Improving the Nebraska Game Day Experience

5 Dec

During his monthly radio show, Nebraska Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst implied that the athletic department is looking at ways to improve the in-game experience for Husker Football games at Memorial Stadium.

Aside from this being an incredibly shrewd diversion*, it is a topic that many Husker fans have an opinion on.  Including me.

*What diversion?  Consider the last week:  speculation over Bo Pelini’s future swirled before Friday’s Iowa game.  During the game, Pelini had a couple of embarrassing on-camera moments.  After the game, Pelini cursed out the refs and essentially threatened Eichorst to fire him.  On Saturday, Eichorst issued an open-ended statement that calmed the flames, but did not extinguish the fire.  On Tuesday, Eichorst takes to the airwaves with the football media expecting answers.  Instead, he changes the subject.  Improving the game day experience.  Go.

Brilliant.

I came up with a list of ten items that I would love see changed/added/improved at Memorial Stadium.  Some are relatively simple.  Some are rather drastic, but would create big results.  But all would help to improve the experience of the 90,000 fans who fill the stadium seven Saturdays a year.

Before we dive in, I feel that it is worth noting (and emphasizing) that Husker fans have it pretty darn good at Memorial Stadium.  I’ve watched the Huskers play in over a dozen different stadiums, and very few can hold a candle to what we have.

And that’s more than just the biased opinion of a Nebraska alum and native son.  Memorial Stadium regularly shows up on lists of best stadiums, best game day experience, best places to watch college football, etc.  Obviously the on-field product has much to do with the consecutive sellout streak, but the experience of being there (instead of sitting in a bar or in my basement watching in HD) is what keeps me coming back.

But there is always room for improvement…

The Cornhusker Marching Band performing a half...

Can you make this even better?  Yes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1.  Upgrade the in-stadium Wi-Fi.  The data service inside of the stadium is rather lousy (or, more appropriately, probably about what one would expect with 70,000 smart phone users in the same place).  Getting a signal, sending a text message, tweet, or Facebook post can be a crapshoot.  We can talk about how fans should be engaged with the action on the field instead of having their heads down, thumbs a-blazin’.  But that does not change the fact that better Wi-Fi is very important to more and more people in the stands.

2.  Turn up the volume.  There are times (such as 11 am kickoffs against nondescript opponents) when there is zero electricity in the stadium.  When that happens, I think it is appropriate to crank up the volume on the sound system to help the crowd wake up.  Ditto for key defensive plays and goal line stands.

3.  Update the playlist.  I don’t know who is in charge of curating  game day music for Husker sporting events, but they must really, really love “Black Betty” by Ram Jam*.  I swear you cannot go to a Husker even without hearing it.  There are some very tired songs in the Memorial Stadium iPod that are long overdue for retirement.  Replace them any number of newer songs that would get players and fans fired up and help the stadium rock.

What songs do I suggest?  Not much.  My musical tastes typically don’t lend themselves to football stadiums, and b) I don’t claim to have a pulse on what the kids want to listen to.  I’m not suggesting that Nebraska join the brigade of “Seven Nation Army” schools, but I could get on board with a song that the fans could chant/sing to provide a more intimidating atmosphere.  Here’s a crazy idea:  talk to the players, the captains, etc., and find out what they would like to listen to.

*And if you are still holding on to the notion that “Black Betty” is a good song to play at a college sporting event in 2013, click on the link to watch Ram Jam perform this classic.  Hilarious?  Yes.  Nightmare inducing?  Maybe.  Intimidating?  No.

4.  Leave the Tunnel Walk alone.  I know that I’m about to tiptoe a thin line of hypocrisy, having just blasted a dated classic rock song like “Black Betty”, but I want to keep “Sirius” by The Alan Parsons Project as the music for the Tunnel Walk.  I know it is an older song, the Jordan-era Bulls used it first, and there may be better tracks to use, but for me, “Sirius” IS the Tunnel Walk.  I love those delicious seconds of anticipation between the Husker Power chant (an obvious keeper, by the way) and that first chord of “Sirius.”

