Back in 2015, K-State and Stanford announced a home-and-home football series. The Wildcats played at Stanford in 2016, and the Cardinal were set to return the favor this coming football season.
But yesterday, K-State announced it had accepted an invitation to move the game to Arlington, Texas, for the AllState Kickoff Classic. Instead of playing at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan, the teams will meet at AT&T Stadium.
K-State issued a press release touting the move, but the only thing you really need to know is K-State will receive $2.8 million for giving up this home game. All other supporting rationales are secondary, if not illusory.
Athletic departments are businesses, as much as they like to pretend they’re not when it comes to their athletes. And businesses require revenue to support their operations. So from a pure financial perspective, this game makes sense. I’m not going to delve too deeply into hypotheticals, but based on the information I’ve seen, that payout is worth two or 2.5 comparable home games. We’ve created revenue from another marquee home game – and then some – without actually playing one.
With a Covid-sized hole* in our athletic department’s revenues, that’s not nothing. Reduced salaries, furloughs, outright layoffs and downsized sports programs have been the year’s theme across college athletics. K-State’s situation is no less dire.**
*I concede also there’s no certainty full stadiums are permitted by September. So the financial boost from this guaranteed payout may be greater. But I’m assuming normal marquee home game revenue at this point.
**But not so dire that we couldn’t give Chris Klieman an extension and raise in October.
But even with that considered, revenue is not the sole aim of an athletic department. Texas has more revenue than God, and they’ve won fewer Big 12 titles in the last decade than K-State. Fans, from the casually interested to the major donors, are an athletic department’s shareholders. Unlike GE’s shareholders, they’re not compensated through dividends or selling their shares for a profit.
Fans are compensated by what the athletic department does with its revenue. Winning games and hanging banners are their remuneration. Part of that remuneration is providing the experience. I’ve been to dozens of games in Manhattan. I remember crushing Miami in 2012 and beating USC in 2003 a lot more than most of them. It’s an even rarer experience at K-State, where home-and-homes with major P5 programs are harder to come by.
The ultimate question, then, is whether it’s worth it. Is this marginal amount of revenue worth what’s given up?
You can, and many will, argue the ancillary benefits. This is a showcase game. It’s in a key recruiting territory. It boosts K-State’s brand.
I’m not dismissing those factors, but nobody’s hanging a banner because we’re playing in what’s basically an early season bowl game that LSU has also played in before. And I don’t disagree that Texas is a key recruiting territory, but we’re already guaranteed two games there every year, including one game every other year in DFW. The boost to K-State’s brand is unquantifiable and silly to argue about. Broadcasting a game played in a shitty suburb of Dallas excites people? What a country.
These items stand in contrast to the very real opportunity costs.* K-State’s season ticket holders are one of the key stakeholders in the athletic department, and this decision robs them of a marquee home game. Some (many?) won’t be able to attend the game now. And from a recruiting and branding perspective, a full home stadium and chance to show recruits around Manhattan are greater assets than the stadium where the Cowboys play. Especially if it’s half-full.
*I’m not directly addressing the cost to local businesses. This is a marginal, though not existential, concern. Especially in a season with seven other home games.
The primary reason I land on nay for this decision is that it was contracted as a home game that we have simply given up. If we had announced this week that we were playing a one-off game against Michigan State in the AllState Kickoff Classic, then I would applaud the decision. But as it stands, we didn’t create a new opportunity, but rather traded for a lesser one, in every factor other than revenue.
Furthermore, it seems like this was a preexisting athletic department strategy. Before any human had conceived of the phrase SARS-COV-2, Gene Taylor talked about being “open to moving a future home game to [a] neutral site like Arrowhead.” I despise trading away contracted home games* to neutral sites. Using neutral site games should be a bargaining chip for schools that won’t agree to home-and-home arrangements, not a bait-and-switch when a contract is already agreed upon.
*If we play Mizzou at Columbia and move the Manhattan game to Arrowhead, then Gene Taylor should be fired on the spot.
All that said, I don’t categorically disfavor neutral site cash grabs.* There are certain programs that we simply will not get to visit Manhattan. If we can create a financially lucrative game at a regionally advantageous location against an opponent that wouldn’t consider visiting Manhattan, then absolutely, do it. But don’t create this expectation among potential future opponents that we will readily trade away trips to Manhattan for games in Arrowhead or Jerryworld.
*In fact, I may go to this game. I have law school friends I’m overdue to visit.
In short, this is a disappointing cash grab with weak or false supporting rationales that don’t justify the cost to K-State fans, the athletic department’s most important shareholders. Wake me up when we schedule a cash game against LSU at Arrowhead.