college basketball experience

2 February 2020

Welcome To The Main Distraction: Entertainment Gone mADD

by Freddy Tran Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango + Usually A College Sports Fan; photo by Neon Tommy via Creative Commons

The other night I thought I went to a college basketball game at USC, but I had apparently wandered into a circus…

Yes, on occasion, ten extremely tall young men sprinted back and forth across the floor, flaunting feats of athleticism I could only dream of doing.

But apparently, that wasn’t enough.

First, a portion of the night honored Kobe Bryant, although he didn’t attend either of the colleges playing. Indeed, he didn’t attend college at all. But OK, this being Los Angeles, memorializing him with free commemorative T-shirts and 24.8 seconds of silence seemed appropriate.

Yet even that wasn’t enough.

Whoever runs these events must live in quaking fear of mass Attention Deficit Disorder, since they provided no time to actually savor anything. In between the spurts of on-court action, the event organizers gave us replays of game highlights, flashing ads for sponsors, two basketball shooting challenges involving fans, T-shirt tosses, a kiss cam, a loudest-fan contest, and videos promoting the next game AND the next game’s halftime attraction (appropriately, Cirque du Soleil).

But wait, there’s more:

  • Our seats were near the band — an expected, traditional attraction, and fight songs are a fun college tradition. But given the full brass and percussion sections reveling in a confined space, perhaps we should have sat at the opposite side of the arena.
  • Apparently, a live band with full brass and percussion sections reveling in a confined space doesn’t produce enough noise, so the organizers BLASTED hip-hop at every break in game play.
  • In addition, concession hawkers wandered the aisles, loudly and incessantly peddling their overpriced wares (“BOTTLED WATER $5!”) even during game play. I estimated that they stayed silent for approximately 24.8 seconds.
  • Then there were cheerleaders — also an expected and traditional college attraction. But let’s make that THREE sets of cheerleaders, all representing USC: the traditional cheer squad, the all-female Dance Force, and the legendary Song Girls. No complaints here, but…
  • …all those dynamic dancers apparently didn’t suffice, since the halftime break starred professional acrobats (including one costumed as a horse) performing trick dunks off a trampoline.
  • Finally, the event featured one distraction I could have done completely without: the live DJ who constantly barked at the crowd, telling us when to stand and cheer, like a bombastic anthropomorphic “applause” sign at the taping of a bad sitcom.

Did I mention I had gone to watch basketball?

While I appreciated the organizers wanting to give me my money’s worth — the tickets were not cheap ($40 each for a regular season game played by “amateurs”) — I would have taken two bottles of water in exchange for the DJ. In fact, forget the water — I would have paid extra to do without the DJ.

Early in the evening, I told my friend (a former student in his thirties) that I already had auditory fatigue. He said he felt that, too, but mentioned that maybe we’re just old. I agreed. I would have absolutely loved all this when I was five.

Despite all the distractions, I ultimately enjoyed the game — it helped that USC won — but from now on I’ll opt for entertainment that’s less assaulting on the senses. Like, say, running with bulls while wearing a red cape.

P.S. Great minds snark alike… After reading this post, my fellow adjunct professor Jeff Hirsch sent me a similar (but more poetic) article he wrote last year about “sensory assault” at a Dodgers game.

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Freddy is the Founder & Creative Strategist of Atomic Tango. He also teaches graduate-level marketing communication courses at the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), shoots pool somewhat adequately, and herds cats. Freddy received his BA from Harvard and his MBA from USC.

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