Bill Olsen popped out of retirement briefly to give this observer a call a few days after reading some recollections on his tenure at the University of Louisville. We talked about several things that Bill was involved with, some of which will be shared in future blog entries.
His primary challenge in the eighties was football because the basketball program was at its zenith, having captured national championships in 1980 and 1986. When he became AD in1980,Ã‚Â football tickets sold for $3 each. Attendance was about 15,000 per game.Ã‚Â He made it his goal to ramp up the football program in a big way at U of L.
“The only games we ever made money were those against Western Kentucky, and we didn’t play them every year,” he says. “We were facing some significant challenges.”
He recalls that Tommy Carroll, former president of the University of Louisville Associates, conceived the idea of tailgating before he arrived. A marketing committee was created by Charlie Herd, of the Chamber of Commerce.Ã‚Â Among the members were Maury Buchart, then Vice President of Marketing at the Courier-Journal, Bob Goetz, also of the CJ, and Mike Brown, of Pepsi.
“The marketing committee suggested that we start promoting the tailgating concept, making them social events as well,” said Olsen. “Many other schools were doing it but we had just never done it.”
The committee urged Chamber businesses to get involved. Among them was WHAS Radio, which promoted the concept of 84-for-84 (840 is station channel). Wayne Perkey, Milton Metz and other station celebrities manned a tailgating area, selling sandwiches and cold drinks for 84 cents. U of L also encouraged the cheerleaders and Lady Birds to mingle with crowd and got the band to march through the crowd around old Fairgrounds Stadium. Many groups of friends and families quickly gravitated to the idea of food fests, and it ballooned from there.
“We also put up billboards,” he says. “The images on the first billboard consisted only of a leaf falling on a football. The theme was ‘Six Super Saturdays.’ We stayed away from the inferior product on the field and focused on the atmosphere surrounding the game.”
“Tailgating just continued to grow. People loved it. Some of them enjoyed it so much they never went into the stadium for the game. We became one of the best tailgating schools in the country.”
Oh, and football attendance had grown to between 28,000 – 30,000 in the years before Olsen retired in 1997.
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U of L also ran with an idea suggested by Charlie Herd, the “Kids & Cops” promotion with Pepsi’s backing, with the police passing out trading cards with pictures of the football players. The program promoted U of L football while also building good will between the police and children and youth around the city.
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Maury Buchart, mentioned above, also was the person who introduced the cabooses that line the back of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. The cabooses lease for about $10,000 a year for tailgating purposes. Some of them are available for rent for private parties. This observer celebrated a milestone birthday party there (the best ever) a few years ago and the cost then was $300 for the night.