it's a major award
For those of you who regularly come here looking for an unhinged diatribe against the powers that be, let me first apologize and recommend a different column. Thankfully, there isn’t really any of that here this week (ok maybe a sentence or two). I’ll preface by saying that I was away at an engineering convention last weekend and missed the second half of the Rutgers game, so perhaps my program ire/ennui wasn’t quite to the levels that many others here had attained. Either way, I found Saturday to be a welcome relief, not only that we won, but also from a general fan experience perspective. And this is compared to last year in particular, where the night game atmosphere mixed with general admission to produce one of the worst fan experiences I’ve had in the Big House (admittedly only until the opening kickoff).
Pregame: From the Football Student Advisory Council
The football student advisory council (or football SAC as some of their members call it) is a new initiative this year to get more student fan input on the program, the games, the department, etc. I have a few friends who are serving on it and so occasionally have the luxury of getting a feel for things yet to come (and occasionally can put that into print). After this week’s meeting, one of them commented that
“Anything and everything is on the table to fix this.”
“Where this means everything,” I replied.
That includes lower student ticket prices, allowing bringing water into the stadium, etc. So despite the chaos of the last few weeks, it seems that the athletic department is listening. Whether, and how much, they’ll act on it obviously remains to be seen, but it seems reasonable to be at least guardedly optimistic. Hunter Lochmann, the AD’s Chief Marketing Officer observed that he has never seen Brandon like this—that he’s hurt, and that he wants to fix things. Will he be able to? I don’t know. But if *if* he does change course, if he does
- back away from the relentless commercialization of the football experience,
- lower ticket prices,
- fix the “little things” like allowing people to bring water bottles in,
- work to change the culture from a client-provider model to a more family/community model,
- back off from allegedly micromanaging aspects of the football program,
- stop screwing around with seating policies, gimmicks, and promotions,
- apologize for the way concussion-gate was handled and commit to being more forthcoming, and less legalese-y in the future, and in short
- work to bring back the fan experience that made the Big House what it was for decades;
then I won’t be crushed if he stays. Do I think he’ll be able to, or even willing? Not yet. But I’m not out for blood, I’m not a mean, vindictive blogger. I’m just a flawed, frustrated human being—as, I imagine, is Dave Brandon. And I’m not above forgiving someone who screwed up majorly, as long as they acknowledge the shortcoming and work to correct it moving forward. I can’t, and won’t, take my name off the petition; but for me this is about the issues, not the person. And if the issues get fixed, then the person can stay.
I was explaining the above thought process to a friend as we walked to the MGoTailgate, which was a great tailgate experience and well worth the encouraged donation. He asked if I thought that allowing the purchase of beer in the stadium (as had been done for the Winter Classic and soccer match) would go over well with the students. My honest answer was (and remains) “no”. In the absence of fixing the real issues, I think that students would (possibly rightly) view it as pandering, and many would balk at the implication that students will be happy as long as they have enough to drink, actually issues be damned. This line of thinking was reasonably confirmed when I got to the stadium, which brings us to
The Stadium: Night Game Edition
Walking in the first thing I observed was that the event staff seemed to have a different air about them. Rather than getting hassled about the cowbell (which, mea culpa mea culpa, is likely still in the stadium) they seemed to be encouraging it. Further, they seemed genuinely interested in the signed photo I had with me because I had no place to put it prior to the game starting, and at least one was aware of the tailgate and expressed his desire to have been there.
The next thing was easily the most shocking. They were giving out free water bottles to students entering the stadium. Yes. Free. So maybe I can start crossing items off that list above already. Here’s hoping. Many students, however, were less enthused than I. Once in the student section, the pre-game featured (by my count) one “Fire Brandon” cheer and many students criticizing Brandon’s attempts to “buy them off” with “two dollar water” after paying as much as they did for season tickets. So yes, I think that many small steps may be viewed as pandering at least initially. That doesn’t mean that the department should give up on these small steps. There’s just a lot of damage to heal, which will take some time and a continued effort.
