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Monday, June 20, 2011

Dear Dave Brandon: You can't take a picture with tradition, either

"You can't get your picture taken with the Block M. Mascots are really embraced by the youth demographic and we want to take advantage of that, for all the reasons that are obvious." 

Athletic Director Dave Brandon on having a mascot at Michigan

In many ways, Michigan AD Dave Brandon is one of the primary reasons the MZone is again part of the U-M blogosphere.  And that's not a compliment.

After 2+ years of cyber silence (and no intention of returning), I came out of hibernation last August when, in the midst of Big 10 divisional realignment talk, it was revealed that the Michigan-Ohio State game was almost certainly going to be moved from its traditional season ending spot on the schedule.

Now, it's one thing for Jim "Yes, the Tat 5 should play in the Sugar!" Delany to whore out to network wishes and advocate moving The Game.  Or Barry "We want to sit at the big table!" Alvarez getting behind changes that will keep many folks across the country from thinking first of the Wolverines and the Buckeyes when they think of the Big 10.  But Michigan's own athletic director supporting something that would dilute and detract from what arguably is the greatest rivalry in college football?!


Brandon should have been screaming from the rooftops in protest.  Instead, the former Domino's CEO didn't even seem to realize what an appallingly bad idea it was, talking about preparing for change and saying such things as:

“I think there’s a distinct possibility that game will be a later game in the season but not necessarily the last game of the season.  That’s simply because I don’t think the coaches or the players or the fans or the networks or anyone would appreciate that matchup twice within a seven-day period.”

This after voicing the misguided (and still misguided!) assertion that it's better to have Michigan and Ohio State in separate divisions "because we’re in a situation where one of the best things that could happen, in my opinion in a given season, would be the opportunity to play Ohio State twice.  Once in the regular season and once for the championship of the Big Ten."

No, that's not one of the best things.  Really.  It's not.  And for Michigan's AD to not understand that was actually sort of scary.

Yeah, I know he played under Bo.  But that doesn't mean his leadership of The Leaders and Best is always correct or beyond reproach.  Sometimes Brandon's boardroom background needs to take a back seat to lessons learned in The Big House locker room.  Because if Bo had still been alive and heard that crap about The Game, he'd have kicked Brandon's ass right back to Domino's.

Those were the answers of a man more concerned with television than tradition, seemingly more interested in appeasing advertisers than alums.  At a time like that, Michigan fans needed and deserved their team's old QB/DE, not the former pizza CEO. 

Unfortunately, Brandon only changed his tune (along with the B10, and OSU's president and AD) after - holy shit, locusts! - U-M and Ohio State fans teamed up to voice their unified outrage at the asshattery.

But that wasn't the end of Brandon's questionable calls.

Earlier this month there was the "retro jersey" controversy.  And just last week, Brandon created another stir when he hinted that he was exploring the possibility of adding a Wolverine mascot to The Big House sidelines, talking about it in terms of "youth demographics."

"I'm struck by the fact that when opposing teams come to our stadium, and they bring a mascot, all of our young fans are lined up to see if they can get a picture taken with it, whether it's the Penn State Nittany Lion or Sparty," Brandon told Michigan Today. "That's a little annoying to me.

You know what's annoying to me?  Not realizing you don't need some fur ball on the sidelines to get kids hooked on Michigan football or to become lifelong maize and blue fanatics.  It's been working pretty darn well the last 130+ years without one.

"Picture time, Youth Demo!  Go Blue!"
The reaction from the maize and blue faithful was equally as unenthusiastic and Brandon, like he did with the M/OSU scheduling scandal, backtracked, this time saying the idea is "not an active project."

But this isn't about pictures with mascots, or even "youth demographics."  It's about mom and dad's money.  Because college football is big business.  And slapping some furry creature on toddler tees and sippy cups will bring in a couple extra bucks.   But doesn't being at a school which has sold out the biggest college football stadium in the land each and every game since 1975 - with seat licensing fees tacked on to ticket prices to boot - buy a program at least a little bit of a buffer against shit that sounds like something bandied about in a marketing meeting and thrown against the wall (or sent out with 2-for-1 coupons) to see if the idea sticks?

