Thursday, April 19, 2012

Penny pinching lunacy

In my professional career, I've worked for two companies, both of them magazine publishers, neither of which are run well. In four years since leaving college, I haven't--nor have any of my coworkers--been afforded a single salary raise. In fact, I took a paycut at my first job.

The first company I worked for had corporate offices in New York and investors. Every year, the business end of the company put together a financial portfolio that projected the company's earnings for its investors. Despite the fact that the company was firmly in the black--several millions of dollars every year--when it failed to reach those expectations, investors came looking for their share back. In an effort to limit those shortcomings, every employee in the company took a pay cut, budgets were slashed, and everyone was expected to do more with less. Many of these issues can be attributed to the economy and the industry--print media isn't an unsinkable ship?--but it still felt like a stupid way of doing business. Alas, that's just how business is done. My current employer doesn't deserve quite as much leniency. Budgets have been slashed to zero, employees have been laid off in favor of cheaper labor, and there are numerous ill-conceived initiatives intended to make the company money while denigrating the product, all in the name of saving a few dollars.


I try to stay out of the business end of Michigan athletics. It doesn't interest me and MGoBlog covers it better than I ever could. But when news came out that Dave Brandon has decided to keep the band in Ann Arbor for the football team's season opener against Alabama at the Jerry Dome in Dallas, I got pretty annoyed.

Brandon has caught a lot of flack from the Michigan blogging community. I'm not sure their sentiments are shared by the majority of the fanbase, but since we're the most vocal part of it, that's the opinion that sticks out. First it was piped-in music in the stadium. Then it was new jerseys. Then it was the hashtag on the field. I'm sure there are things that I'm missing, but none of them has bothered me.

Brandon's job is to make money for the athletic department. Ways to do that include alternate jerseys for special occasions and catering to the segment of the fanbase that really drives the athletic department (ie, those with money). If that means playing Neil Diamond during games or whatever other jock-rock tunes that people prefer, fine. That's not affecting the final product; it's changing it. I don't begrudge Brandon for doing his job, even if I don't really agree with him.

But there's a difference between making money and saving money, the latter of which is the bane of most companies (ask US car dealers who have been skimping on their products for decades). Making money typically requires new initiatives (eg, a night game against Notre Dame that you can make and sell commemorative jerseys for). Or catering to a fanbase that probably doesn't care whether or not the marching band is playing during every timeout because they're at the game to have fun, not to consume tradition.

But not bringing the band to the opener objectively diminishes the final product. The Victors is not something to be played through a stereo, unless its blasting out on State Street on an October Saturday morning and the faint sound of the real deal is echoing in the distance. If Alabama's band is there, the game goes from a pseudo-road game to a legitimate one. This is not good for your football team. This is not good for their season. With tickets already allotted for the band, the minor, one-time expense of sending them is not even a decision: they go, because they're part of the football team or perhaps more importantly for Brandon, they're part of the product.

This is a money saving concern on an epically stupid level. Brandon's much maligned "corporate takeover" of the athletic department has been a straw house until now. The athletic department is in the business of making money and that's what Brandon was doing--hand over fist. This is penny pinching lunacy that only those fearful of an investor's wrath would concoct. But for the Michigan athletic department, not sending your marching band to the team's highest profile game of the season is the exact thing that's going to send its investors up in arms.

Dave Brandon, you're smarter than this. Don't cut corners, even if it means making your significantly in-the-black revenue stream tick down incrementally.


Mike R said...

Chris You are spot on. I can't believe they wouldn't send the band to one of the most highly anticipated games of the football season. It seems penny-wise, pound foolish, especially for a team that values tradition as much as we do.

Do you know what reasons he gave for not wanting to send them?

Anna said...

There can't be any good reasons, except perhaps that he's afraid to set a precedent. Perhaps he doesn't want to take the band to every away game, perhaps he thinks this game isn't "big enough" for the expense. But I agree, it lowers the value of the brand. It suggests that we don't think the football program is important enough to do it right. Alabama knows that their fanbase wants the band, so they're bringing the band. It isn't a game without them. I believe the cheerleaders may be absent as well. Perhaps Brandon thinks the old, wealthy, stodgy donors don't care about the band. Perhaps he's never seen a postgame show, and all the fans still in the stands. He hasn't been in Revelli hall to hear the letters we get, praising our show. He hasn't seen the crowd of fans, waiting in front of Revelli for the drumline show. He is still new to Michigan. Perhaps that's the problem.

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