I’m reminded of the department’s response to the chaos of the night game last year: they handed out seat tickets when you checked into the stadium so that there wouldn’t be a mad rush to the seats. The problem: they did this for the Akron game, saw it wasn’t necessary (for the Akron game) and abandoned it going forward (where it may have been beneficial). I’m worried that we may repeat that with things like the water, which in isolation was very much appreciated. By itself or one-time-only, however, it won’t do much to fix all the damage that has been done.
Apart from that, the only thing worth mentioning was the occasional drunk student trying to get a “Fire Brandon” cheer started when we had the opportunity to force a safety (no, not that safety), who claimed that his 5 years here (everyone together now “get off my lawn”) made him the expert on the damage Brandon has done. But yeah, Zazu is right—there is one in every family, including the Michigan family. And there’s not a whole lot to be done except perhaps…
[Author’s Note: No, I’m not actually encouraging that. MGoBlog isn’t encouraging that. Nobody is encouraging that.]
Overall, from a fan experience standpoint, this was one of the more enjoyable games I’ve had here (though I have to admit, Norfleet was a huge part of that). Are the underlying problems gone? No. But it’s still a welcome relief to know that I can still go and support the players without enduring something that makes me wonder if it’s worth it. And at this point, that’s really all I ask.
[EDIT:4pm 13 Oct.] In my haste to get this out I overlooked one great occurence.
Before kickoff we were doing our usual "get the attention of any borderline famous person that happened to walk by" routine. One of these people was Regent Bernstein, who not only acknowledged our yelling at him but stopped to talk to us and was incredibly personable. After a bit of chatting we jokingly said that he should come join us in the student section. He replied "There's plenty of room" so quickly that we didn't immediately get the insinuation that had been made, but yes I do believe that the Regents (or at least Regent Bernstein) get it.
After a game where just so incredibly many things went wrong, it is a bit of a tall order to sit down and write something coherent about the student experience. The student experience, after all, isn’t so fundamentally different than the experience of most of the rest of the stadium, except perhaps that the viewing angle is increased ever so slightly. Oh and louder, definitely louder. The articles and write-ups note the students growing increasingly upset and starting to chant “Fire Brandon” (not “Brady” as some have noted; at least not from the student section) in the third quarter. This misses something markedly different from this game. In the previous games the students, like the rest of the fans, held their fire until some opportune moment. Last week it was attendance numbers that no one believed. The first notable “boos” came after timeout and clock mismanagement. This week, the students didn’t waste any time. Before the game even started, before anything had actually gone wrong, before we ran out of tires to throw on what little remains of the dumpster/tire hybrid fire, the students started chanting to fire Brandon. It reminds me of the scene from “Network”:
The students, the current
20,000 12,000 member block, and future 89,901 75,000 member block of the stadium are as mad as hell and they’re not going to take this anymore. With the “Fire Brandon” chants audible over TV, never mind to everyone in attendance at the game, and, by the third quarter, continuing every time the band stopped playing, it seemed hard to see how this once proud, once great, and once principled program could sink any deeper. But then it did.
For the last two weeks the student section has had the perspective to see the more frightening aspects of the game. Last week, many in my row were convinced we had just watched Utah’s starting quarterback die, or at least become paralyzed, about 20 yards in front of us. It was so shocking that the students immediately stopped celebrating the stop and became deathly silent, at least those close enough to see clearly what had happened. This week we again were witness to one of the more frightening, more horrifying, moments of the game. The students could see immediately after the leg injury that Shane was in no position to continue. We watched, aghast, as he nevertheless did. Then came the late hit and we watched Shane stumble into a lineman, and we watched in horror as a clearly concussed Morris remained on the field. We yelled; we booed; we screamed for him to come out, trying desperately to get someone to hear us and make the only sensible decision. It didn’t work. To leave Shane in like that was reprehensible, irresponsible, and showed such wanton disregard for player safety that it left many of the students angry, confused, and sickened. Whether or not Hoke was being honest when he said that he did not know that Shane looked wobbly is entirely irrelevant. As the head coach, it is his responsibility to know. If he doesn’t or if he can’t, it’s time to move on. Michigan has always been about the players, developing them into young men of class and character, and, if we’re lucky, perhaps some noteworthy football talent as well. What happened today was inexcusable for any team, let alone one that prides itself on what it does for the players.