Look, I realize that traditions need to evolve.  That's why I supported The Big House renovation and upgrades but hated the ring around the stadium.  That's the reason I love the idea of a night game but hate the cheesy-ass "retro" jersey money grab that was tacked on to it.  Being able to tell the difference between upgrading tradition and upending it is the key.

And how does one know the answer to that?  I liken it to the old supreme court definition of pornography: I know it when I see it.  But most importantly, Michigan needs its AD to know it.


Catie said...

Join the facebook group that opposes a mascot!


phil said...

Join the facebook group that wants the mascot I want! I call it, "CLEANING UP THE COMPETITION"


Mikoyan said...

I'm kind of torn on the idea of a mascot. On one hand, I find it strange that Michigan does not have a mascot given that it has everything else associated with the game day experience. I would love to see some sort of wolverine mascot that could kick the crap out of Brutus. But on the other hand, I don't think you can do justice to a real wolverine with some cartoonish version of a wolverine. Wolverines should be vicious and mean and not cute (although I think the wolverines at the Detroit Zoo are cute and I like my avatar here).

Even though I don't like the debacle that has led to him...Swoop has kind of grown on me. But as I said, they would have to do a mascot right.

Mikoyan said...

Although I do have to say one thing....It looks like the Ann Arbor Pitchfork and Torch Supply Store isn't going out of business anytime soon.

surrounded in columbus said...

everytime something like this happens, i picture Yost, dressed like Tevye, singing "Tradition" in some forlorn village on the Russian steppes...

when he was a regent, Brandon vocally supported the sky box expansion. the naysayers howled "tradition"- boxes would bring elitism & social barriers.

the sky boxes sold quickly.

when he became AD, Brandon supported the piped in rock music the naysayers (like Brian) howled "tradition", again.

the kids/players seem to love it (watch the students & players bounce to some of the songs).

when they unveiled the "retro-esque" jerseys a couple of weeks ago, the "tradition" flag got run up again.

the new unis are selling hot-


like it or not, he knows how to make money.

Mikoyan said...

What's funny is that if there wasn't the money issue with Willy the Wolverine, there would probably be a mascot now.

Yost said...


Folks also yelled "tradition" when the rings were put around the stadium and when DB supported moving The Game. And those folks were correct.

As I said in the post, the key is knowing the difference. Anytime - even more so in the Internet age - there are always going to a vocal minority to just about any change. That's human nature. You can't please everyone all the time.

So while I agree with you that he knows how to make a buck, unfortunately it often seems like that is not only the first thing he considers but the only thing taken into account.

Yost said...

PS As for the new unis selling well, I don't think that means they were a good idea or a good design. If sales figures are the arbiter of what's "good," then bell bottom jeans in the 70s constituted high fashion.

justthinking said...

Didn't we try some fuzzy sideline animal last year? That didn't help anything.


I started attending home games when I was 10. As a kid, I wanted my picture taken with the players - not some freakin' mascot. Attended the Spring Games each year which offered the ability for anyone to go down on the field to get autographs. Lucked out when I was 12 and got passes to sit in the Press Box for the Spring Game - former players galore up there, and they were all happy to sign some of the old programs that were still laying around in the desks.

Bigger scoreboards? Yes, thank you. More money for a decent Defensive Coordinator, Yes, thank you. Mascot? No, thank you. JMHO.

surrounded in columbus said...

the "Halo" never made any money (wasn't meant to).

moving "the game", might have cost money, so they didn't move it.

Brandon drives things from the bottom line. and yes, this is America. you better believe that sales figures are the final arbiter of what's "good" (to quote Barzini: "...after all, we are not communists.").

a mascot, like sky boxes & new unis, are about selling things. and money drives success, both on & off the field.

and what's his downside? you won't buy one? sure. others will though.

you won't go to the games anymore? not likely.

you and i are just like the guys in 1986, who then were our age now, that bitched about the wave. didn't like the change; couldn't do anything about it, and in the end, turned out to be wrong about it anyway.

Brandon's selling a ton of unis. you watch- he'll sell a ton of stuffed mascots. and he'll be "right", because he'll have the cash to prove it.

justthinking said...

And, Dave Brandon, my avatar is proof that you CAN get your picture taken with a Block M - and right on ABC television to boot!

(That is before they stopped letting you bring flags into the stadium).

Shorty the Beachcomber said...

