Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Confederate Flag rally in Inverness, FL, August 2016

In my travels, I spent a few weeks in Inverness, Florida, a small town approximately an hour and 30 minutes north of Tampa. I have friends and family who live in Inverness, so I'm there a few times a year.

It wasn't until recently, however, that I realized how overwhelmingly white Inverness is. Being in Tampa, especially by the University of South Florida, diversity is the norm. Every restaurant has tables of white, black, Asian, Latino, and many other ethnicities. But establishments in Inverness were very, very white. In three weeks there, I saw only one black family in a local restaurant.

While out for a stroll down Inverness's main road, I perhaps saw a reason why Inverness is so white.

A Confederate Flag rally sprung up out of nowhere on a Sunday afternoon. Granted, it is not a mass movement, but it was enough folks to be seen. They flew Confederate flags, Don't Tread on Me Flags, and Molon Labe flags. They received several honks of approval from passing drivers.

This doesn't happen in Tampa. While there is a giant, obnoxious Confederate flag that flies alongside I-75 in Tampa, personal flags are rarely seen and rallies don't just happen.

I've mentioned several times on this website that I am not a fan of the Confederate flag. I believe it was an enemy battle flag that opposed the national flag I signed up to defend. Fighters carrying that flag killed more Americans than the Nazis, Iraqis, or Al Qaeda ever did. It belongs in a museum or at a historical marker.

No, I did not engage the Confederate flag rally with my views. I was highly outnumbered and wasn't there to argue. I was there to mosey down Main Street on my Sunday afternoon.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Donald Trump and the Yuuzhan Vong Invasion

The Star Wars Universe is full of parallels to our own. We can find war, politics, religion, and even law reflected in George Lucas’s expansive empire. We know, for example, that the Rebel Alliance was a social movement determined to win back power from a government they deemed illegitimate. Instead of addressing their grievance, the Empire decided to go to war with the Rebels and through several military mishaps and a bit of Jedi luck, the Empire lost their grip on the galaxy and the Rebels eventually regained power.

Similarly, one of the aspects of Episode 8 that I am most curious about is “who is in charge?”. What is the position of the First Order and the Resistance in greater galactic politics? Is there a Galactic President residing at Coruscant? Could it be Lando Calrissian? Please?

But before I postulate about what could happen in future episodes, I’d like to connect a political post I recently read with an era in the Star Wars Expanded Universe (aka Star Wars Legends).

On Monday, October 18th, Benjamin Wittes of Lawfareblog.com wrote a post entitled “A Coalition of All Democratic Forces, Part I: A Political Focus on What's Truly Important”. Wittes, a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, details the looming possibility of a Donald Trump presidency, the threat it poses, and the long list of people opposing Trump’s way of thinking. Wittes writes that Trump has caused Democrats and Republicans to come together as no other threat to democracy ever has. He concludes by putting forth the idea that Hillary Clinton should govern as a nationalist, putting aside party division for the sake of the ideas and values American Government is based on.

(His Part II article is equally interesting, in which he describes how Clinton should govern keeping in mind the support she has gotten from anti-Trump conservatives.)

While many have linked the rise of Donald Trump and the alt-right movement to the rise of Emperor Palpatine in the Star Wars prequels ("So this is how liberty dies, with thunderous applause"), Wittes’ post reminded me not of the rise of the Galactic Empire, but of the Yuuzhan Vong War.

In Star Wars Expanded Universe lore, the Yuuzhan Vong were a species from outside the galaxy intent on wreaking havoc and destroying all in their path. According to the all-knowing and all-powerful Wookiepedia, the Yuuzhan Vong waited decades, poking and prodding the periphery before striking the Star Wars galaxy. When they finally attacked, the New Republic was ill-prepared. Entire systems of planets were destroyed and the entire foundation of the government was lost.

This is what Trump and his supporters talk about when they say they want to “shake up” Washington. They want to completely uproot the current government power structure. As anthropologist Grant McCracken wrote in 2015, Trump is a fire boat sent to port to destroy everything as it current exists.

Defeating the Yuuzhan Vong required the remnants of the New Republic to partner with their old enemy, the Empire. After Emperor Palpatine was killed by Darth Vader, the Imperial Remnant was a collection of warlords and Imperial personnel who held to the philosophies of the Emperor. They kept the battleships and military ideals and personnel of what was once a mighty Imperial military force.

In order to defeat the Yuuzhan Vong, the New Republic needed the Imperial Remnant. Likewise, in order to defeat Donald Trump, the Democrats need the remnants of the GOP. They need conservative voices such as the Bushes, Mitt Romney, and John McCain, those who have spoken out and refuse to support Donald Trump. They need conservatives who are not afraid to break from party lines for the sake of our constitutional republic.

According to Wittes,
“Clinton’s democratic foes also need to understand that however flawed she may be, she is not wrong when she says that, at least right now, she is the only thing standing between America and a political apocalypse of sorts.”
Trump and his cronies represent a Yuuzhan Vong-type threat to Washington. He is the Tea Party on steroids. His belief system is so far out of line with the Washington way of business, he will cause irreparable damage to our way of governance. He will burn down Coruscant and make it uninhabitable.

It is very possible that somewhere in the Star Wars Galaxy, there was a planet untouched by the Yuuzhan Vong War. A planet on which lived a species that hated both the Empire and the Republic. One that thought both systems of governance were useless. One that hoped the Yuuzhan Vong would make the galaxy great again.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Thoughts on the USF Football Fan Experience

On September 24, I went to the Florida State University versus University of South Florida football game at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. It was my first time seeing a Seminoles road game and my first time seeing a USF Bulls home game.

