Last week, I wrote about some of the issues in LSU’s tailgating scene, and how that’s negatively effecting attendance. The response, from LSU fans and scores of supporters of other schools, was positive and shows that there are a lot of people that feel like the increasing difficulty involved in being an active tailgater for football — the increasing hassle that just goes with attending a major college football game — is starting to keep people at home. And the phenomenon is going to continue to grow.
But talking about problems without talking about solutions is pointless, at least in my opinion. So let’s try and look at the bigger problems with LSU tailgating, namely parking and traffic.
Ultimately, the horse is well out of the barn regarding the monetization of parking, especially in the premium areas near Tiger Stadium. We know that the demand for TAF controlled season parking passes is great enough that A) there’s a waiting list and B) the number of lots continues to expand every year. As it is, the entirety of the central portion of campus is very expensive parking that only a TAF donor with a high priority point level has access to.
Honestly, I suspect some of this is driven by university administrators that have long since viewed tailgating as just a drain on campus resources. And to be fair, they aren’t wrong that many tailgating groups have a horrible track record of trashing some areas of campus. But that’s a larger issue that can’t be addressed here.
I can accept that there’s a market here, and a significant revenue stream that LSU likely can’t afford to ignore. But there are still some questions about how the program is administered. For one, a number of passes show up on the secondary market. And its one thing for people to try and unload passes they can’t use on an individual basis, but its another to see people sell most of their passes except for the one or two big games they actually want to go to.
I’ve seen speculation that some of the passes belong to tailgating groups that don’t even have season tickets. However, LSU’s official policy on TAF controlled season parking passes requires a season ticket purchase and actually limits buyers to one parking pass for every four season tickets on an account. Given the vast quantities of tickets that hit resale markets in groups, it’s not impossible to imagine that some groups purchase vastly more season tickets than they actually need, just to get the extra parking passes.
Speaking of unreasonable — the per-game parking passes, sold in this limited area of campus, marked in blue:
Now this area probably covers, if I had to guess, some 2-300 parking spots. At $40 per parking space on average, that comes out to approximately $12,000 per game. LSU’s per-game revenues overall come out to about $6 million or so — so that 12k isn’t even a half of a percentage point. Personally, I’d call that nickel-and-dime-ing fans. If there’s some good reason why the money is necessary, or some campus service that it pays for, I’d love to hear it, but I have a hard time believing it’s a hard portion of the budget.
If it is, then maybe consider the passes’ administration, which is a monument to inefficiency. Overnight passes for people who want to leave cars or trailers are available on Friday, but passes themselves are not. The passes are only sold from the two points of entry on gameday, one on Dalrymple Drive and the other on South Stadium Drive.
Neither point of sale seems to have an accurate count of the number of parking spots available in their area. I’ve personally seen one or both checkpoints sell out of tickets with spaces still open. There doesn’t seem to be any communication between the entry points either, to route people from one end to the other if there are still tickets available. Once inside the gates, what street parking is actually available isn’t totally clear. Portions of streets marked for street parking on the above map are often marked with no-parking signs — and I’m not just talking about obvious areas like fire lanes or hydrants. And if your tailgate forgets something, forget about a quick run to the store or a nearby house to pick something up, as the pass doesn’t allow for re-entry. And of course, your parking space wouldn’t be secure anyway.
So on top of an expense that already feels a bit ridiculous, you have a program that does a horrible job of serving customers.
If LSU is unwilling to scrap this program, I would suggest at least streamlining it, as well as adding a pre-purchase option, similar to the overnight passes. These passes mostly serve tailgates — they should be seen as more than just a place to park your car as well. Allow for re-entry if the person is able to find another spot. After all, the ticket is already sold. Also, do a better job of updating the status of parking availability through social media or the gameday radio shows, so people might be able to find out in advance if they need to change plans.
But in my opinion, the tiny financial hit would be well worth the good will of dropping the charge altogether.
Sadly, there are a lot of limits here. First of all, Baton Rouge’s traffic is pretty rough in almost every other situation. But when you compress hundreds or even thousands of cars in a few square miles with limited points of egress, there’s always going to be traffic.
It’s a scary thought, but if you’re a regular Podcast Ain’t Played Nobody listener, Steven Godfrey has suggested that LSU is still a better situation compared to other programs due to the proximity of Interstate 10.
That isn’t to say that things can’t get better, though. Baton Rouge and Louisiana State police handle the traffic re-routing after the game; LSU has surprisingly little input, and that’s been a point of frustration for university administrations in the past.
In my opinion, better communication would go a long way here. Yes, LSU issues parking advisories for big games, but partnering with law enforcement on a better traffic map might be a good idea. Specifically for post-game contraflow. If you’re coming from, say, Lafayette and need to get back on I-10 westbound, it might help to know which parking lots or areas of campus will be routed in the most direct fashion. Some of the hayfield lots along the levee do indicate this on their entrance signs, but it needs to be more widespread. Post a weekly map online, share it through social media and make it a part of the pre- and post-game radio broadcasts.
The one upside to my own tailgate getting displaced, is being closer to the southeast corner of campus, where traffic is routed out onto Highland Road, was much easier for the members of my group heading back towards New Orleans. At our original spot we were routed out through Dalrymple Drive, which gets extremely clogged. Mostly because nobody directs the incoming traffic of the multiple arteries leading onto Dalrymple, particularly at the Lakeshore Drive traffic circle.
It’s not a cure, but at least people might be able to bake the knowledge of the traffic routes into their plans.
Like I said last week, this is mostly screaming into the void. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that so many people read it and shared it and it’s always gratifying to know other people are having the same issues and feel the same way you do — and it’s also telling to hear it from fans of other schools. But it’s not going to change anything for this season, and maybe not at all.
Again, this is the business of the game now. The days of a simple drive up to the old alma mater to park and walk into the stadium are over. It’s the era of big money and LSU has to maximize revenues if we want to see them compete on the field. I can accept that, even if I don’t love it.
But likewise, the new reality is that the in-home experience has become just as appealing and more so, in some cases, as the in-stadium experience. Additionally, the children or grandchildren of long-time season-ticket holders will be making decisions on whether or not they want to continue to pay an ever-increasing price for those tickets.
That’s LSU’s customer base, and they’re going to need to start finding more ways to keep them happy than just fielding winning teams. LSU football is riding a 20 year stretch of excellence and now has more trouble than ever just getting the stadium filled for a conference game. Taking these hassles out of tailgating, or at least making some visible efforts at it, can only help.