Penn Athletics Director Steve Bilsky knows it’s not easy to get Penn students to attend to home football and basketball games on a consistent basis.
But getting Bill Cosby to agree to a stand-up comedy at the Palestra in under five seconds is a piece of cake.
“I called Bill Cosby, I said, ‘I’ve gotta ask you a favor,’” Bilsky said. “He said, ‘Done.’ I said, ‘I didn’t even tell you what it is yet!’ And he said, ‘If you calling me to ask me [for] a favor, you know I’m gonna do it.’
“I said, ‘I want you to perform.’”
And so Cosby will perform at the Palestra after Penn’s season-opening home matchup with Temple on Sat., Nov. 9, a day marking the height of Homecoming Weekend and potentially the busiest single 24 hours in Penn Athletics history.
Penn football will square off with rival Princeton at noon on Franklin Field as one of 13 varsity programs competing on Nov. 9.
And to celebrate the conclusion of its $125 million fundraising campaign, Penn Athletics’ declaration of Nov. 9 as Student Appreciation Day makes perfect sense as an all-in effort to woo Penn students to 33rd Street.
For $10, students will buy themselves a higher incentive than they’ve ever had to stay at the Frank well after they’ve tossed their toast between the third and fourth quarters. They’ll be able to attend a Homecoming barbecue in the East end zone area of Franklin Field at the end of the third quarter against Princeton.
And if you’re of age, you’ll get booze too.
Then it’s off to the Palestra for a 5 p.m. tip against Temple and a stand-up performance from the Cos himself immediately following the game.
What Bilsky has done here is put all his eggs into one weekend-long basket. You’ve got the pull of both Penn-Princeton and the Palestra, the history of the Big 5 and an impressively event-appropriate Philly legend all tightly woven into eight hours.
All of that should be enough to ensure new blood in the student sections at both the Frank and the Palestra, even if the “appreciation” in Student Appreciation doesn’t really exist toward Penn Athletics like it used to.
But on Nov. 9, how many students will be hooked enough to stay on 33rd Street long after Cosby is done gracing the Cathedral? Probably not too many. However, a ticket package this strong has to be a step in the right direction.
As Red and Blue Crew president Jonathan Cousins realizes, it’s wise to make your athletics marketing pushes few and far between. Make them count.
“The important thing is to nail down a couple of those games that are really important both for the team and for the Penn community and really push those hard,” Cousins said. “It’s clear at this point that the way Penn is, we’re not going to be able to draw 2,000 students to anything consistently to every football or basketball game. But you could definitely do it once.”
Nov. 9 is clearly that “once” for Bilsky and the Red and Blue Crew alike.
But “once” is also the problem.
“It’s not that hard to convince [students] to do something once,” Cousins said. “But after that, they’re like, ‘Oh we did that already. I wanna do my comedy show and I wanna see my a capella group and I wanna see one basketball game.’ They’re trying to get the full Penn experience. It’s not the kind of thing where they’re gonna be like, ‘Oh, every other weekend I’m gonna go to two basketball games.’”
Nov. 9 is not the cure for student apathy towards Penn Athletics. But it’s an effort to be noted and thoroughly enjoyed — a creative remedy that on-campus Quakers fans should already be awaiting impatiently.
If all goes well, 33rd Street won’t feel quite so behind enemy lines or alum-laden anymore. Let’s hope it draws in plenty of new student fans for good. For “once.”
MIKE TONY is a senior English and History major from Uniontown, Pa., and is senior sports editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at tony@theDP.com.
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