Brandon has as much confirmed that both he and Gene Smith (who was only a suspected snake in the grass at that time) had sent out the feeler of the possibility of The Game moving to mid season in order to rile the public, enticing them to grab their torches and pitchforks and bang down Delany's door. He pretty much said in as many words that their intention was to make sure the public let the Big Ten know when The Game was going to be played every year. He also mentioned that with having played in the Ten Year War he recognizes that The Game is the regular season finale for both teams, a culmination for both teams, and should never be moved.

I think we all had to except that both teams were not going to end up in the same division because of the potential for a truck load of corporate dollars, even if us purists think that is going too far. However, Brandon stated that when the realignment was going down, it was all about managing expectations for as far as the fans and alumni were concerned. He knew we weren't going to be happy with the inevitable championship game and the separate divisions for UM and OSU, so he let us have the victory of The Game by letting people know it might be moved, so that when it stayed, we at least could feel like we protected something, and leave the room with a sense of accomplishment and a pat on the back.

Don't take everything said by CEO's and politicians at face value, in fact, almost never do that. Everything they say needs to be deciphered, as it is only said to invoke a certain response that they desire from the masses. Look at politicians; when did the last one live up to their campaign promises and the direction they alluded they would go once in office. They only promise that to get the response of people voting for them, before doing what they really want to do. For CEO types, it's about getting to the money. Brandon is damn good at that, and despite many of our leery feelings about corporate sponsorships (Arby's at the Big Chill and the potential for more to come), Brandon has already done some awesome stuff with the upgrades to Yost coming, Crisler, a new basketball center, and scoreboards for everybody, oh, and varsity lacrosse.

I was very up in arms and vocal during The Game crisis, but afterwards, when Brandon smirked and let us know it was going to stay, I realized how thoroughly he played me. But that's OK with me, because he is our AD, and that means we've got one smart SOB in that office.

Now if we could only get rid of that stupid ass conference logo, change the stupid ass division names, and sratch all those dumb hyphenated trophies.

GoBlueBob said...

SIC... I am one of those guys who was around in 1986 or so when the wave started and did not like it. I have learned to live with it and actually enjoy it at games when it does not impact the flow of watching the game. If it is a blowout game I will watch but if it is a close game it irritates me when the crowd pays more attention to the wave than the game. The students usually do a good job of starting it at the right time. I have never participated in a wave but am probably the only one in my section that does not. My kids love it and always participate.

By the way, I am totally against a mascot also. You are correct in your assessment that it might make money but I would never purchase anything with a cartoon like mascot on it.

surrounded in columbus said...

one question- if your daughter/grand daughter asks for a stuffed Michigan mascot for Xmas/birthday/whatever? are you gonna tell her "no"?

GoBlueBob said...

I might buy my grandaughter a teddy bear with a plain block M on it. Not a mascot but still something she would like. If she asked for a stuffed mascot I would tell her no and try to explain why. I spend a significant amount each year on Michigan related stuff but just have different taste than others and do not think we need a mascot. To your previous point, the fact that I would not buy one, even for my grandaughter, does not mean that everyone else would not.

Andy said...

We had a mascot. Years ago Yost had a live wolverine in a cage carried into the stadium. It scared everyone and they gave him to a zoo.

Shorty the Beachcomber said...

Live Wolverines are the only acceptable mascot... right behind the visitor bench. Unless you wanna make a Wrestling Buddy version of Mike Hart, that might be an acceptable mascot.

Catie said...

Michigan Stadium has never had advertising inside the stadium. I was completely offended at the Big Chill. All of the souviners had the arbys logo (I refused to buy any of them) inside the stadium was MAJOR advertising (I know, Hockey does that, but it still was offensive to me) DB is headed to that, just like the new CEO that takes over a company and the first thing he does is raise the prices by 5%. Sure he made more money for the company at the end of the year, but he lost 2% of the buyers by raising the prices. Michigan IS Michigan and does very well...DB doesn't need to "prove" himself and his ability to generate cash, he simply needs to maintain what we already have.

Andy said...

I have been thinking about this today (lots of time in airports).

I honestly could not care less about mascots. Nothing in the tradition that I know about Michigan football says we should not have a cute furry wolverine running around on the sidelines making kids smile.


Considering that we are all bombarded with advertising all day every day, I don't get offended when a little bit of corporate cash gets slipped into the coffers from a tastefully produced logo.

