The best new cheap restaurant in Lafayette...is a UL-Lafayette football game

UL Lafayette is making concessions so cheap you can't afford NOT to eat there. I asked them why.

Good morning! Please allow me a brief respite from the UConn football beat to quickly do some Important Hot Dog journalism.

You can’t afford to NOT eat at UL Lafayette football games now

Just about every administrator in college football is concerned about declining attendance, from Alabama to South Alabama. The average attendance at an FBS football game is the lowest it’s been in 22 years, and the trend is showing little sign of stopping.

There are plenty of reasons why fewer people are going to games. Many of the game feature mismatched opponents and are sort of lousy experiences (nobody wants to spend 60 bucks on a ticket to watch Georgia beat some Mountain West pasty by 52 points in the hot sun). You can watch multiple games at once if you’re at home on the couch. The WiFi at most stadium sucks. The list goes on.

You can spend a gazillion dollars to build a scoreboard so big you can see it from space, but that isn’t going to make watching a college football game in person more like TV. If you’re going to compete with TV, you’ll have to things differently.

Not all of things are expensive. Take UL Lafayette, a member of the Sun Belt. Folks in South Louisiana take food very seriously, and that includes the food you can get at the stadium. If you want local cuisine, you can find stuff like jambalaya, shrimp & grits or po'boys, no problem.

But if you’re interested in the classics, you’re in luck. They just announced a new, fan-friendly concessions pricing system for football games. How fan-friendly is it? Well...

Fan Favorites Concessions Pricing:
-    Hot Dog, $1.00
-    Popcorn, $1.00
-    Fried Potato Chips, $1.00
-    Cheese Quesadilla, $2.00
-    16oz Domestic Can, $2.00
-    20oz Fountain Soda, $2.00
-    20oz Bottled Dasani Water, $2.00
-    Hamburger/Cheeseburger, $3.00
-    Pretzel, $3.00
-    Frito Chili Pie, $3.00
-    ICEE, $3.00
-    Cheese Nachos, $3.00
-    Large Popcorn, $3.00

A hot dog for a buck! At an FBS football game! If I go to the hot dog stand behind my Home Depot out on Addison St and a hot dog is gonna cost me more than a buck. It’s more than a buck at my local 7/11, a fact that I shouldn’t still know off the top of my head, given that I have the metabolism of a 32 year old father of two…but I do. When you compare that to regular stadium pricing, that’s a scream of a deal.

I called up Patrick Crawford, Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications & Digital Strategy at UL Lafayette, and asked him to explain how, and why, the school decided to do this.

“The main goal is to have the most family-friendly, and fan-friendly atmosphere possible for our fans. It’s a passionate fanbase. They care about their football, and they care about their food,” Alex told me. “They’re passionate tailgaters, passionate partiers….and how can we help fans have the absolute best time at our games without giving things away for free?” The school worked with their concessions partner, Sodexo, to look at the data, determine what menu items traditionally sold well, and figured out a plan to dramatically cut prices. “We didn’t want to over-extend ourselves. And we wanted fans to have something to go off of, like the dollar menu.”

Crawford confirmed to me that this is the same company that previously worked with the school, so UL Lafayette isn’t discounting hot dogs because they’re like, scooping up day olds from Metairie or something.

Now, it’d be one thing for a giant school with say, some $50 million dollar a year ESPN contract, to cut popcorn prices. But UL Lafayette is in the Sun Belt, and has a Sun Belt sized budget. Can they even afford to cut concessions prices like this?

Crawford told me that the majority of their concessions budget actually comes from alcohol sales, so cutting the prices on popcorn and pretzels to get a few more families in the door is a perfectly fine trade. There’s plenty of cheap alcohol (you can get a Tall Boy for two bucks!!!), but Crawford also swears it’s never caused any problems. '“We don’t have rampant alcohol related issues.’

He recounted what another school staffer said about the fanbase. “We’re a responsible group of people, even if we don’t look like it.”

Personally, I love this creative thinking.

