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Kicking off: college football season engulfs all of us

Less than a week remains before the start of Southeastern Conference football.

Ole Miss hosts Memphis and Mississippi State visits Louisiana Tech in their openers. Other SEC teams begin as well. League play starts in mid-September and while all schools are undefeated today, arguments about projected outcomes, rivalry match-ups, division and conference championships and even BCS titles have already begun.

Our cultural passion borders on madness as we rush through the months of September, October and November, carefully scheduling family events like weddings, vacations, reunions and even planning our errands and yard work so as not to conflict with the magnificent Saturday kickoffs.

Though there is college football interest everywhere, only in the Deep South is it so ingrained a tradition, one so deep that a newborn is welcomed with school colors rather than pink or blue and allegiances are so strong they divide, usually temporarily, marriages and friendships

It is a lifestyle that engulfs us all.

It is also big business, really big business. Stadiums larger than most of our communities serve as our castles flanked by massive weight rooms, indoor practice fields, academic complexes and whatever else is necessary for our million-dollar coaches to lure highly skilled 18-year-olds to their respective campus.

Consider the cost for a typical family of four, typical if you assume they have access to tickets. As corporations become more involved and more critical a financial factor, the scarcity grows. But let’s assume they have connections, live 60 miles away from their favorite stadium and are obsessed with overcoming obstacles that will keep them from cheering for the home team.

Here’s a non-scientific breakdown for a seven-game home schedule.

• A licensing or loyalty fee, is necessary to purchase tickets. Good — not great — seats are probably $400 apiece for the entire season. That’s $1,600 for four.

• Tickets are usually $50 per game, $200 a week for the family or $1,400 for the season.

• It’s a 120-mile round trip at $3.50 a gallon for gas or $21 a game. That’s $147, not including in-city sightseeing.

• Most motels require a two-night minimum at inflated rates. Let’s say $175 per night for the room that normally costs $99. Times seven equals $2,450, if the family stays together.

• Breakfast is part of your motel expense, but there’s a pre-game meal and the post-victory celebratory dinner. Conservatively, say $10 apiece for lunch, $15 a head for dinner, times four. Ring it up at $100 a weekend times seven or $700.

• Stadium parking is $10 a week. A program is $5. And let’s just say junior needs a souvenir each week for $15. The package is $30 a week, $210 a season.

• Chairbacks are optional, but comfort is not. Money is no object — $35 per seat per season. That’s $140.

• Then there’s the stadium food with choices galore. Jumbo dogs, burgers, nachos, peanuts, pretzels, chips, candy, water and drinks in keepsake plastic cups. Each item is easily $3. Four purchases each person, each game. Or $48 a game, $336 a season.

There may be more, but you get the picture. And if you’ve been adding, the seven-game total for four is $7,963 or roughly $1,137 per week. Or $284 per person per game.

Go team!

Now get this. Total attendance for 89 SEC team home games last year was 6,687,371 or 75,139 per game.

To be fair, let’s say 15,139 fans were students and didn’t have those expenses each game. In fact, let’s not count them at all. But do the math again; 60,000 spectators times $246 per person times 89 games. That’s $1,313,640,000. “B” as in billion.

Is it any wonder the “game” may be losing its significance? Or the coach now “has” to win?

It’s enough to make you focus on a whole different set of numbers and an entirely different scoreboard.

It’s also enough to make you think that big flat screen TV you purchased instead of buying tickets has a picture more sharp, more crisp and more enjoyable than you ever imagined. And the new car, the one in school colors you also acquired with your four-year savings, looks just great and runs even better.

Contact MBJ editor/publisher Ed Darling at ed.darling@msbusiness.com.

About Ed Darling

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