The game then wound down. The anger and frustration of the last 10 minutes still palpable, but no longer being viscerally screamed at anyone on the field who might hear. Gardner’s solid playing in his time in the game, while helping reduce the ire at the outcome, did nothing to change the conviction that had been burned into those watching. To make matters worse, toward the end of the game two things happened on the sidelines near the student section:
- A dramatic increase in police and event staff presence.
- A rope being held along the sideline and end zone, presumably to prevent a field rush (??).
Did either of these things directly impact my, or really any other students’ lives? Not really. Nevertheless, the symbolism remains. One needs look little further than this to get a good grasp on why the students are so upset with the athletic department. Is the department so distrustful of the students that they want to keep them in line by show of force? Are they so delusional to think that the students would rush the field after a loss? After even a win over Minnesota? over Utah? over literally any home game this season? They’ve taken our water bottles so that they can sell water for $5; they’ve prohibited numerous innocuous items from entering the stadium; three separate event staff members tried to tell me I wouldn’t be allowed to bring a cowbell into the stadium; you can’t bring bags; you can’t bring food. And yet after all of this, they expect us to keep paying such exorbitant prices for tickets? To keep showing up? Don’t get me wrong, I love Michigan Football, I love the Michigan Stadium experience; it’s just that, under Dave Brandon I have yet to really experience either at the Big House.
My first game at the Big House was, like it is for many people, my freshman year. I’d grown up in a Michigan State house through the 90s, I was a Cubs fan, my high school football team went 0 and 9 my senior year. I was pretty accustomed to sports pain, or so I thought. Here I was coming to Michigan, the winningest football program and so things would be different. And for part of that game, watching from all the way up in Row 96, it looked like I was going to be right. Things didn’t quite go as planned in that game against Utah in 2008, and they didn’t go much better 6 years later, and as I sat in the upper concourse waiting out the rain delay I had a moment to reflect on where things have come since then and what has changed.
From a program standpoint, it’s hard to pin it. Is it the play calling? Is it lack of player development? Is it blown assignments? Lack of execution? A young line that’s still learning and has busts just often enough to make Gardner skittish? Is Gardner still living in fear of the ghosts of last season? And if so who could really blame him? Fortunately for me, that’s not an analysis I’ve undertaken to dissect. There are people much more qualified to speak on the state of the team and the staff than I.
From a fan experience, however, it’s lamentably easy to pin it. And after the third straight home game with a sub-sellout crowd, the students wanted those on the field to understand it as easily as we did. Immediately after the home attendance was announced (a 103k figure that no one around me believed was accurate for even a second) the students started a cheer. Quiet at first but soon growing to include much of Section 26 as well as surrounding sections.
“FI-RE BRAN-DON” clap clap clap clap clap “FI-RE BRAN-DON”…
In a game that will likely see some subset of the coaching staff placed in the crosshairs, the students wanted to make it abundantly clear that they had one person in particular they want gone. And to be fair, I’m, ordinarily one of the last to jump on the “fire someone” bandwagon. I was in the “give RichRod one more year” camp. Until today I was in the “we’re not going to fire Hoke” camp, and truthfully, I’m still not quite ready to declare that the sky is falling. Basically since the get-go, however, I’ve wanted Brandon gone. As much as we harp on “this is Michigan” and “it’s gonna be Michigan again” and every other thing about “being Michigan” every single game, the athletic department continues to demonstrate that it doesn’t have a clue what it means to “be Michigan”.