UL Lafayette should be a pretty decent football team this year, and they’ve been fairly regular bowl participants over the last decade. They also haven’t had to contend with TV competition quite the same way as other programs over the last two decades (Crawford reminded me it wasn’t that long ago that not every game was on TV).

But this fanbase isn’t Appalachian State, or Georgia Southern, or UCF. And the Sun Belt itself has realigned a few times over the last few decades, so Ragin’ Cajun fans now have regular games against opponents like Texas State or Coastal Carolina…teams they’re not as emotionally invested in. If you want to get more than 20,000 butts in the seats, you’re going to need to provide an argument beyond “it’s a football game!”.

Making it very affordable to feed a family at a game is just smart business sense. It’s worked for the Atlanta Falcons, and Crawford told me other college programs have lowered their concession prices as well. Hopefully, other schools will be inspired to make things easier for their fans as well.

Lowering ticket prices is great. But a cheap ticket only goes so far if you gotta pay $30 bucks to park and fill out a FAFSA form to feed a family of four. If you find yourself in Lafayette this fall, you won’t need to do that.

I doubt you’ll find a better bang for your entertainment buck than a football game.

Also, a few quick updates about UConn/AAC

1) In an interview with Dennis Dodd of CBS, AAC commissioner Mike Aresco made it pretty clear that there aren’t many potential expansion candidates that move the proverbial needle for the conference.

CBS Sports: If you go to 12, how many schools are out there that can bring $6 million-$7 million valuation to the table to become a 12th AAC member? (That's what AAC teams were set to earn in the new ESPN TV contract.)

Aresco: "Probably very few."

Almost everything I’ve read indicates that “probably very few” essentially just means Army, BYU or Boise State, and there doesn’t appear to be mutual interest from any of those parties. I’m sure the league will do its due diligence and investigate other institutions, but there’s no real appetite to add a team just to add a team, even if that makes football scheduling more complicated.

2) The one exception that I found was this tweet, from a reporter in Memphis:

Old Dominion wasn’t mentioned in the actual story, FWIW. But that sort of passes the sniff test for me. ODU has the largest athletics budget, (per USA TODAY, anyway) of the most commonly floated candidates, and sits in a growing metro without competition from pro franchises. I think there would be real questions about the football team’s ability to compete in the AAC right now, but in three seasons? Maybe that gap isn’t so big.

At any rate, just because the AAC doesn’t decide to make a move now doesn’t mean they might not change their minds in a few years, should ODU, (or UAB, or somebody else) make a dramatic investment in their program, or quickly improve.

3) I’ve read conflicting reports on the status of the AAC’s ESPN deal. There have been multiple reports that ESPN has the right to renegotiate once a team leaves, but I’ve also seen reports that such a clause only applied if one of the actually good football teams left (i.e, Cincinnati, Memphis, UCF, USF, etc), not UConn. Whether ESPN can actually make changes to the deal or not, given what little value UConn brought to the table in that department, I wouldn’t expect a major change.

4) UConn going back to the Big East could mean big things for the Big East’s contract with Fox, though. Via the Providence Journal:

UConn will pay an entry fee to the Big East ($3.5 million), but that's usually deducted from future earnings. More importantly, TV partner Fox Sports certainly pushed for this. Word is the addition of UConn can trigger a clause in the Big East's deal with Fox and re-open talks on a contract that has six years to run. This will mean a bump from the current $4 million or so per school TV payout; perhaps an additional $2 million per school.

I think the HOW WILL UCONN PAY FOR THIS?!? WHY DID THEY GO TO THE BIG EAST TO TAKE LESS MONEY?!? angle to be missing the point on all of this. The school is going to save $2 million just on travel costs, which is almost the difference in media rights alone. When you factor in a potential side-deal with SNY, plus potential increases from Fox Sports…I think (big picture) UConn will be just fine.

And honestly, so will the American, whether they stay at 11, grab Army, grab Old Dominion in four years, whatever. Nobody has to play UConn in football again, unless they really want to.

Everybody wins.

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