We can discuss the videos themselves later, and help separate what works (showing Kenny Bell blowing up Wisconsin defenders) and what doesn’t (Bo Ruud jumping out of an airplane).  But don’t mess with, or try to remix that song.

5.  Make us proud of the Pride.  The Cornhusker Marching Band (a.k.a. “The Pride of All Nebraska”) does a perfectly fine job.  I love their pregame spectacular (another thing that I would never, ever change), and I believe their halftime performances are also acceptably adequate.

But I wouldn’t know.

I’ve been making a break for the aisle at the end of the second quarter for years now.  It’s not disrespect for the band, but rather the knowledge that I’m not going to miss anything if I enjoy a hotdog inside the north concourse.

I wrote about this last year, and the same still holds true:  very little in what the band does at halftime interests me.

Maybe that is something the Athletic Department is okay with.  I’m less likely to buy my usual hot dog and Diet Dew if I stay in my seat to watch a halftime performance.  But surely Nebraska would like to have some of the viral buzz that schools like Ohio State, Ohio, Hawaii, and others have received for their fun and imaginative halftime shows.

6.  Figure out what to do between quarters.  Specifically, the gap between the 3rd and 4th quarter.  We all know that Wisconsin’s Jump Around is the gold standard, and Nebraska seems to be desperately seeking something to call their own.  Nebraska has been throwing things up against the wall for years, looking for something to stick.  Here are some of the ones from the last ten years (ranked worst to best):

  • An ill-fated attempt to get one half of the stadium to chant “Can’t be beat”, while the other half responds “Won’t be beat”.   This ranks with the Chip Davis “Nebraska Alma Mater” on the list of bad ideas.
  • The HuskerVision version of the shell game (Valentino’s “Eye the Pie”, as well as an earlier Runza-themed version) where fans follow a pizza or Husker logo as it is shuffled around.  Aside from a pre-game $1 wager with my buddy Tony on where the logo would appear (left, right, or middle), there wasn’t much going on there.
  • The NU drum line goes out on the field to do a drum cadence for one corner of the stadium (usually the students) while the flag line twirls neon rifles.  Look:  I like the NU drum line, and you had better believe that if I stumble across the cinematic classic Drumline on TNT, I’m watching it until the final battle.  But when they focus on one corner of the stadium, the rest of us sit there and twiddle our thumbs.  I think having the drum line on the field has potential, but maybe let’s use this for the gap between the first and second quarter.
  • The band plays “Hey Baby“.  I like the song, but it doesn’t exactly get one fired up for the final 15 minutes of football.  Keep it for a random TV timeout.
  • An attempt to replicate Wisconsin’s Jump Around, with another mid 90′s hip hop favorite:  DJ Kool’s “Let Me Clear My Throat”.  I like the song – I swear they played it twice a night at Iguana’s back in my college days - but let’s call it what it is:  a cheap Wisconsin knock-off.  Plus, I personally find it unsettling to think that when I was stumbling around Iggy’s listening to DJ Kool, current UNL students were stumbling around their parents’ houses in diapers.
  • A reprise of the Husker Power chant.  Arguably, this is the best they’ve come up with, but it never matches the volume or intensity of the pregame version.

I like the suggestion by Jack Mitchell of KLIN radio to use Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”.  I think that done correctly (i.e. with full use of the HuskerVision screens and the ribbon boards) it could be a spine-tinglingly cool moment – and it would not be a cheap knock off of Jump Around.

7.  More replays, please.  Let me start to giving credit to HuskerVision for showing multiple replays of some plays under review – sometimes in super slo-mo.  They have done a nice job of taking advantage of this change in Big Ten policy.  Let me also acknowledge that with today’s high tempo offenses, it is tough to do a branded replay (sponsor logo, replay, sponsor logo) when an offense is snapping the ball with 31 seconds left on the play clock.  I get that.  And finally, I love how Nebraska touchdowns are replayed from every single camera angle.

But, there are still opportunities to do more.

When there is a dead ball (and HuskerVision is not running another feature or ad), fire up some replays.  Show another angle of that Randy Gregory sack.  Give me slo-mo of the Quincy Enunwa block that helped spring Ameer Abdullah.  Play that footage of John Papuchis jumping up in the air after that three and out.

