College Game Day Visits NYC

College Game Day Visits NYC


A Little Background of Sports in NYC

When it comes to sports, NYC is a weird town. Our “home” football teams play in New Jersey. Hockey games will have more Long Islanders than NYers in the crowd (including Rangers games). The baseball stadiums might as well be outside of the city because it’s a trek to get to them. There are a lot of sports fans here but there also isn’t. You can definitely find packed sports bars on Sundays. But you can also find busy super markets and other normal life things being done by normal people. The city doesn’t shut down for a big game.

A big reason for this is because of the “melting pot” aspect of the city. With so many transplants, you find sports fans from all over the country. Team loyalty is real so no one is going to jump ship to start rooting for the Mets. But they will go to a bar to watch the Cubs play. Then you also have people who moved here from outside of the country. Places where their professional sports aren’t aired in the big midtown pubs. Even football (Soccer) doesn’t get much of a TV showing outside of a handful of designated bars.

If professionals sports don’t have as much traction in NYC as other cities, you can only imagine the lack of passion for college sports here! The process of talented athletes playing for a college then being drafted from that pool is very specific to the US. With such a diverse population of the 8M people living in NYC, it’s no surprise that not everyone grew up with college sports. I was raised in a very blue-collar rural part of New York state and college sports was definitely not a thing in our family.

Outside of the lack of tradition of college sports shared by NYers, there is also the lack of college FBS teams in the city as well. Much of the Northeast college representation is of the ivy leagues. They do have football teams, but not in any of the Power 5 conferences. There aren’t big tailgating bashes for Columbia games (there should be). The closest P5 conference team to NYC is New Jersey’s Rutgers, unfortunately. And that is a 2-hour drive from the city.

Still, NYC is a “bucket list” item on many college-aged American’s list of Places To Live. Bars in the city know this and accommodate accordingly. Every single college you can think of has a bar here that will play all of that school’s games. It’s a fun way to celebrate (or commiserate) with fellow school alumni. If you’re a recent grad, it’s a great way to make friends. If you’re a long-time alum, it’s always fun to reminisce.

I have even attended watch-parties for other school’s games at these bars, just because the atmosphere is so fun and energetic. Sure, maybe the whole city isn’t watching the game, but everyone at this one bar cares a whole lot.

So, when ESPN’s live sports show College Game Day decided to come to NYC, it wasn’t a popular choice, but it did make sense to me.

No Matter How Hard You Try, NYC is Not a Campus

College Game Day is a live sports show that is usually recorded on a college campus where the day’s featured game is held. It is recorded live to capture the energy of that school’s fans. Everyone comes out with signs to support their team or trash talk their opponent. It is great promotion for the school. Especially since many college campuses are in smaller cities that revolve around the school.

Even though I’m a Michigan State alum, I never had the chance to attend College Game Day while in school. Moving to NYC, I certainly never thought I would have the opportunity here. When I learned that the show would be visiting here on Sep 23, I was immediately excited and knew I had to go.

Typically College Game Day crowds start lining up near the stage area around 4am or earlier. The show starts at 9am but they open their ‘pit’ area a few hours prior. Well, NYC is a bit different. Bars close at 4am (well more like 3:30am), and even though it’s the “city that never sleeps”, it actually does sleep. Usually around 4-6am is a weird dead zone in NYC especially on weekends. Retail stores and many restaurants don’t open until 10 or 11am on Sat & Sun. Times Square specifically is not a really fun place at 4am.

Another aspect some people didn’t think about was the commuter transportation. Most of these large-crowd-events in NYC are actually commonly frequented by people from the metro-areas, not NYers. (Because we are jaded & grumpy & get enough crowds on the subway during rush hour.) People who live on Long Island, in New Jersey, and Connecticut often head into NYC on the weekends. While there is public transportation via commuter rails (Metro North & NJ Transit) into the city, their hours are few and far between especially on weekends. The first train coming into the city on a Saturday morning isn’t until close to 6am. So people couldn’t even get to Times Square until about 7am.

This is a huge difference from a college campus where many of the students live-right-there and can easily walk. No one lives in Times Square (no one should) and even living in Manhattan it’s unlikely you’re within reasonable walking distance to midtown. No one is driving into midtown either. The crowd ended up being huge but it definitely started out slow.

Experiencing College Game Day Live

I left my apartment in Brooklyn (deep Brooklyn) around 5:45am and took the Q straight to 42nd st, arriving around 6:30am. There was a not-too-crazy line of people waiting to get into the pit. Some people wanted to stay outside that area and already had the key spots next to the barriers by the stage. I understood that these spots made it more likely you could watch the show and be on TV. But, honestly, I wanted the true immersive experience.

