I’ve always been told you shouldn’t complain about a problem unless you’re willing to offer a solution.
There was certainly some complaining in last week’s discussion but the primary objective was to shine light on the reality that Arizona and other college football programs have sacrificed attendance for the riches that come with televising every game.
So what should the UA do now?
I’m certainly not asking Arizona and the other Pac-12 schools to give back the mountains of TV money. I know that coaches and equipment and pretty uniforms cost money. And if you want a program that actually wins some games it costs a lot of money. Just don’t grumble about the fans who choose to watch the televised games that generate all that money.
Don’t put all your energy into chasing the people who aren’t coming. Reward those who do.
If someone has the option to watch on TV and still puts up with the cost, the late starts, the bad seats and everything else, that person must really love the Wildcats. That’s the relationship you want to foster and grow.
Comfortable seating is a must and that is on the way. Plans for renovating the lower portion of the east side have been approved. When that work is done the west and south sides will be addressed.
The lower bowl should have seatbacks everywhere except the student section (whatever the size and location of the student section ends up being). There will be modern concessions and restrooms everywhere. All this is very good.
The introduction of alcohol is also good. The UA is hoping to sell beer and wine at basketball games during this upcoming season. If it goes well (it will), it could be brought to Arizona Stadium (it will).
Next is affordable pricing. The upper deck should be almost free. An occupied seat for a little bit of money is better than an empty seat for no money. If that almost-free person buys a hot dog, all the better. And maybe he has enough fun to make him want to buy another almost-free ticket.
The key is making sure that person has enough fun.
Former UA athletic director Greg Byrne introduced some great fan experiences while he was here. Lucky fans could run out onto the field with the team or tour the locker room. These experiences are still available, but now you have to pay for them which just means more stuff that people aren’t buying.
Go back to giving them away and make a big deal out of it. How exciting would it be if the cameras scanned the crowd before kickoff and found a kid and her family who got to “come on down” like a game show and charge out of the locker room with Khalil Tate? Or carry a flag with the cheerleaders? Or march in with the band?
Make seat upgrades a spectacle as well. What if everyone who bought a ticket in the upper deck knew that one family every game would get chosen to sit at the 40-yard line on the west side? What if every game someone from the west side got moved up to the luxury boxes? You’re taking unsold inventory and using it to reward people who buy tickets and show up at the game.
Create more experiences for season ticket holders. Facility tours. Meet-and-greets with coaches. Photo ops with players for the kids.
Develop a rewards program for frequent attendees. Members could swipe or scan a card or app at every sporting event and earn points toward merchandise or bowl tickets or rides on the Cat Cruiser to the ASU game. Again, you’re providing a direct benefit to the person who walks through the gate and supports the team.
Invest heavily in Wi-Fi. You could offer live mobile polls on things like song choices. Host trivia contests with prizes during commercial breaks. A huge flaw in the current in-game experience is all the dead time. It’s not long enough to run to the snack bar but it is long enough to get bored. Many people reach for their phones but the cellular reception in the stadium is so poor that your time-killer ends up being another source of frustration.
If you want to be really innovative, allow people to order food (and pay for it) from their seats via an app. Fans wouldn’t miss game action and you would have fewer people leaving their seat and disturbing the people around them. This concept of paying someone to bring food and drink mimics the experience so many people love about watching games at sports bars.
Allow fans with tickets to reenter the stadium. One parent may need to take children home early during a late game. The other parent may want to walk them to the car and come back to the game.
There’s nothing wrong with allowing a quick visit to the tailgate or Circle K during halftime. Have security at the gates looking out for the heavily intoxicated if needed.
There are any number of other ideas people far smarter than me could come up with. The point is to stop thinking, How can we get more people to come to games? and start asking, How can we enhance the experience of those who do come to games?
I was a season ticket holder as a student and have had season tickets since I moved back to Tucson in 2003. And I’ve used them. The last game I missed was the ‘03 season opener (Nic Costa!) which means I have attended 97 consecutive Arizona home games. Why? Why do I keep going even though I have pay TV and the Pac-12 Network?
I love Arizona Football.
I live in town, have a Monday-to-Friday job, a supportive wife and I really enjoy live college football. No marketing campaign brought me to the stadium. No clever slogan or plea from an athletic director or coach got me to renew each year. People like me are blindly loyal customers.
You can’t create blindly loyal customers with advertising. But you can give them an amazing experience when they attend your events. And if the people who attend have an amazing experience, they will bring people with them.
Maybe those guests will even become your next blindly loyal customers.
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Scott Terrell is looking forward to one last visit this year to Arizona Stadium on Saturday night (and early Sunday morning). Follow him on Twitter.