Up until the rain delay, I was pretty confident that I wouldn’t have much content to fill this out with. — The real people seats above the student section stayed empty the whole game #ThanksDaveBrandon. The student section by and large was on time #ActuallyThanksMichaelProppe. And the student section stayed mostly intact until we were forced to leave our seats. — Then the content flood began. We walked from Row A all the way to upper concourse to take shelter. We talked with friends from other seating groups and tried to take stock of the weather and how long a delay we were expecting. As the time wore on, and lightning kept flashing, and Grapentine did his level best to make each further delay somewhat interesting, we were getting tired and thirsty, and looked for a spot to sit down. By this point there were maybe 60 people in the upper concourse. Maybe. And the athletic department had already literally locked up folding chairs. Locked them to the fence so that people could not sit down in them during a 2.5 hour delay. Trying to sit somewhere, we asked if we could sit in some of the chairs that were currently going unused. The event staff person obliged and unlocked them for us and we started to sit down. No sooner did we unfold the first chair then we were told by Jim, another event staffer working in the upper concourse, that we could not use those chairs. We asked why. He said it was a handicapped section and—unfathomably, despite the 20 or so people already sitting in chairs much like these, despite them being unused, and despite them being unlocked expressly so that we could use them—we were not allowed to.
This is what the Michigan fan experience has become with Brandon at the helm—a, probably otherwise kind, old man telling the kids they can’t sit down. It’s not that they’re evil or poorly intentioned, it’s that at a fundamental level they just don’t get it anymore, or in some cases they never did. The athletic department has prioritized branding over winning, profits over performance, gimmicks over actually addressing issues raised, and as a result has driven the students—much of the lifeblood of the stadium experience—away. I recall a quote from the athletic department a year or so ago regarding the severe drop in student ticket sales where it was asserted that the students not buying tickets were the ones unlikely to show up anyways. Keeping an eye on the section above the student section through the first three games of this season it has become readily apparent that no one is going to show up for those seats anyways. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get students to take those seats back? I guess we’re trying that with $40 single game tickets that students are unsurprisingly not jumping through hoops for. I know his years at Dominos likely didn’t prepare him for husbandry metaphors but the adage “you can shear a sheep many times but you can only skin him once” comes to mind, and Dave just doesn’t know how to shear.
Preface: are things like they used to be?
Game day in Ann Arbor is an experience steeped in tradition. Nevertheless, the stadium experience, and with it the student section experience, has necessarily evolved, even just within my 6+ years in the NW corner. So to kick things off, here are some rapid fire questions/answers:
Flasks? Yup, though I will add that, at least in the lower sections, most students appear to have gotten less tolerant of drinking and drunkenness from other students. If you’re being positive and happy drunk, great we love you. If you’re incessantly bitching about the team, complaining about the players, generally being negative and happen to stumble into me, I’m getting event staff. And I wouldn’t be the only one.
Marshmallows? Uhh honestly I haven’t seen this in any season I’ve been there…
Beach balls? Have seen them recently, didn’t today.
Cow bell? Depressingly not yet this season. Other students reading this: we must fix this if nothing else
Travelling band? Nope (and I don’t think they have for a year or so but I’m not sure). Definitely remember being entertained by that in years past
International student experience: Very little experience here. I can say that in my section down in the row A area there aren’t very many (if any) international students. For the CMU game last year there were a small handful nearly first in line in the student queue, though from talking to them they were under the impression that the game started when the queue opened….
Engaged? Yes, mostly. It’s hard to compare to past years given that the Row A experience is a little different than that in Row 96… But the students are certainly no less engaged than any other segment (and for better or worse they booed the punt decision just as much as everyone else)
The clock finally wound down to all zeroes in what was a rather strange game at the Big House. We cheered as the team ran over to the stands and then back down the tunnel., the small handful of us that remained down by the railing packing up while trying to ascertain from the stadium police what on earth the rope sectioning off the field from the sidelines was for. Apparently it is for preventing a field rush. This year. Against Miami. With a chem lecture’s worth of people left in the stands. Ok. We turned to the people behind us,
“Have a great weekend.”
