Mississippi politicians and businesses advertise in The Grove on game day

Posted on Sep 24 2018 - 5:50am by Mary Liz King & Jake Davis

Visitors in The Grove at the Ole Miss versus Alabama game, one of the season’s largest games, were treated to a live broadcast of SEC Nation as well as promotions by its approved corporate sponsors.

An earlier article by The Daily Mississippian reported that there is a zero-tolerance policy for advertising in The Grove; however, throughout the day of the football game versus Alabama, campus visitors were subject to businesses advertising and political candidates campaigning in The Grove.

SEC Nation crew members prepare the set for the Alabama game. Photo by Christian Johnson

According to Ole Miss Gameday, the official game day policy states that “solicitation is strictly prohibited. This includes personal, commercial or political advertisement or handouts.”

Organizations such as the Our State Flag Foundation and the Ole Miss chapter of Turning Point USA openly distribute buttons, stickers and other materials promoting various causes at almost every home football game. The university’s chapter of College Democrats also campaigned for U.S. Senate candidates under a tent in The Grove during the Alabama-Ole Miss game.

A handful of Mississippi’s candidates for U.S. Senate personally campaigned in The Grove on the weekend Ole Miss played Alabama.

Jenny Johnson, the assistant director of marketing and fan experience for Ole Miss Athletics, said these political endorsements do not violate any laws and, therefore, cannot be regulated by university officials.

The primary offices in charge of the enforcement of these policies include those of the University Police Department, the Landscape Services Department and the Department of Facilities Planning.

“Lots of eyes and ears are in place to help monitor the policy, and usually, it is just an honest mistake,” Michael Thompson, deputy athletics director for external relations and business development, said during an interview on Sept. 4. “The Grove is a great opportunity to promote something, and (when) we have that conversation (with those violating the policy) … usually everything is fine.”

“Most of the time it’s subtle,” University Police Chief Ray Hawkins said in a Sept. 4 interview. “It’s usually businesses that try to advertise, and that’s usually what we have to deal with. From time to time, there will be political signs, and this is something we have to address.”

McAlister’s Deli, a business that began in Oxford in 1989, is leading a tailgate tour of various college towns during the football season this year, according to the restaurant’s social media.

An advertisement on the business’s Facebook page said that it would be giving out “tailgate staples” in The Grove during the Ole Miss versus Alabama game and that people were welcome to come by the tent for meet-and-greets with former Ole Miss Football stars Jake Gibbs and Wes Walls.

Ole Miss fans crowd The Grove to tailgate before the Alabama game earlier this season. Photo by Christian Johnson

Ole Miss Contractual Services Management is involved with the university’s no solicitation policy, and its office was not informed by the athletics department that the business was going to set up in The Grove.

After the office discovered the Facebook advertisement, Kathy Tidwell, director of Contractual Services and University Licensing, said she did what she could to minimize the business’s presence by restricting how and where it could promote its business in The Grove.

“I made sure that they (McAlister’s Deli promoters) did not go out from under the tent and walk around The Grove … and that their presence was minimized as much as possible,” she said.

When asked about the discrepancies regarding the solicitation policies in The Grove, Jason List, the associate athletics director for marketing and fan experience, declined to comment.