April 27, 2011
By Bill Lickson, special to Seminoles.com
Take a moment to think about your favorite sports memory as a fan.
What game was it? Who was with you? What made it special?
I’ll bet you were there with your heart on your sleeve, and that you weren’t alone in that.
Maybe it was one of those Seminole-Gator knock-down, drag-out, white-knuckle games. Or maybe it was just this past year when Dustin Hopkins kicked that 55-yard field goal against Clemson as time ran out and then made that crazy mad dash to the opposite endzone.
That was one of those incredible moments you had to be there to believe!
Each of us has our favorite fan experience and hopefully yours wasn’t just one you watched on TV.
Television has become the major competition for college and pro teams. FSU, like other schools, is refocusing attention on how to create a better fan experience than the virtual world can provide. And the best way to do so is to ask the fans.
In addition to thousands of hours of conversations with season ticket holders and Seminole Booster members, FSU Athletics and the Boosters are networking with the best minds in college and professional athletics, sharing industry “best practices.” They are doing market research surveys and talking directly to fans – all with the goal of filling the stadium and creating the very best experience for FSU football fans.
The data from the surveys – which had extraordinarily high response rates — show what fans want and what concerns them the most.
“The most common issues were related to comfort and costs,” said Senior Asssociate Athletic Director Dr. Allison Rich, who chairs FSU’s marketing team. “Having this information creates a great opportunity for FSU to address issues and make the right improvements to keep our existing fans happy and to bring in new supporters too.”
Addressing the economic issues
Athletic Director Randy Spetman approved the implementation of a payment plan for season tickets, a lower-priced Family Zone section, a Young Alumni Section and a youth priced ticket. The `Noles also offer group rates for 20 or more tickets at value rates and offered a 3-game package in 2010.
While FSU has been very sensitive about making sure that the most-loyal customers -longtime ticket holders and Boosters — “get the best deal,” almost 90 percent of those customers said they were in favor of FSU offering value priced sections in select portions of the stadium — if it will help fill the stadium. FSU’s current customers say a full stadium creates a better game day experience for them.
The Athletic department and Boosters have employed a team of customer account representatives to assist with season and group sales efforts.
“Our fans can see the program is on the rise and they want to get involved,” said ticket sales director Michael Espada, an FSU grad who worked in professional sports ticket sales, service and marketing. “We are here to assist customers, answer questions and offer flexible options. We now have a variety of packages to meet every budget and that makes FSU football available to a lot more people.”
Traditions and Activities = Experience and Memories
When asked about their favorite memories, FSU fans frequently spoke to the traditions and activities surrounding the game itself. For example, Osceola and Renegade are important to 100 percent of the respondents surveyed.
“I have never seen a 100% response in a study of this size,” said Dr. Jay Rayburn, of Becon Research, Inc., who led the project team.
Tailgating, military flyovers, player introductions, the Marching Chiefs and Spirit Squad are important to the game day experience for the vast majority. FSU will work to better promote those components of the gameday experience.
The fans also told FSU what they would like to see improved, some of which can be addressed immediately. An example is the video scoreboard, rated as important to 96 percent of fans. Ninety-eight percent of those fans want to see more scores and highlights from around the country on that videoboard. This is important information for FSU to act upon to create an improved fan experience.
Opening parking lots earlier, offering a wider range of concession options, and providing cool zones under the stadium can also be addressed without delay.
Many fans, particularly those who travel to Tallahassee, want FSU to expand the activities throughout the weekend so they can make the trip a mini-vacation experience. They want a variety of activities starting on Friday to customize their Seminoles weekend. Some of the most popular items mentioned were the Friday tours of athletic facilities and seeing the players preparing for the next day’s game, the traditional lighting of the Unconquered spear, Friday Night downtown block parties, and all the game day festivities from tailgating to pregame concerts and activities on Langford Green.
While awareness of these events is high among existing customers, it was far lower among the non-ticket holders, something FSU is already addressing with broader promotion.
FSU retained HKS Architects to address comfort
In an effort to improve the comfort of Seminole fans, FSU has retained HKS architects. HKS is the firm that designed and re-designed many top university and professional stadiums – including the new Dallas Cowboys stadium.
HKS and FSU are examining short and long term options to make the stadium more comfortable while creating a variety of experiences for different groups of fans.
“We called them in to help us understand the cost and timeframe for a stadium renovation that would include the possibility of wider seats, upgraded restrooms, concessions, climate controlled concourses and the possibility of club seats,” said Miller. “Our goal is to deliver a fan experience that’s way beyond TV and to create an exciting weekend that has strong appeal for the entire spectrum of FSU fans. It’s about dialing up what’s good and addressing the things that need to be fixed.”
FSU Athletics and the Boosters seem determined to do everything possible to “fill the stadium” and create enduring Seminole memories at Doak Campbell Stadium every home game weekend – this fall and long into the future.
Town Hall Meetings reveal need for improved communication
FSU Athletic Director, Randy Spetman and Seminole Boosters President, Andy Miller held a series of Town Hall style meetings to interact with fans and Boosters to hear what’s important to them. It was an opportunity for fans to ask questions and discuss issues like scheduling and game times.
“Our fans are definitely passionate,” said Spetman, “and this was a great opportunity to have detailed conversations and, more importantly, to listen. We will continue this process.”
One point that became poignantly clear in these meetings was that people don’t know that Athletics does not receive any money from the State of Florida or from the University (student fees for students to receive free admission to athletics events are the exception). The funds needed to run the athletics programs and pay for student-athlete scholarships come from ticket sales and Seminole Boosters contributions – a point the AD made to the surprised group assembled inside the FSU football locker room.
“Obviously when the cost of a University education goes up significantly, as it has over the past few years with tuition increases, we are impacted across the board in all 19 sports,” said Spetman. “In addition to scholarships and funds for the teams to compete, you need great facilities to get the very best student athletes. “
About the Research
Dr. Jay Rayburn, of Becon Research, Inc. led the project team, developing a series of studies to gain insight into the opinions of several groups of Seminole fans.
“There were things that we expected to find – and then, as researchers, there were some surprises,” said Rayburn.
FSU completed surveys of past, present and potential customers asking what works for them, what does not work, and what they would like to see added to improve their experience. FSU also hosted Town Hall Meetings where FSU fans were invited to talk directly with Athletic Director Randy Spetman and Seminole Booster President Andy Miller and share their thoughts.
“What’s great is the response rates were very high, so we can look at the information from several perspectives and say with confidence – at least from a statistical perspective — that these are the specific things that fans want and those that they don’t want or you’d better get fixed,” said Rayburn.