“See you next week.”
There, that right there is in a nutshell the problem that we had last year in the student section. We hear every week “how great it is to be part of something that is the team,” but the team is something considerably more than just the 11 young men in winged helmets on the field at any time. It is more than the full roster, the coaches, trainers, student managers and everyone else who could by any definition conceivably purport to be affiliated with the program. Or at least it was supposed to be. The team is supposed to be something that unites every single person wearing their maize and blue in that stadium, or watching it on TV, or listening on the radio, or running around with their fingers shoved in their ears until they could watch the game they’d
taped TiVo’d later. The team is the group of people in the stadium around you, who over the course of 6–8 games you got to know—those people who were as much a part of your game day experience as the people you chose to sit by. And last season the athletic department forgot that.
Given what we’ve heard or been able to read between the lines about much of what went wrong last season: lack of upperclassmen leadership, lack of cohesion on the line, or the many other instances of lacking “the team”, it seems only fitting that that disconnect spread deep into the fanbase. Instead of creating an element of the team, general admission pitted students against each other for the best seats in the stadium. The result was often ugly: students trying to sneak in late to get better seats, students yelling at each other, anger and hostility, lack of team.
This year things seem different. Is everything hunky dory in the student section? No. You still get the occasional person drunk to the point of falling on you, trying to usurp your seat, and degrading the fan experience for everyone around you. Fortunately event staff can deal with that pretty readily (especially if this person is in the wrong seat—as is often the case because, listen man, reading is drunk when I’m this challenging). But in spite of that, the cohesive, friendly, spirit seems to be back; at least in the superfan rows.
Unfortunately there’s been some lingering damage. As we all are aware with the recent struggles on the line, poor decisions from the past can linger for far into the future. During GA, the bottom of the student section was ill-prepared to correctly do the wave, or, for that matter, nearly any cheer. I naively thought that bringing seniors and grad students back down to the bottom would fix the problem. As today’s rather unfortunate attempts to start the wave while only up by a touchdown, and the subsequent inability to start the wave in the waning minutes of the 3rd quarter once we were up by 14, demonstrated, that isn’t quite the case. This year’s seniors haven’t had a decent wave experience or even good wave leadership in two years. Last time it went well they were in row 60; they had no part in starting it.
We can bring that experience back. It’ll take some effort and some creativity. We’ll have to re-teach them. It’s doable. It’ll be challenging, but for the fan experience, it needs to be done.
Seating Policy in Review—Take 2
So honestly, after last weekend, I expected to be writing about how we’d tailed off quite a bit from last week, how students had filtered in, but outside of student fans weren’t there before kickoff. Well by and large that wasn’t the case. While many, many seats stayed empty throughout the stadium, the student section filled in by and large on time, and to no worse a percentage than the stadium as a whole. 102,824 will make *every* section look empty. For what it’s worth, the new policy does seem to motivate students to show up on time, even after a dispiriting loss, even against an overmatched opponent. What the policy doesn’t do is motivate students to come in the first place, and to stay to the bitter end.
The first of those lies entirely on the athletic department. When our attendance is dropping to levels not seen since 1995, and student ticket sales dropped to less than ¾ of last year’s, it’s time to look long and hard about the experience we are providing for the students. Asking students who often have little if any income, many of whom are taking on thousands of dollars in debt, to pay increasingly outrageous prices for a lackluster home schedule is unsurprisingly going to result in a small, less effective student section. Not to mention less engaged alumni down the road. From those I’ve talked to who are on the new Football Student Advisory Council, it seems like the athletic department is now listening. Sometimes slow to act, but listening. Vendors selling $2 bottles of water in the student section: fantastic idea. Allowing people to again bring in unopened bottles of water or empty reusable bottles would be significantly better, and obviously the ticket prices are the big one, but it’s a start.
