Ever since I read this post of MaconDawg’s from last Friday, I’ve been pondering doing something similar here — namely, putting together a list of suggested changes for the fan’s game day experience that wouldn’t cost the athletic department an arm and a leg (at least in the context of $60+ million capital projects) and asking you to provide suggestions, too.
At the least, it would be therapeutic for us. And, who knows, maybe somebody who matters might pay attention to a non-threatening cry for help. So, what the hell, here goes nothing.
Let’s start with MaconDawg’s list.
Better televisions in the concessions areas and concourses. 100 mounted 46 inch flat screen televisions at $800 a pop comes to $80,000 plus installation. That would be a small investment to improve the game day atmosphere. Also, while some committed fans don’t want to miss a snap, I expect some would get up to handle their concessions and elimination needs during the action if they knew they’d be able to watch the game in line without needing binoculars. This might mean the rest of us could get a hot dog at halftime without missing the first half of the third quarter. Speaking of which . . .
Take a hit on concessions. The concession costs at Georgia home games aren’t outrageous by any stretch, especially compared to pro venues. But for those bringing a family to the game it wouldn’t kill anyone to cut the cost of a souvenir Coke or a hot dog by a buck. Cut Aramark a check for their loss, but work out a promotion with the vendor, one of the oldest and most closely associated sponsors of UGA athletics. Assuming the 94,000 folks assembled six Saturdays a year ordered one discounted item apiece at every game that comes to $564,000.
Throw some cash at the band. The Redcoats are a critical part of the game day experience before fans even enter the stadium. As the recent effort to build a new tower on the band practice field shows, $250,000 per year could do wonders for the finest band in the whole damn land.
Welcome pavilions. I’ve been to a couple of other schools where there are structures that serve as a sort of first aid tent/welcome center/meeting spot for home and visiting fans. Just an open air, 12×12 tent would do the job. Staff those suckers with students six times per year to help visitors find their cars, get a restaurant recommendation, or to cool off and wait for friends to catch up to them on the march back to their cars. My back of the napkin math says that 7 such stations could be set up and staffed for under $80,000 per year. For weary visiting fans it would go a long way to boost the image of Bulldog hospitality.
Nothing wrong with any of that, especially the welcome pavilions. But I think there’s more to be done with concessions than a price cut. Even McGarity recognizes that, based on something he told Bill King.
McGarity also said the athletic association is trying to streamline the frustratingly slow concessions process: They’ve eliminated time-consuming items like chicken tenders and french fries and rounded the prices up or down to simplify making change. He also said they hope to improve the training of the volunteer concessions workers and get more vendors out into the stands.
What blows my mind about concessions is that most public stadium facilities across the country these days recognize what a money maker concessions can be, if you make an effort to cater to the fans attending games. Go to most stadiums, and you’ll find offerings you never thought possible just a decade ago. Sure, there’s a price to be paid for it, but fans have shown they will dish out a premium for a premium product.
Instead, the solution we’ve gotten at Sanford is to dumb things down because the delivery system is so inept. When you’re basing your concessions service priorities on the servers instead of the served, you’re doing it wrong. Not only that, it’s counterproductive because you’re denying yourself the extra revenue that would come from pricier options delivered more efficiently. How stupid is that?
As far as the price cutting goes, I think a commenter here once suggested that the best setting for offering that would be at cupcake games. That’s a great incentive to attend and if you figure that’s a game that likely draws more families with kids, it’s a nice gesture for folks to save a couple of bucks. Whatever short-term dollars that might cost could be more than made up for with the increase gained from stepping up your concessions game for the remaining games. (Or by playing fewer games against cupcakes… I know.)
Bathrooms? I’m sorry, but it can’t be that hard to find ways to improve the situation there with a little effort. Start with more attendants who can work to keep the facilities cleaner during games and perhaps help direct the traffic flow.
The game day experience doesn’t begin and end in the stadium, of course. There’s plenty that could be done outside of Sanford to make for a happier fan experience. Beginning and ending starts with traffic and parking. For whatever reason, the ACCPD has struggled with this. Certainly it’s a bear to have to deal with emptying out the streets carrying an additional 92000+ people after a game, but it’s long past time for the school and the city to sit down together and map out a comprehensive traffic plan that does a more efficient job. If that means, again, UGA needs to add some additional personnel to the mix to help disburse the traffic, then make that happen, please.
Parking has been an issue because of stadium expansion and general building expansion on campus. The poorly thought out result has been distressing for many fans. I’m not sure how fixable the problems are — what’s gone ain’t coming back — but this appears to be another area that could use a comprehensive approach to getting fans in and out of games more efficiently.
Tailgating. Ugh. The basic approach should be to blow up everything that Michael Adams did in this department and start all over again, with input from fans about start times, locales, rules about what is allowed and not allowed, etc. Most importantly, make sure there are enough trash cans, porta-potties and staff to make tailgating an enjoyable experience all over campus.
Georgia’s approach to tailgating really blows my mind. It’s the most social aspect of the fan experience, the primary driver behind why fans love spending Saturdays in Athens, and yet the school’s quasi-hostile attitude about it seems destined to drive a permanent wedge between the fans and the game day experience. What happened on North Campus a few years ago that led to the biggest impetus to the administration’s change of heart was unfortunate, but something that could have been avoided with a sensible degree of attention paid to providing sufficient resources.
None of these items, in the context of Georgia’s athletic budget, are financial back-breakers. That’s not the real barrier to making things better for those who attend, though. Things have to start with attitude. I wrote something a few years ago comparing my experiences at the Masters and in Athens. What struck me then hasn’t changed in the years since. It all begins with the people providing the experience caring about making it fan-friendly, and that’s something that’s been sadly lacking at Georgia.
Bottom line, flood the place with courteous, well-trained folks who can help fans. As I wrote before,
There’s a pretty basic trick behind the magic. The Masters simply floods the place with personnel. It hires an army of local kids, trains them well and deploys them everywhere from the parking lots to the gift store to the restrooms. The grounds are constantly maintained (everywhere I turned you could see people discreetly removing garbage). Sure, that costs money, but it’s spent in a way that you can’t help but appreciate and admire. It also has the benefit of making sales more efficient, which means opportunity to make more sales.
It’s not rocket science, people. It makes us feel appreciated and I’m pretty confident in saying an appreciative fan is a fan who’s more willing to spend money. An appreciative fan is also a fan who will come back.
If there isn’t somebody at Butts-Mehre who has a feel for how to accomplish that — and I’d say at this point it’s pretty apparent there isn’t — go find someone who’s done that at another public venue in a cost-effective way and bring him or her in to work some magic. Trust me, it would pay off. Bigly.
Anyway, those are a few of my thoughts on the matter. I’d love to hear any suggestions you might have for making game days more enjoyable affairs. So, lay ’em out in the comments and hope somebody’s paying attention. (Those of you who don’t go to games, or are in the recruiting über alles camp and don’t care about anything else, I can do without any condescending observations about how the rest of us can just stay home if we’re miserable, thanks.)