ESPN College Gameday is going to Arlington, TX for yet another Alabama game. The No. 3 Crimson Tide will have a ranked matchup against the No. 20 Wisconsin Badgers in the AdvoCare Classic. It will be the only matchup this week that includes both AP top 25 teams. For Alabama this is normal for a season opener, or at least it seems that way ever since Nick Saban agreed to coach at Alabama.
Saban’s first year in 2007, he did not have much to do with the schedule. His team went on to finish with a 7-6 record, and he probably wanted more. The best way to get the University of Alabama back into the limelight was to put the team on national television. Alabama did just that in 2008, when Chick-Fil-A announced the first ever kickoff game at the Georgia Dome. It was to be a neutral site matchup played every year to start college football, and No. 24 Alabama would play the inaugural game against the No. 9 Clemson Tigers. Not only was the game going to be nationally televised, it also gave a chance for Alabama fans from other parts of the country to come see a game. From a marketing standpoint it broadens the “Crimson Tide Brand.” Alabama turned on the jets in that game upsetting the Tigers 34-10. The whole country saw for the first time that this Alabama program was different than the program that lived in mediocrity the decade before.
Saban teams since 2008 have played in three more Chick-Fil-A kickoff games, and one other game in Arlington against a No. 8 Michigan team. Each time the game has been nationally televised and each time Alabama has won. The other two seasons Alabama did not schedule neutral site games, the team played a home/away series against a ranked and talented Penn State game for week two. It’s obvious that since Saban has been coaching at Alabama he does not shy away from scheduling a tough out-of-conference opponent.
The tough opponent brings the national attention especially the opening week when most other power five programs schedule outside of the power five or even FCS schools to have sort of a warm-up game. With the cameras comes more money for Alabama, and it also helps in recruiting for Saban. Saban is 8-0 in season openers and has taken the program to a level it has never been before. For high school athletes to see Alabama playing successfully against other top-flight programs on national TV, it makes Tuscaloosa a premier destination. From a marketing standpoint, and a recruiting standpoint these games make Saban look like a genius. Teams that participate in these games usually don’t have much of a drop off in payout either. Payouts for these games are usually around 3-5 million for each team. Alabama averages around five million for a home game. As long as Saban remains successful in openers, I don’t see Alabama shifting away from neutral site games anytime soon. In fact, the next three seasons following 2015, Alabama has already scheduled three more neutral site games.
“It’s part of the national distribution, it also satisfies the scheduling mandate, because you have to play somebody. So if you are going to play somebody, you might as well play somebody good, and play them at a place where you will get national television,” former SEC commissioner Mike Slive said.
The Crimson Tide is set to return to Arlington in 2016 to play USC followed by another Chick-Fil-A Kickoff against Florida State. Alabama just announced recently that they would play in the new Orlando Kickoff against Louisville in 2018. Alabama has become a national brand because of games like these, and Saban knows it. He may not remain undefeated in these games, but his program will be in front of a lot of faces every opening weekend.
Source:: The Crimson White Sports