MICHIGAN FOOTBALL MAKES IT LOOK EASY
ROBERT CONRADI THE WASHTENAW VOICE
Carolyn Chemello stands along State Street announcing $25 parking spots on a rainy Saturday morning before a UM home football game.
For its fans, the University of Michigan football is a religion. For others, it’s a social event. For many more, it’s survival.
Even if the Wolverines lose, Ann Arbor always wins during the season that brings almost 200,000 people to the city every game, and economic gains for many.
“Michigan Football puts Ann Arbor on the map,” said Kevin Nelson, 44, of Ann Arbor, an alumnus of the 1988 class of the College of Engineering at UM.
The game touches not only the city, but all its inhabitants. Its machinery, with a large and deep, gear not only moves the current city, but also builds its future, bringing revenue to hotels, restaurants, bars and stores. It creates countless temporary jobs.
And the numbers speak for themselves.
Last season, the Big House’s attendance reached more than 763,000 people.
DREW BRODIE THE WASHTENAW VOICE
Human-powered taxis, reminiscent of rickshaws, transport fans on game day.
According to a study done by Michigan State University, each home football game brings an estimated $10 million into the local economy, said Marianne Gosz Klinker, communications director at the Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The games also bring revenue to the clothing industry that sells jerseys, T-shirts, souvenirs and memorabilia at the stadium store and other stores that belong to the university.
Workers like Rod Powers, 55, of Chelsea, get opportunities to make overtime pay. A 30-year employee at UM, Powers is one of four truck drivers who collect the garbage after the games on Sunday mornings, starting at 6 a.m.
Powers said that volunteers from Father Gabriel Richards High School collect and sort recyclable waste from the stands. The UM athletic department intern pays for their sports programs like cheerleading and volleyball.
In 2009, for games against Western Michigan University, Notre-Dame and Eastern Michigan University, there was a total of 66.12 tons of garbage; 14.36 tons were recycled.
ROBERT CONRADI THE WASHTENAW VOICE
Partying fans enjoy some pregame revelry on Saturday, Sept. 18.
This season, from games against Connecticut, Massachusetts and Bowling Green, there was 57.67 tons, including 14.28 tons of recycled waste, according to Ablauf.
Since he was 7 years old, Melvin Henry, 51, of Ann Arbor, has parked cars on his Sheehan Avenue house on game days. His family used to charge $2; he now charges $20. Last season, he made between $1,500 and $1,800, averaging $250–$350 per game.
And for Henry, when it rains, it pours. Michigan won’t allow parking on its golf course when it rains, to protect the turf. That means Henry has more business.
In 2009, the golf course sold spaces for 9,326 cars; 1,165 per game. It brought $279,780 for the season, an average of $34,972 per game, said Ablauf.
Chris Veta Varlamos, 46, an engineer from Novi and a UM alumnus, has been renting car spaces on his State Street home for the past three years.
“We are saving for our kids’ college funds. They come to help,” he said. He makes about $350 per game.
Fans know it is better to pay for parking instead of being towed and paying at least $230.
In 2009, 249 vehicles were towed during the eight home games of the football season — an average of 31 per game.
After only five home games this year, 172 cars have been towed, said Renee Bush, spokeswoman from the Ann Arbor Police Department.
Although game tickets are not cheap, the spirit of some people moves those who cannot afford to get into the games.
Clayton Willis, 51, of Detroit, has no legs but he hasn’t missed a UM game since 2007. Seated on his wheelchair, he holds a plastic cup, waiting for charity, and then goes to the game.
Some ask for free tickets and some get them. Others scalp tickets near the entrances. Even the hustlers make good money.
On a good game day, they can start their buying and selling with two tickets and make $2,000 per month scalping, said Henry.
If you know the system, you can get around and scalp a ticket or get a free ticket, but a lot of people don’t know how to do it, and they have to buy a ticket for $60. They then have to pay for parking, drinks and food, explained Eric Birkle, 46, of Ann Arbor.
But the alumni don’t care about prices. They always come back to the games, bringing their families to continue the legacy.