At 6:45am they let people into the pit area behind the stage. It is surrounded by barriers and you have to go through a mild security check to get in. Considering the size of the crowd and it being in Times Square, security was super relaxed for a NYC event. You weren’t allowed to put sticks on the signs, but people got around that by using cardboard wrapping paper tubes. Signs had to be approved, no markers allowed in the area, no food or drink, etc. Though the checking was minimal so all that stuff was brought in.

If you stayed outside the pit, there were no security checks. But! This was just on the active sidewalk! Once that got packed later in the day, it looked really annoying to try to be watching the show with oblivious people walking behind you.

Oblivious people was a common theme, by the way. It was hilarious seeing the double decker tour buses roll by and everyone got out their cameras totally confused as to what was going on. We all waved. It was great.

Anyway, nothing really happened until 8am. I can’t imagine getting there any earlier than I did. After 8am, they had someone come out and try to get the crowd amped up. They started blaring hip-hop/dance music and just generally trying to motivate some energy out of us.

I’ve been to live tapings before and was surprised that there wasn’t any direction given to the crowd at all. I guess I’ve only done in-door studio live shows where there were signs for “applause” and “silence”. This was different. They did direct us throughout the show, but no one knew where to look or what to do so it was confusing. A crew member would be at one corner of the stage flailing his arms up to get us to cheer, but we didn’t know to look to that side. I was up front where a camera-man was trying to give us direction for some of the pre-recorded fan shots but again, it was haphazard.

Once the show started at 9am, there was a huge crowd in both the pit area and the sidewalk. Lots of great signs as always! I was very disappointed by the Spartan turn out, but what can you do. I only saw three other MSU fans. Sparty is definitely getting no love by ESPN this year.

Around 11am, people started leaving. To go drink or because they were tired, whatever. I’m not sure if this is typical or not. I was a little surprised but the experience was exhausting.

I knew that people make signs and want to see them on TV, but I didn’t realize how aggressive people are about this. Many of the much bigger guys surrounding me kept thrusting their arms in front of my face and using their body weight to get me out of the way so their super-hilarious-sign could be seen on TV. Obviously I also wanted my sign to be seen, but at the end of the day, it’s really not a big deal. I guess since I don’t go to events like this often I’m not super aware of such attention-seeking behavior. It was rather off-putting. I did tell two guys to “calm down” since they put their sign directly in front of my face, and they were nice about it.

With that said, I did get my 5-seconds of fame!

I’m famous now!

Actual Good NYC Sports Bars

There was a NYC College Bar segment that listed a dozen bars who feature certain team’s games. I would like to rename that segment as, “Bars in NYC to Avoid“. Obviously I’m glad they didn’t mention any of the actual good ones. But I will share them with you! An Ohio State Bar, and generally a B1G bar, and overall fun sports bar in East Williamsburg is 4th Down. An Alabama bar but also just a really great bar with excellent food in Alphabet City is Double Wide. And if you need to watch 100 games at once, all of the tvs at 200 Fifth in Park Slope have you covered.

Wrapping Up College Game Day NYC

I do want to say that I was very surprised and relieved at how respectful everyone was! Well, obviously we all disrespected our rivals, but the crowd was fairly respectful to each other that I saw. I didn’t see any crazy drunk people (I know it was 9am but I still thought there might be). Since I went by myself, I was hyper-aware of my surroundings the whole time. But there was no inappropriate touching or verbal harassment, so all in all a success.

Lots of people on the Internet still didn’t like the show in NYC and felt they should have stuck to a college campus. One aspect of the show I did like, that is very unique to NY, is seeing all the different schools come together! Since the show discusses all the major match-ups of the day, every team fan got their 5-seconds to cheer & show off their sign during the segment. And it was fun hearing all the different kinds of trash talk. I really liked that people from so many different schools came out!

At noon, the show wrapped up and the ESPN crew cleared out the area immediately. My arms were physically shaking from holding up my poster board sign for 4 hours. (They are still sore the day after!) Once ushered out of the area by staff, I headed over to Chick Fil A to get a spicy chicken sandwich for lunch. Going without food/drink for 5-hours was rough.

Overall, the experience was a blast! I am so glad I was able to see College Game Day live! And in my city! And be able to represent MSU in a sea of Michigan (boo) and SEC fans. Go Green!


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