It turns out the SEC has created something it calls the Working Group on Fan Experience and charged it with coming up with recommendations to keep us bringing our wallets on Saturdays.
The problem is they seem to be going about their business bass-ackwards.
“Every industry that depends on people showing up for your events has to worry about this one,” said Stricklin. “One of the biggest challenges we have to deal with is how good the product has become on TV. And we have to make the in-stadium experience as good or better than watching it at home on TV.”
If you’re making TV watching your benchmark, you’re already losing. Look at some of the issues they’re exploring – wi-fi, replay, the secondary ticket market. None of those are about enhancing the quality of the live product. They’re just hole plugging, trying to keep up. Now the last item Barnhart mentions, game quality, does help, but it doesn’t make it less easy to stay home (since you could see such games on the tube, anyway) and in any event, there are plenty of coaches and ADs who aren’t thrilled with the idea because it doesn’t suit their agendas.
But the conference is worried about this, to its credit. Or at least it says it is.
The SEC is going to invest some real money into high-level market research to discover what fundamental changes have to occur that will allow the conference to at least hold on to the attendance it currently enjoys.
“What is the real attitude of our fan bases?” said Strickland. “We know about all these issues, but what are the real world solutions? Soft attendance is something we’ve been dealing with a few years. We have to get a handle on this now.”
If it helps, I’ll save you some money with a few suggestions.
- Tailgating. Some places, like Ole Miss, get how big a deal this is. Saturday in the Grove is an amazing experience, one that can’t be duplicated at home in your backyard. But there are also places like Athens, where the administration seems to have been if not outright hostile to making the tailgate an enjoyable experience, at least indifferent to it.
- The in-stadium assault on the senses. The constant commercialization inside Sanford Stadium grows ever more relentless. Ads run constantly on crawls. The scoreboard has its fair share of them, too, and you hear their blare on the PA system. You can’t get away from them. At least when I’m at home and the ads show up I can either mute the TV, hit the head or go grab a beer. If the athletic department really needs the money that much, throw a couple more Jason Aldeen concerts to cover it. And while we’re on the twin subjects of blare and music, is it really necessary to play as much inane pop music as loudly as possible as is done? I could go to any number of professional venues for that. (Which is one reason I don’t.) In Athens, it seems particularly silly given the presence of a school band throughout the game, but what do I know?
- Traffic and parking. When I first got season tickets back in the 80′s, getting into town and parking was a relatively easy and inexpensive experience. Now it’s a bitch, and if you want to park anywhere within shouting distance of the stadium, it’ll cost you pretty good. Some of that’s the result of on-campus improvements and some of that’s what you get when you expand stadium capacity, but if you’re going to take in the extra money all that generates, it seems the least you can do is spend a little of the extra jack to make traffic control both before and after the game efficient.
I keep saying it, but college football is a unique experience. The SEC should be looking at ways to preserve and enhance that. Do that, and we will come. Trying to entice a student population that doesn’t seem particularly interested in showing up by giving it another venue to tweet and text doesn’t strike me as exactly what the doctor is ordering here.
I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on this.