The second point is on us. It’s a culture thing and it’s sad to say that it’s changed as much as it has. I remember riding the bus as a freshman reading a Daily article (I didn’t know any better back then) that was discussing at length the tradition of students staying until the bitter end. No matter what happened on the field, no matter how bleak things looked, those who stayed, well you know. And those in my year really seemed to live that. Our first season was the fan crucible of 2008. We were rewarded with the Wisconsin comeback. We had our resolve tested with the rain, snow, sleet, and locusts for the Northwestern game. We were kicked in the metaphorical nards rivalry game after rivalry game. But after 2008 we were committed. We watched the team slowly crawl back to some modicum of relevance and it felt like our commitment and loyalty had paid off. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case for those who started in years after us. The seniors today weren’t on campus for RichRod. They didn’t experience that. They’ve had the opposite experience. They came in as freshmen and we won a BCS bowl. Since then we’ve underwhelmed. I have to imagine that, paired with that underwhelming performance, past classes (mine included) failed to adequately instill in the younger students the same rabid fandom that kept me at the 2008 Northwestern game to the end, and brought me from row 96 to row 14 in freezing rain despite numb everything. We were absolutely convinced in 2011 that the pain was over, our fandom had been vindicated. Michigan was back. We told the younger students about staying at games and cheering Michigan on to greatness. It appears that we may have missed the operative clause: “no matter what”. That too is changeable. It’ll be a slow process of growth back into “the team” but it’s doable.
Bringing back the student experience is not an overnight thing; we need to give them something to believe in. And with a team that has met its share of struggles and with an athletic department that seems more interested in the bottom line than the student experience, for all too many it’s hard to find that. Nevertheless change is possible. In my freshman year I attended my first UM BB game. They gave us free transportation, tickets, pancakes and a t-shirt just to get us to show up. They did what was necessary to get students there despite the underwhelming performance of the team. Since then we’ve been conference champions twice, have gone to the national championship game, and have won 6 of the last 9 against once dominant MSU (who had won 18 of the 21 games prior to the most recent 9). That basketball team got back to greatness because everyone was committed to doing what was necessary to bring it back. If the football team does make it back it will be because of the same reasons. If we want the student fan experience to come back to greatness, we of course need commitment from the students, but most critically we need the athletic department to let go of the processes that aren’t working, to stop focusing on things that should never have been the goal, and to do what is necessary to ensure that Michigan fans are not only part of the largest crowd watching a football game, but that that crowd has the best experience of any crowd anywhere in America, throughout the season.
I plan to write another From the Student Section diary for tomorrow's game, so if there are any aspects of the student experience people want some commentary on, I'd love to hear about them so I can keep eyes/ears open at the game.
As a reward for feedback/ideas, here's a dancing Kermit:
[Note: Sorry for the week delay on this, reaching 100 points takes some time apparently…]
I’ll be trying to provide these write-ups as often as I can for home games. If you are familiar with the recent changes in student season ticket seating, skip to the next paragraph. For those who missed all the drama last season (and who could blame you), the athletic department decided inexplicably that none of the following contributed to the inability of students to show up to games on time:
- Crappy scheduling,
- Crappy timing,
- Poor performance,
- Rising prices,
- Things being expensive in the stadium and thus eating before arriving, and
- An athletic department that just seems to not give even a Norfleet-sized care about the student experience.
Instead they figured that students were not sufficiently motivated and that they wanted better cell service in the stadium. They thus switched to general admission, which I took as a semester long course in game theory. Things went about as expected with the stadium empty at kickoff against Akron and there being a footrace where it’s a small miracle no one was injured for UTLII. Enter Michael Proppe and the student government who turned a year of haranguing the misguided policy of the athletic department into a seating policy change that actually makes sense.
Well I’d say so (disclaimer on the opener), but I’m biased just slightly by my location.