And when there is a questionable call – or one under review – replay the crap out of that sucker.  I love the game day experience in the stadium, but I hate having to text my buddy at the bar to see if the ref got the call right.

8.  Give me stats, stat.  This is another one where I must start by giving credit.  I know that if I want to see the rush or pass yards, first downs, turnovers, or sacks for either team, I can look at the big screen in north.  Those stats and others (time of possession, penalties, etc.) are also rotated every so often on the ribbon boards.  Individual stats (quarterback passing numbers, rushing attempts and yards, tackle info for defenders) appears less frequently as part of a Click It Or Ticket “Who’s Clicking” promotion on the ribbon boards.

I want more.

I want to know how many three and outs the defense has gotten.  When it is third down, I want to see what NU has done on 3rd down today and for the season.  If Abdullah has gotten over 100 yards yet.  How many yards he has on the season.  Has he moved up a notch on the all-time charts?  Share that information with us.  Use the ribbon boards, rotate the info on the north HuskerVision box score.

9.  Create a Husker Gameday App.  Disclaimer:  I cannot take credit for the original idea on this - I listened as a caller suggested it on the Sharp & Benning radio show.  With all due credit and respect to the person who suggested this, I’m going to run with it and hopefully expand upon the original idea.  Just know that I’m not claiming this as my own.

Download the free app, then scan the QR code on the back of your ticket* to access exclusive content and information – live stats, interactive rosters and player bios, depth charts, access to the Husker record books, and historical info on previous matchups with today’s opponent.  But that’s not all…

The app also gives you the ability to view the feed from any HuskerVision camera – live action, replays, highlights, you name it.  Thanks to the BTN partnership, you can not only get up to the minute scores, stats, and standing from other games involving Big Ten teams, you can also view their scoring plays.

The possibilities are limitless:  interactive fan votes (who is the fan’s choice for player of the game?  Is the Valentino’s logo behind pizza 1, 2, or 3?, punt or go for it on 4th down?), integration with social media, special offers from athletic department partners, etc.

*Yes, the special game content would only be for those who have purchased tickets.  Those without tickets would have basic stats and scores.  Consider it an added perk of getting to go to a game.

10.  Rearrange Memorial Stadium.  I’m saving the biggest (and most drastic) change for last.  I ask that you keep an open mind, please.

Have you ever really studied where things are at in Memorial Stadium?  Asked yourself why things are where they are – and more importantly – if they could be better served somewhere else?  I have.  Frankly, there are several things that don’t make sense from a perspective of maximizing home field advantage – that is, making it as easy as possible for Nebraska, and as hard as possible for their opponent to win in Lincoln.  Shouldn’t that be the goal?

So we fix them.  Rearrange them.  Drop some feng shui on the old grey lady with the goal of creating a tougher place for visiting teams to win.

The first order of business?  Nebraska moves from the east to the west sideline.

Why?  Two key reasons:

  1. That’s the shady side of the field.  Those early September games where it is 95 degrees?  Let the other team roast in the sun while the Huskers stay relatively cool in the shade.  Those 2:30 kickoffs in late October where the sun starts to set during the second half?  Let the other team’s coaches have to squint into a blinding sunset.  Why should Nebraska put itself at a disadvantage in their own house?
  2. It’s the quiet side.  As much flack as the West Stadium “blue hairs” get, they’re not going anywhere in my reconfigured stadium.  Let the old money have their good seats on the yard lines.  But since the West crowd isn’t exactly known for being vociferous, they are better candidates to sit behind NU’s bench than a full marching band like NU has on the east side.

Next, we move the students.  A strong (and loud) student section is at the heart of any home field advantage.  Nebraska’s student section has serious potential, and there have been a few student groups looking to improve the experience, but NU continually sells their students short.  Every A.D. since Bill Byrne (including Osborne) has moved the students further away from the action, and minimized their ability to have an impact on the game.  Currently, they are crammed up in a corner of the south end zone, away from where they can make an impact on the game.