Although the Noles eventually won 55-35 and I walked away a happy alumnus, I was not impressed by the USF Football experience.

Not because of the grueling 90+ degree midday Tampa heat or because I spent $20 on water bottles throughout the game. I wasn't impressed because it didn't feel like college football.

Perhaps because the Bulls play in an NFL stadium, their game experience felt more like a minor league event than a college. The in-stadium entertainment was not centered around the band and school spirit but an in-game host and pumped in DJ music. There was a t-shirt cannon that drove around, fan contests, and Dance Cam segments on the scoreboard.

College football is marching bands, cheerleaders, and school spirit. It is chants and school songs and group involvement.

Being my first USF game, I can't say if this was the norm, but it seems like a strange way to win a fanbase.

USF does have cheerleaders and a marching band and cheers and chants, but they are a minimal part of the experience. Sitting by other FSU fans across the stadium, I never once heard the USF Band play. I'm sure they did, but perhaps there weren't enough of them to be heard throughout the stadium.

What I did hear was top 40 dance club songs. Over and over and over. These songs not only artificially tried to hype the USF fans, they even played over the FSU band when the Marching Chiefs tried to hype up the FSU fans. Drowning out the opposing band should be the job of the home team band, not an anonymous DJ. School songs should drown out school songs. School songs shouldn't be drown out by Flo Rida or whatever else they were playing.

Imagine stadium music playing over the Florida A&M Marching 100 or the Bethune Cookman band at the Florida Classic. That would never happen.

The above video is how you create school pride.

Unfortunately, recently philosophies in sports marketing have been focusing on the wrong ideas. Sports business minds believe a stadium visit should be all about experience. They think a great stadium experience will bring fans, that top-40 club hits and Dance Cams and free t-shirts will entice people to want to come back.

Give them a good time and they will forget about the score. They will be buyers of the experience forever.

That's a not a good idea, especially for college football. Attracting fans through bells, whistles, and shiny objects is great until another event comes around with bigger bells, louder whistles, and brighter shiny objects. It is an arms race to the bottom of short attention span hell. It creates loyalty to the experience, not to the brand.

College football fans are defined by their passion to the brand.

In the weeks since the game versus FSU, USF has struggled to get fans to Raymond James Stadium for home games. According to reports, they drew less than 17,000 fans to their homecoming game against ECU. As expected, this lead to blog posts calling out the fanbase for not showing up.

The problem with these hot take articles is that fan shaming never works. Ever. Ever. Ever. No fan has ever felt so embarrassed by an editorial that they immediately bought tickets to the next available game. It doesn't happen.

What does help is looking at the product and the message being sent about the product. That is what I do regularly in regards to Tampa Bay baseball on my blog TampaBayBaseballMarket.com. And that is also what one USF sports writer finally did. He asked if there was enough media coverage, enough communication between university groups and athletics, and enough marketing to the student body to make USF football appealing.

Winning over the student body should be low hanging fruit. Winning over the general public is much more difficult. When local non-alumni residents walk through Tampa wearing USF gear, then the Bulls will have made it. When people move to Tampa and buy USF gear to fit in, that's when the Bulls will have won the market.

That's the case in Tallahassee and Gainesville with FSU and UF. Admittedly, those are small towns with far less to do and where Saturday game day becomes THE event in town. Winning the market is a lot harder in Tampa, where the Bulls compete not only with the Bucs, the Storm, the Lightning, the Rays, and the Rowdies, but also the alumni presence of FSU, UF, and UCF. Alumni of those schools are too busy watching their own teams to follow USF football. At best they will casual supporters.

USF football sells something unique in Tampa. It sells college football. College football is something special. It is a small town feel for big time games. It is College Gameday signs, tailgates, and pep rallies. It is grandparents wearing the same school colors as parents and students. It fills a unique niche between hyper-local high school sports and national professional sports.

Even though they play in an NFL stadium awash with advertising opportunities, Bulls football should not try to sell the NFL game or Arena League game experience. Tampa already has the Bucs and the Storm for that. USF should sell a sense of community. It should sell school pride.

Selling school pride in a relatively new university known more as a commuter school is difficult. Despite it's size, USF is not a place where a majority of students live around campus. There is also a large amount of international students who are not used to the American football experience. Engaging the student body is the number one task.

Unfortunately, tradition takes time. USF opened in 1956 and didn't begin playing football until 1997. There are UF and FSU alumni who graduated before USF was opened. There are former FSU and UF players in the College and NFL Halls of Fame. There are players such as Derrick Brooks, who played for Florida State then made the NFL Hall of Fame as a member of the Tampa Bay Bucs and current Bucs QB Jameis Winston, another former Seminole. Former Seminoles and Gators play a big role in Bucs, Storm, and even Rays history. The same cannot be said yet for the USF Bulls.

There is also old money flowing into the accounts of FSU and UF that USF does not have. USF needs a few generations to pass before their legendary players, booster donations, and alumni count is equal to the other big colleges in the state.

The USF athletic department has a lot of work to do win local hearts and minds and pack the seats for USF football. Some local writers have good ideas the administration and sports marketing department should explore. USF has to turn USF football into a college football event, a thing-to-do in Tampa on Saturdays in the Fall. An event that pulls the same emotional strings of other college football events across the country.

An event without DJs, t-shirt guns, club music, and in-game hosts.