Deb Nelson, 51, from Scottville, has been to every game since 1988 when her daughter was a freshman. They drive 3 1/2 hours. She and her family usually arrive on Friday night and stay at a hotel in Whitmore Lake, Jackson or Ann Arbor, arriving at the Yost Arena parking lot by 9:30 a.m.
They spend $200 on food, $100 on a hotel, $60 in gas and have four season tickets that cost $1,000 each season.
“I love Michigan football,” Nelson said. “All the tradition is exciting. I love all college football.”
Marilyn Lowery, 77, from Wayne, was 5 years old when her grandparents first brought her to a UM game. She now owns four season tickets. She has come to the home games since 1954.
“We love Michigan football. It’s exciting. Prices and teams are not as good as they used to be, but it is fun getting together with friends and family. Sometimes, we (have) 20 people, sometimes just six,” she said.
They spend about $500 on each game.
DREW BRODIE THE WASHTENAW VOICE
Ticket sellers may be found in abundance outside UM Stadium on game days.
Fans come from different states like Illinois, Ohio, Indiana. They endure the changing weather and the early start, just for the love of UM football.
A 70-year-old woman from Taylor gets in line at the golf course at 6:30 a.m. to be at her favorite spot. She brings together between 75 and 200 family and friends from Farmington and Novi. Her grandkids study at UM, and her group has come to every home game since 1979.
She started tailgating at the golf course with Kentucky Fried Chicken. Now, she has an elegant space and tables filled with food like doughnuts, apple cider, hamburgers, hot dogs, different kinds of salads, meat and foods to grill after the game.
She also brings a satellite dish to watch the game on a flat screen TV, and another TV for her grandkids to watch DVDs.
“It’s great. It’s the spirit! They put blue blood in their veins,” she said. “Football means everything to Ann Arbor. Financially for college, for business they make good. But I don’t like the drinking… These girls so young with too much drinking.”
You don’t have to love football to enjoy the season, and even make some money.
“I don’t care about football, I care about the cans,” said a 35-year-old homeless man from Ann Arbor, who holds a plastic bag with more than 100 cans worth.
Another 49-year-old man from Ann Arbor enjoys every home game. He has picked bottles for the past five years.
“Football is great! Fantastic! We are having a good year. Denard Robinson is tearing them apart!” he said.
But the math these people do has nothing to do with win-loss records and national rankings.
“If everybody drinks one pop or one beer, the stadium holds almost 110,000 people, that mean $10,000 in cans,” said another Ann Arbor homeless man. He has been homeless for the last five years, depending on bottles and cans from home games. He doesn’t do it very often anymore, but he used to make $100 every game.
“I’m not greedy,” he said.
But not only the homeless pick cans and bottles.
Mike Varney, 24, Lody Bowman, 19, Cecily Cammarata, 20 and Josh Barabe, 18, started picking cans at 7:40 a.m. They are from the EMU Aviation Fraternity and were collecting cans to raise money to fly to Florida in January in hopes of obtaining enough hours to achieve their pilots’ licenses.
“Crimes happen during game days, but they don’t take over the community,” said Ann Arbor Chief of Police Barnett Jones, who added that most common crimes are larcenies from vehicles, stolen vehicles, fights and aggravated assaults due to intoxication.
During the last football season, 48 people were arrested; 34 of them were minors possessing alcohol. There were also 69 citations; 54 of those arrested had alcohol in the stadium. And 221 more individuals were ejected from games for different reasons. Of the 61 ejections, 51 were due to disorderly conduct.
This year, during the first three games, there were 15 arrests, 23 citations and 68 ejections, said Diane Brown, spokeswoman for UM.
Jones said they have to take care of the security of about 220,000–250,000 people every game — not all 115,000 attendants go to the game. Another 114,000 are in the stands, and another 30,000–50,000 who tailgate never even go into the stadium.
Jones’ department works together with Michigan State Police, University of Michigan Department of Public Safety, Pittsfield Township and the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department.
Perhaps the only ugly thing that can be seen during UM football is the disparity between the rich and the poor.
“The average working person cannot afford to get into these games,” said Henry. “Or they come but because somebody gave them the ticket. It’s for upper-class people; lower-class doesn’t come to these games.”