But with my plan, the students are moving out of the upper altitudes of sections 12, 13, and 14.  They’re headed east to prime seating:  The lower level of East stadium.  The band shifts down a couple of sections (from section 9 on the south 20 yard line to section 6) and acts as the centerpiece of the student section, located (not so coincidentally) right behind the other team’s bench.  The students fill in around the band, turning East stadium into a raucous bowl of noise focused on the opposing bench and capable of boosting the volume in either end zone.

I know this will be controversial.  I know some will question why the students should be rewarded with excellent seats when they have been leaving entire sections empty in their current block of seats.  That is a valid concern, but I believe the students will step up and appreciate their new seats – especially if the understanding between the Athletic Department and the various student organizations is “use ‘em or lose ‘em”.

I understand that you will lose some donors when they have to move from row 20 on the 40 yard line to row 75 in the corner of the end zone.  I get that.  But I challenge the University to look at this from a long-term perspective:

  • I would contend that a strong student section leads to a strong home field advantage.  A strong home field advantage can equal one or two extra wins per year.  What is the monetary value of an extra win or two each year?  Of 9 wins instead of 8?  Of 10 wins instead of 9?  In the 2013 season, with two extra wins, Nebraska could have won the Legends Division and qualified for a better bowl game.
  • Today’s students are tomorrow’s donor and boosters.  Who is more likely to donate to Dear Old Nebraska U:  the alum who spent four years in great seats on the east sideline, or the one who spent that time as an afterthought in the upper reaches of the southeast corner feeling like the University didn’t care about or appreciate them?

And there is one additional secret benefit:  it gets rid of some of Memorial Stadium’s worst seats.  The last ten or so rows of sections 1, 2, 10, and 11 are horrible for watching games.  Your view is obstructed by the side wall of East Stadium – you lose anywhere from 5 – 25 yards of the field.  That sucks.  You wouldn’t want to pay face value (plus donation) for those seats.  There are some monitors hanging from the ceiling, but it’s not the same.  However, we know the students will pack in to the lower rows anyway, the University can “sell” these obstructed view seats without having a donor, alum, or other fan getting upset.

For the most part, the folks in the North and South Stadiums stay as they are – although some shuffling may be needed to accommodate the folks from East who are being relocated.

And like that, we have greatly amplified the home field advantage at Memorial Stadium.

*   *   *

You may notice there are some other common suggestion that did not make my list.  Let me explain why:

  • Get rid of the HuskerVision ads (such as the ridiculous Pepsi races).  I won’t argue that these features are boring and do nothing to boost the energy.  The cold reality of big TV contracts is lengthy TV timeouts.  Another cold reality is that money from those annoying Pepsi ads helps pay the bills for the excellent work that HuskerVision does.
  • Sell beer in the stadium.  Never, ever, ever gonna happen.
  • Have more “blackout” games.  I appreciate the folks who start these things, as their heart is in the right spot.  But I firmly believe that nothing will be more intimidating for an opposing player than the Sea of Red.  You’re never going to get 90,000 people to change their routine and put on a black shirt, which leaves the stadium looking mottled.  Instead, encourage everybody to wear red.  It would be easier (only have to get about 10,000 to convert) and would make a bigger impact.
  • Encourage fans to wave towels.  I am not a fan of the power towel / rally towel idea.  To each their own, but I’d rather have fans (read:  students) yelling and clapping instead of waving a piece of terry cloth.
  • More flyovers.  I miss the excitement of a good pregame flyover when an Air Force jet goes roaring over the stadium right as the National Anthem ends.  That always gets the juices flowing.  But budget cuts, sequesters, and government shut-downs have essentially ended military fly overs.  Nebraska has used some private planes in the last few seasons, but most of those are just not the same.

There is no doubt in my mind that Nebraska can improve upon an already excellent game day experience, and also create an excellent home field advantage

One Response to “Improving the Nebraska Game Day Experience”

  1. Kitt Sindel December 7, 2013 at 9:29 am #

    My suggestion for a third quarter to fourth quarter song is “Mama said knock you out” by LL Cool J. Johnny Cash is kinda slow and depressing IMO.

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