Randy York’s N-Sider
Friday’s University of Nebraska Board of Regents' approval of a $12.3 million budget to enhance Memorial Stadium’s game-day experience was a victory for the most faithful fans in the history of college football. “Nebraska has been a consistent trendsetter in all aspects of the student-athlete experience, and this project is designed to enhance the experience of the fans who have sold out every football game for 51 straight years,” Nebraska Director of Athletics Shawn Eichorst said. “We firmly believe that the best college football fans in America deserve the best game-day experience possible.”
In this increasingly connected world, new technology is reshaping fan expectations, and Eichorst wants Nebraska to be in front of the curve that will customize solutions that transform the fan experience in two ways: 1) with a new stadium-wide sound system; and 2) through the installation of a wireless network that will dramatically improve connectivity in a variety of ways. “We’re very appreciative of Chancellor Harvey Perlman’s support and the Board of Regents’ approval,” Eichorst said. “It’s important that we continually strive to improve our fan experience in each of our athletic venues and this project is a big step in that direction.”
Memorial Stadium’s existing sound system is more than 20 years old and Friday’s approval clears the way for Nebraska to install a single-point cluster public address speaker system. Speakers will be placed in the existing cabinet located above the North Stadium’s big screen as well as in the cabinets installed on each end of the north screen.
High-Powered Speakers = Consistent Sound
“Today’s technology allows us to use high-powered speakers that are capable of projecting high to mid-frequency sound over long distances,” said Shot Kleen, assistant athletic director for HuskerVision. “New speaker technology also permits accurate aiming of the sound waves that will provide consistent sound levels inside the stadium. Voice and music intelligibility will be much improved with our new system.”
Kleen said the sound systems in all 101 suites inside Memorial Stadium also will be upgraded to ensure that HuskerVision features and public address announcements will be consistent audio and visual experiences for Nebraska’s sellout crowds.
From Limited to Almost Unlimited Connectivity
Dan Floyd, Director of Information Technology for Nebraska Athletics, said installation of a new wireless network system (WiFi) is an equally important component of the Memorial Stadium fan experience improvement project. The explosive growth of smartphones, tablets and other wireless devices in the past decade has fueled demand for continuous connectivity. Floyd acknowledged the limited connectivity of cell phone service on game day. “The new wireless network will allow our fans to do all of the things they enjoy most – watching video and interacting through social media wherever they might be in and around the stadium,” he said.
NU Fans Were Listening to Game, Not the Music
Nebraska Athletics also plans to develop a new, all-encompassing Memorial Stadium game-day smartphone application that will include video features, dynamic location-based services and an engaging mobile Internet platform. Kelly Mosier, Director of Digital Communications for Nebraska Athletics, will be in charge of developing an omnipresent game-day application that will appeal both to savvy social media users as well as less technically-oriented smartphone users.
“I remember coming to games with my grandparents when I was little and seeing fans with pocket radios in the stadium and thinking they were listening to music during the game,” Mosier said. “I had no idea at the time that they were actually using the radio as a tool to stay better involved with the game by listening to the radio. Smartphones have become ubiquitous in modern life. In a lot of ways, they represent the pocket radio of our time, especially in my generation. People use smartphones as a way to get more insight and information about an event that they’re watching.
Taking the Proverbial First Step to Engage Fans
“We’re really looking for ways to engage fans with the game while using their smartphones,” Mosier said. “This can be a variety of things, like offering video streaming, radio broadcasts, interactive stadium maps, stats and info graphics as well as giving fans the capability to better communicate with fans outside of the stadium via social media.”
Those are all things, of course, that fans watching at home can do easily. With high density WiFi, fans will be able to do the same things while also experiencing the game live with more than 90,000 other people. “This is the first step,” Mosier said. “Like all technology, we will continue to adapt and emerge as the technology changes.”
Projected Solution: A Fully Connected Stadium
Nebraska has made a thorough study of connected stadium solutions and will use Friday’s green light from the Board of Regents to purchase and install state-of-the-art WiFi.
Marc Boehm, Nebraska’s Executive Associate Athletic Director who oversees the Huskers’ fan experience improvement project, praised the leadership of John Ingram, NU’s Associate Athletic Director for Capital Planning and Construction.
“John was the project leader for both new systems,” Boehm said. “He has always been at the forefront of our department’s strategic approach to expand our student-athletes’ experience, and his leadership is just as pivotal in expanding the overall fan experience.”
Executive Athletic Director: Nebraska a Trendsetter
Boehm has no doubt that consumer-based technology and well-connected venues are the future of sports entertainment. “Nebraska Athletics has been a leader in almost everything we decide to take on, whether it’s strength and conditioning training, nutrition, FieldTurf, big screens, tunnel walks, academic excellence or life skills development,” Boehm said. “As an athletic department, we have always been trendsetters, and this is just another element that we want to take on and be a leader in. We have always focused on our student-athletes and on our fans because they are both so important to our success each and every day. We’ve worked hard, and we’ve done our homework.
“Shawn has known for a long time how important this undertaking is, but he wanted us to focus on what would be best for Nebraska and to study all the options as diligently as possible,” Boehm said. “We’ve analyzed aspects of the fan experience beyond this, but this is the most important first step we can take. It will allow us to enhance the game-day experience for everyone without sacrificing any of the traditions that we all hold so dear.
Eichorst “deserves the credit for the leadership he’s shown to move us forward,” Boehm said. “He recognizes the future of college athletics. We do a lot of things very well, but there are also a lot of things we can do better. We work for student-athletes, and we work for our fans. The game-day experience is important for all of us. Even though we’ve achieved NCAA records for consecutive sellouts, we will never take anything for granted. We will always try to be on the cutting edge, and we really appreciate the Board of Regents for sharing the vision we think is critical.”
Boehm: Fans Will Embrace WiFi like Never Before
“I truly believe that when everything is installed and working for us next football season, fans will embrace WiFi like never before,” Boehm said. “When I say that, I don’t just mean inside the stadium. We will be second to none in terms of technology and empowering our fans to personalize their viewing experience. They will also benefit from targeted promotions and from the loyalty they show to us.
“We’re not just talking about their experience at the event itself,” Boehm said. “We also want to stay connected with our fans when they’re on the way to the stadium. When fans are driving in from Grand Island, Kearney, North Platte and other places, they can use our app to know where to enter the parking lots and where the nearest concession stands are. We’re going to have apps that help everybody.”
The Blend: Live Action with the Comforts of Home
In the past, countless Nebraska fans have kept their cell phones in their pockets or purses inside the stadium because there was little to no connectivity to use them.
In the future, the experience will be exactly the opposite. Your smartphone will be a useful and strategic device and a direct-connect line to whatever interests you most. “WiFi is the future for our fans,” Boehm said. “They can enjoy the live experience and still get everything else that’s at the fingertips of fans that prefer to watch the game at home.”
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