1. BETTER SCHEDULE: Home and home series can be tough to schedule. It’s easier to book a one-game showdown on a neutral field than to find acceptable years for a home-and-home series. Television networks get involved in the neutral site games, which can prod schools into accepting a game, rather than two athletic directors trying to come to an agreement. And the comparatively short time between scheduling and the date of the game, usually little more than a year, makes for better matchups than games that are booked a decade or so in advance, as are many home-and-homer series.
2. MORE MONEY: Not all the neutral site games make more money. OSU got $2.1 million for its game last season against Mississippi State in Houston and will get $3.5 million for its game Saturday against Florida State in Arlington. The Cowboys reap an average of $5 million per home game at Boone Pickens Stadium, but when it’s part of a home-and-home series, that really breaks down to $2.5 million, since it costs the Cowboys a home game in another season. When it’s part of a two-for-one arrangement, that means $10 million over three seasons, so that’s $3.3 million. But some neutral site games make more. The Chick-fil-A Kickoff game in Atlanta usually pays about $5 million per team. And the Florida-Michigan game, set for 2017 in Arlington, will pay $6 million per team.
3. RECRUITING ADVANTAGES: Teams that play in Houston’s NRG (formerly Reliant) Stadium or Arlington’s AT&T Stadium can sell that to recruits. Playing in NFL stadiums is a big deal. Especially schools like OSU, OU and LSU (which plays Houston U. at NRG Stadium in 2016), which heavily recruit the state of Texas and also can sell players on yet another homecoming game.
1. SEASON-TICKET EFFECTS: Traditional powers like Alabama (which this season plays its third straight season-opening neutral site game and will open the next two seasons in Arlington, vs. Wisconsin in 2015 and vs. Southern Cal in 2016) don’t have to worry about season tickets. But in 2013, TCU opened the season in Arlington vs. LSU and Mississippi State opened the season in Houston against OSU. The Horned Frogs and the Bulldogs aren’t automatic season sellouts. How much better to have a marquee game coming to campus. Florida State in Stillwater, for example.
2. ENVIRONMENTS: Most neutral-site games are similar to bowls in that they don’t have near the atmosphere of a campus game. Many are not sold out. OSU and Mississippi State drew about 40,000 last season in a 72,000-seat stadium. The revelry of games on campus cannot be matched, even when gauged against the splendor of a new NFL coliseum.
3. DEMANDS ON CONSUMERS: Fan bases have their limits. When 15,000 or 20,000 from one particular school are needed to supplement the attendance at a neutral site game, that only adds to the burden of customers who also are expected to travel en masse to a bowl game, perhaps to a conference championship game and now possibly for a national championship game. Florida State, for example, opens the season in Arlington and could end the season in Arlington, with a possible ACC title game in Charlotte and a possible national semifinal in either New Orleans or Pasadena. That’s a lot of travel for one fan base.
By Berry Tramel