I am glad to trade the "Arby's" logo on a massively hyped outdoor hockey game for enough cash to hire quality coordinators and assistants like Greg Mattison.

Money makes the engine roar in big time college athletics. As long as DB doesn't sell the soul of the school or program - I am supportive of his efforts.

Jim15032 said...

I am reminded of a program on Monday Night Football and the comments by Don Ohlmeyer when asked about "announcers" like Dennis Miller and Rush Limbaugh. As I recall, he said "f&*k the fans; they'll watch anyway. We want to attract non fans to the show."

So, too, Dave Brandon. Why are we surprised?

Catie said...

They raised the prices of the tickets, they fill the stadium every game and have a waiting list for season tickets. They were able to basically sell out the box seats. They make loads of money on the vendors alone. I know that it costs a vendor (like dominos when they were selling there, 6 digits JUST to sell their pizza, plus 50% of the profits). I am not saying that they shouldn't market the program at all, but seriously, when I say maintain what we have, I am talking about make sure that we have an excellent compliance program, make sure that we have excellent coaches, make sure we recruit well, keep THAT at the level it should be ....THAT is the AD's Job.......not trying to market us like we are a pizza company. I don't want to be bombarded with advertising when I am watching the game inside the stadium. That is just my personal opinion. I think a furry cartoon mascot will be the butt of jokes. Don't get me wrong, I see some logic there, make the next generation of Michigan fans.......seriously.....parents do that already!! We really don't need the furry mascot. Again.....just my opinion. I love the University of Michigan and the football program, that is one way for me to feel a tiny bit immortal, they were playing long before I came along, and will play long after I am gone, so in some ways part of me lives on.

I think that I am afraid of losing proud traditions to lower us to the level that cheapens what we are.

Dennis said...

The evil OSU fan inside me cackles with delight at night games, throwback jerseys and now mascots. The purist in me feels for you.

My son loved Brutus early on. But we've had Brutus since well before I was born, though his look has evolved over the years.

Speaking of my son he had his first "change is bad" moment the other day. All his life there has been a billboard coming into town for McDonalds that had the M done up in a glittery fashion. They tore it down and replaced it with an electronic billboard. He hates it, wants the old billboard back and can't understand who would think this was a good idea.

I think you are getting a mascot at some point, sooner rather than later. I don't think it will be the end of the universe, but I will laugh evily for a while as you continue your descent off your pedestal. Now if you would just win some games so your players can trade rings for tats and car deals your journey to the dark side will be complete. :)

James said...

Out of curiosity, are you guys happy that we are adding men's and women's lacrosse to our list of varsity sports, bringing our total to 29, I think?

Neither of those sports is ever likely to make a profit, and paying for scholarships is a b*tch, given the never-ending tuition increases. I don't necessarily disagree that commercialism is annoying, but I wish fans would raise these concerns before we keep on adding sports programs. The more non-revenue sports we have, the more the cash cow of football has to get milked. Personally, I think we've gotten by just fine for 190 years without varsity lacrosse, and I'm not thrilled that my football season tickets will go up to pay for that sport. Commercialism, while annoying, at least can give us some other means of paying for these money-draining sports teams.

surrounded in columbus said...

James makes a very cogent point. you can't keep ticket prices low, concessions reasonable, and not maixmize your other avenues of revenue if you're going to continue to expand the athletics.

you gotta make money somewhere.

if you don't do things like sell mascots or retro unis, then you're looking at even higher ticket prices and NFL priced hot dogs.

Crock said...

If some kid comes to watch Michigan play and wants their photo taken with Sparty or that stupid Lion ---those parents aren't doing their job.

Yost said...


Yost said...


SiC has a good point. Do I support LAX going big time? Sure. But I agree with you that it's BS that football - and let's me honest, football fans - are the ones paying for these sports.

That said, all sports except for fball, bball and hockey are money losers (and bball is probably only becoming a positive cash sitch again recently).

Mikoyan said...

Well at least those sports generate enough revenue to expand into other sports. yesterday, a friend of mine sent me an article from AnnArbor.com about the sad state of affairs at EMU (EMU alum here) in regards to athletics. With the current fiscal climate in the state, I wonder how much longer EMU will remain Division I.