Have Chips and Melted Cheese Become College Football's Defining Snack?
My brother sent me this photo of a billboard near Milan, Mich., figuring I had the food expertise to explain it.
My brother, an alum of the school responsible for the ad, wondered if Eastern Michigan had resorted to making nacho love its only prerequisite for admission. I assured him the ad was alluding to football, but rang up the EMU marketing department anyhow.
"Here's the backstory," spokesman Ward Mullens told me. "Our football team went 0-12 last season and they're 0-2 this season. Things aren't looking good."
The nacho billboard is one entry in a series of ads intended to highlight everything but the team's ghastly play, he explained. He's not sure how well the gambit's working.
"Just to add insult to injury, one of the ads has a giant Caucasian fat guy painted green with an 'E' on his chest," Mullens says. "If you were a nacho lover before, you wouldn't be after that."
But what interested me most weren't the vagaries of college sports marketing, but the selection of nachos as the quintessential football food. Why not put out the call to hot dog lovers? Or soft pretzel lovers? Has the popularity of college football concession stand nachos skyrocketed along with salsa sales and the number of Taco Bell outlets?
Nachos are my default snack at baseball games, but I'm not sure I've ever ordered them at a college football game. That's partly because nachos call for beer, which isn't available at most college stadiums. Plus, a cold beer doesn't go all that well with the wintry conditions in which my University of Michigan Wolverines usually play.
The National Association of Collegiate Concessionaires wouldn't share its statistics on nacho consumption, but referred me to a vendor who asked I not reveal his identity. Mr. Football Food confirmed "nachos are very popular," but said the snack is holding steady as the third or fourth most popular concession.
Still, my anonymous source was happy to hear Eastern Michigan considered nachos a major selling point.
"As someone who represents a company that sells cheese sauce, I like their promotion," he said.
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