won't need anything extra to get people to games.

Certainly, the atmosphere should be festive. Promotions should be aimed at creating energy, not stifling it. Halftime is the time to invite contestants onto the court for silly games.

Someone who makes those decisions should go to a game at Duke or North Carolina or pay attention at some of the successful schools in the SEC. Or maybe they could just watch tapes of Auburn's 1999 season.

The first large Auburn crowd of the season sat through a close game between two teams who won't be making Final Four reservations. Who knows when that many people will show up again? For the first time, the new seats that were sold at courtside were filled.

That didn't work out so well either.

A lot of the people sitting in those seats did not leave happy, and it wasn't because of the outcome of the game. With about two minutes left, security people formed a line in front of the student section to prevent anyone from storming the court. They stood directly in front of those people who paid $1,500 per seat, blocking their view for the most crucial part of a close game.

They could have set up behind them, but they didn't. And I'll be danged if I can figure that one out.

Blocking the view of your prime customers with the game on the line? Surely someone will see the absurdity of that.

On the court, the game was a numbing disappointment for the Tigers.

The first half was all head coach Jeff Lebo could have wanted. His team got the ball inside. They hit 3-pointers. They played tenacious defense. That's why they ran to the locker room with a 34-27 lead.

The second half was ugly, very ugly. Auburn couldn't put the game away and Alabama seemed almost hesitant to take it.

After Alabama point guard Ronald Steele hit a 3-pointer to cut Auburn's lead to 44-40 with 12:48 left, nobody scored again until the 7:54 mark. Alabama had a dry spell of 4:54. Auburn's was even longer, 5:49.

In the end, Alabama was strong enough to get a sweet win on the road. Eight freshmen – five for Auburn and three for Alabama – played in the game. But in the end, the difference was probably that Alabama had experience and talent at point guard in Steele and at center Jermareo Davidson.

Auburn could have won the game, had numerous opportunities to win it. That it didn't happen sent this season on a downward track.

The Tigers are 0-2 in the Southeastern Conference. Barring Devine intervention, they are going to be 0-3 after Saturday's trip to Florida. That trip will be followed by consecutive home games against Arkansas, Kentucky and Georgia. If Auburn is to make a move, it will have to start in those games.

Moving on to football...

Tommy Tuberville and the Tigers are close to having the 2006 schedule finalized.

Auburn's schedule should be released soon. Here is the situation according to people in position to know:

The moving of LSU to Sept. 16, the third game of the season, awaits only SEC approval. That is good news for Auburn and LSU. Both teams had daunting stretches of conference games in the second half of the season.

That move, along with the scheduling of Washington State as the opening opponent, forced some other changes in the schedule that included Villanova, Tulane and Temple as nonconference games before the NCAA voted to allow 12-game schedules.

Arkansas State will replace Villanova. That is done. Tulane will remain on the schedule. The moving of LSU could result in Temple being replaced by another team.

Until next time...

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