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When the Event Means More than the Game

By Alex Norman

These days it is all the rage in the National Hockey League to play outdoors.  This year alone, five games will have been played without a roof.  In Ann Arbor, Michigan, Los Angeles, California, The Bronx, New York and Chicago, Illinois, huge crowds have shown up or will show up.

Not because the quality of play is spectacular. As a matter of fact, the ice surface is never top notch and it takes players a while to get used to the foreign surroundings.  The reason fans show up is because the experience is so rare… the chance to see a hockey game with a huge crowd in a place like Yankee Stadium or Soldier Field.

Other sports have similar unique experiences.  It’s why you see college basketball games played on an aircraft carrier like the USS Carl Vinson.  It’s why the Lady Vols played a basketball game under the stars at the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2000. Whatever it takes to get the sports fan (and their credit card) on board.

On September 10th, 2016, Tennessee fans will show up in droves for a college football game against Virginia Tech at Bristol Motor Speedway.

This has been an idea talked about for decades.  It is finally becoming a reality.

Last year the University of Tennessee athletic department announced that 40,000 tickets have been secured.  That’s the initial amount handed to each school.  35,000 of those tickets have a deposit placed for them, and the other 5,000 tickets will be for UT students.

“The overwhelming response to the Battle at Bristol speaks to the passion of our amazing Tennessee fans,” said Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Dave Hart in a statement released by the University of Tennessee athletic department. “Our fans’ excitement and their strong and immediate response to the Battle at Bristol game, which is still 32 months away, says everything you need to know about the most devoted fan base in the nation.”

Yes, that is true, but it is also a fan base beaten down by six straight seasons of mediocrity, under four different head coaches.

And while head coach Butch Jones and his staff have done a spectacular job on the recruiting trail, there is no guarantee that in 2016 the Vols will be anything more than what they are now… a 5-7 team.

People are signing up for tickets to the Battle at Bristol because they are Vols fans.  That is true. But they are also signing up because this could be a once in a lifetime event.  You could camp out that entire week near the track, just like NASCAR fans do twice a year.

You could be part of the largest crowd to ever witness a college football game (estimates have seating for as many as 150,000 fans at the World’s Fastest Half-Mile).

Years from now, you’ll be able to tell your grandkids that yes… I was at that game.

Would it be nice for Tennessee fans to be rooting for a team that is back in the national rankings?  Sure.  But that’s why fans will be at the game.

The sightlines will be brutal for many spectators.  Imagine sitting behind an end zone.  You might be 200 yards from the other end zone.

Traffic leaving the track will be a nightmare.  Bristol post-race traffic makes Vols post-game traffic look like the Autobahn.

But that won’t matter.  This is an event.  It’s a happening.

And it’s no surprise that Tennessee announced they are in discussions with Bristol Motor Speedway to obtain more tickets that they can sell to Vols fans in the future.

So the next time you hear someone with a wild idea about playing a sport in a non-traditional venue (NBA game at Wimbledon?  MLB game at Lambeau Field?)… Don’t laugh…

In 2016, they are going to play college football at a NASCAR track.

How about that…

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