It is worth noting (per the play-by-play offered by @mikeproppe) that at MSU’s opener, their student section looked significantly emptier at kick off. This is likely both that it was in fact emptier, and that with equal attendance percentages (<100%) GA will always look emptier.
With the new seating policy here is a list of things that I did not do for the opener:
- Wake up at 7am for a middling opponent.
- Wake up more than 12 hours before kickoff (Ok that was for the ND game but still).
- Get sunburned before kickoff.
- Roast hotdogs over a makeshift grill made of a can of sterno.
- Light said grill on fire.
- Have to donate my tailgating supplies to actual tailgaters.
- Be uncharacteristically tired by halftime.
- Spend 15 minutes furiously arguing with fellow fans about their behavior during a veritable stampede (Again the ND game)
- End up sitting in the wrong section without recourse because queues are hard, man.
- End up next to an obnoxious opposing fan, just because she was willing to show up early (seriously whoever you were from Nebraska, the Ohio guy was more tolerable. Significantly)
And the list of things I did do for the opener:
- Go to a pre-game brunch
- Watch about half of the PSU/UCF game before trekking over to the stadium
- Show up in time for warm-ups
- Enjoy game, being loud and energized
- Leave game with enough energy (and soul) left to want to watch all of the interesting matchups still on TV
During the Game
The student section seemed much more in order throughout the game. People seemed more cordial with each other (probably a combination of not having our souls sucked out of us through a straw, and the fact that we weren’t competing with each other for seats). People seemed louder and more engaged. And the wave was executed significantly better (it wasn’t the slowed, split wave from a few years back but hey, progress). Hell, some students near me even lifted the one App State fan for ASU's second touchdown because he was pretty drunk and they felt bad.
I won’t go too in-depth on my take on on-the-field analysis, as it seems that that has been handled pretty thoroughly, but my one hot take comes from the ASU drive early on where they faced a 3rd and 25. I could feel the anticipation welling up. The sense beaten into me by the last 6 years that this was the moment we’d get gashed. They’d find the seam, get a guy wide open 30 yards out and it’d be off to the races. Instead we shut it down handily. I was floored. Even against an overmatched, undersized opponent I had gotten used to the secondary getting torched like that, time and time again. So maybe this year has something different in store. We’ll find out tonight.
Yes, Yes, but about the cell service
While I wasn’t actively paying attention to the cell coverage/wifi. I will say it is significantly better. Was it the deciding missing piece in the fan experience? Absolutely not. It did help with the following game related activities:
- Checking in on H.A.I.L.: I could do it, progress made.
- Getting “WE SAW YOU ON TV #rowA” texts: phone lit up like a Christmas tree a few times. Not complaining
- Checking other scores during TV timeouts…well actually the new score board design is much improved and the ticker of the scores was a nice touch, so that wasn’t actually that important.
- Coordinating post-game meet-up plans with out of town relatives: Possible.
Deal maker/breaker? No. But it was just that a nice touch that, assuming we address the actual problems, will eventually help improve the fan experience.
So is it better?
Honestly, it’s hard to say. I appreciate the superfan/seniority based seating. I appreciate it a lot. But in the long list of ways the AD is finding to make things more difficult and less enjoyable for fans (especially student fans), I’m just not sure how big of an impact this change will have. With the schedule still being what it is, and prices still being what they are, and games taking more and more time. I just don’t know. I’ll be curious to see how this holds up when the semester gets going, people need to be studying more, the weather gets colder, etc. The one thing I want to seriously point out though, is that the student section is approximately 60% of what it is last year. While I fully expect things to bounce back with a better schedule next year, that type of drop-off, regardless of schedule, is inexcusable. Yes non-students pay more for their tickets, yes they make up 75% of the attendees, yes they’ve been doing this a lot longer, etc. But the fan experience is significantly improved by having a loud and energetic and engaged student section (and a large one at that). It seems like we have a seating policy that motivates students to show up on time. Now let’s work on pricing and scheduling that get them to show up at all.