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Friday, April 20, 2007

An email:

Today I write to you wanting to know your side of the story about the luxury boxes. I assure you I'm not a journalist or anything. I just want to hear what you thought about the renovations. From your latest blog entry, I can deduce that you support the luxury boxes. I'm interested to know why. I have been caught between the argument for a while. I'm a life-long Michigan fan; 2 hours after I was born, my dad bought me a teddy bear with a Michigan sweater and hat. It sits next to my bed to this day. Whenever he was able to purchase tickets, he would take me to the game. I want the Big House to be louder, and I want tickets to stop going up in price (this year it's $204!). But at the same time, I hate the idea of catering to the rich, blocking out the sun that would shine on the student section, and ending any possibility of being the Big House. I'm caught up with my feelings of nostalgia.

I hope that hearing your side will help influence my opinion, but it will not dictate it. I look forward to continuing reading your blog everyday. Possibly next November, you could do a piece on the Blood Battle between Ohio State and Michigan. I'm one of the four students in charge of it. We are always looking for any type of publicity. I really want to win both the game and the Blood Battle while I'm a student here.

Thank You for Your Time,
Brian Talpos
(Remind me about the blood battle.) An answer:

First off, it's completely reasonable to have reservations about the luxury boxes. It's completely reasonable to hate the idea of them. Not everyone who hates the idea is the Hero of Tiananmen Square. Their addition is a serious matter worthy of discussion. Where tHOTS goes wrong is by assuming that because a bunch of his NYC friends think it's just awful that luxury boxes might be installed that he speaks for the Michigan fanbase. I know that the sometime strident opinons expressed here may give off the impression that I look down upon those who disagree. Not so: I only look down upon those who would try to twist the reality of the situation to serve their own opinions.

What follows is a point-by-point debunking of what I think are the main points espoused by those who oppose the installation of luxury boxes. The finale is an argument in favor of their addition in the absence of (hopefully dismissed or at least mitigated) concerns.

Luxury boxes are going to cost the university money. This assumes that Bill Martin, the guy who brought Michigan kicking and screaming into the modern era of collegiate athletics, has no idea what he's doing when it comes to dollars and cents. No matter that he's a lifelong business entrepreneur. No matter that he spent years as the president of the USOC. No matter that every move he's made at the Michigan AD has been to wring money out of ticket-holders, donors, sponsors, and anyone who walks by.

I think 80 dollar Appalachian State tickets suck just as much as anyone else, but Michigan fading into obscurity is worse. Clearly having shiny athletic palaces is a way to help avert obscurity. It's complicated. I'm annoyed by Michigan's building spree as a ticketholder but pleased as a fan. I just think that anyone who's been paying attention should acknowledge that Martin has erred on the side of filling the athletic department's coffers. He's gone from a Goss-era deficit to a sixteen million dollar surplus. The idea that he's flipped out and decided to install luxury boxes just so he can have a place to host cocktail parties no matter the cost the university goes against everything on his track record.

Luxury boxes are going to break an egalitarian utopia. There were no protests when Martin instituted PSLs that socked people based on their seats' location. There have been no protests about the distinctively capitalist way season tickets get allotted: donate a ton of money and get good seats. Michigan Stadium has always been about getting people to pay an awful lot of money to sit in it. Despite the appearance of a unified proletariat all sitting on their benches, I can tell you that I have sat on the twenty, on the forty, in the student section, and in the endzone and that the character of each location is vastly different. I have sat next to men in hunting caps wearing pleather Red Wings jackets and looked down on them. I have sat in front of well-coiffed elderly women who have looked down on me. I have had elderly men yell at me for standing up because everyone in front of me has stood up. I have loathed and been loathed because the people in Michigan Stadium have differing ideas on what constitutes appropriate behavior. Always have. Always will. The installation of luxury boxes makes concrete (ha!) a distinction that has long existed.

And it's a small step towards giving everyone what they want. They provide a way for people with differing definitions of the word "better" to coexist. My definition of "better": I can see everything. I can hear Ron English bark out commands. I can hear the band. I can see Mike Hart sweat. Rich mofos' definition: I have a roof and pate? Sweet. Without boxes, the only status these people can have is sitting on the fifty, occupying seats that I could have without their fur-clad indolence. Providing these people really expensive status markers that don't impact where I can sit can only be a benefit.

I am touchy about this tradition stuff. If Martin announced that he'd be putting in the sort of advertising that's all over Ohio Stadium I would be livid. But that's something that directly affects me: I see the advertising, I feel that the tradition of Michigan Stadium is evaporating. The opposition of luxury boxes on tradition grounds is about objecting to someone else experiencing a game "better" than I am, but better to who? I don't want to sit there. While they're busy thinking of me as an insignificant plebe, I'm thinking "thanks, suckers." My experience is not degraded just because someone else is paying a lot of money to have a nice time.

Luxury boxes are going to hurt the stadium atmosphere. Though commenters brought the Daily article I linked which asserted that the local noise levels would double into considerable question, I don't think they conclusively dismissed it, if that was even their intent. One of the arguments put forth by luxury box opponents is that the removal of a certain number of fans from the lower bowl will reduce noise levels. This relies on doubtful assumptions:
  • the sort of person who ends up in a luxury box made any noise whatsoever before being placed in the luxury box
  • the luxury boxes don't contribute any acoustic benefits to the stadium
  • neither do the luxury boxes contribute any general shock and awe to the stadium.
Though I hate to credit Ohio State with anything, I must admit that the stadium itself, even devoid of fans, is a more imposing edifice than Michigan's. Penn State, too. A large part of this increased bad-assery of their stadium consists of vertical walls of steel and glass. Michigan's proletarian bowl is nice but most neutral observers think it somewhat lacking. Michigan Stadium is basically a very large hole in the ground. From the outside it looks squat and mildly homely. The inside has the same sort of brute-force grandeur that the distance between stars or anything associated with some incredible number does, but is lacking in on-top-of-you intimidation. Compare Ohio Stadium... Michigan Stadium...

...and you can just see the noise escaping into the sky.

Why add them?

The addition of luxury boxes will charge a certain subset of fans who treasure certain things I don't an exorbitant rate. These fans also happen to be the sort of fans who A) don't make any noise whatsoever and B) glare at you when you do. A relatively small number of rich as sin fans will get a place within which they can consume tartare and wine without having to tolerate the sort of people who go "AAAAAAAH" before every third down. In exchange, I get to benefit from their willingness to pay thousands of dollars to attend a football game without enduring their glares when I attempt to aid the team we're all watching by screaming real loud.* The money the boxes generate will help Michigan keep pace in the facilities arms race. The boxes themselves will increase the noise levels. From the outside they will look badass.

Ultimately, they will help Michigan win, and that's what I care about.

*(Or, rather, I get to benefit when my compatriots yell real loud. I am only nominally a boisterous fan, since I freak out when the stakes get too high and sit there, paralyzed into silence, wondering how my life is going to turn out based on the outcome of the next play. In the real world, the "best" fans in terms of pure noise are not the ones who are most invested in the outcome but the ones who really care who wins the game while simultaneously understand their ability to shrug off a disappointing outcome. I meet only the former qualification. Viva Downriver, never leave us.)