Reimagining the experience
By Michael Smith, Staff Writer
August 20, 2018
College football fans will return to their favorite campuses this season with more pregame, in-game and postgame options for food, beverage and entertainment than ever. Tailgating, concerts, festivals and in-stadium premium spaces provide opportunities to customize their game day like never before and schools are responding with a variety of high-end choices.
UNIVERSITY OF CINCINNATI
The Grid is the place to be before every Bearcats game, where live music, on-campus tailgating, beer gardens, an array of food trucks and other vendors provide fans with an entertaining atmosphere. The centerpiece of it all is the Bearcats Music Festival, sponsored by Pepsi, with a different band at each home game. Live music follows the Catwalk, where the Cincinnati football players and coaches walk through the crowd on their way to Nippert Stadium. A tailgating plot in the Grid costs $300 for the season and includes parking, although the school describes it as more of an enhancement to the fan experience than a significant revenue opportunity. For a school like Cincinnati with limited surface parking, the Grid has become a popular tailgating alternative.
COLORADO STATE UNIVERSITY
When the Rams opened the $220 million Canvas Stadium, they introduced two exclusive spaces unique to college football: New Belgium Porch, a party deck in the north end zone, which boldly put a brewery’s name on a highly visible space, something that doesn’t often happen in a college stadium; and OCR Field Club, which lets fans go in a space right behind the Rams’ bench. Both sold out last season and have already sold out this season. The field club requires a $400 season pass in addition to season tickets, while the porch costs $200 plus a ticket. CSU’s creative thinkers will introduce the Coors Light Ram Walk tailgate this season, a space outside Canvas Stadium that is free to enter for fans who don’t want the hassle that comes with setting up and tearing down the traditional tailgate.
The Seminoles put 61,000 fans in Doak-Campbell Stadium for this year’s spring scrimmage, setting a record and blowing away last year’s 25,000 mark. After the scrimmage, most of the fans stayed for a postgame concert featuring Rob Base, Vanilla Ice and Salt-N-Pepa, who took the audience on a trip back to the 1990s. That Florida State combined music and sports is no surprise — the ’Noles have hosted concerts on Friday nights prior to home games for years. That they staged the concert after a game was unique. “How do you get people off the couch and into the venue?” asked Jason Dennard, FSU’s associate athletic director, marketing and revenue generation. “It’s a question everybody struggles with and the answer is that you have to give them something they can’t get at home.” FSU surveys showed that more than 70 percent of the fans stayed for the concert. Dennard believes FSU is the only school doing concerts postgame, and the ’Noles will do it again this season.
UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA
The expansive space under one end zone of Kenan Stadium serves as a weight room six days a week. On the seventh day during home football weekends, the weight room converts into a high-end field-level terrace called the Touchdown Club with some of the closest views of the action in college football. Fans stand behind a 4-foot wall just a few yards removed from the back of the end zone. UNC introduced the new space two seasons ago as a trial, and the response was so positive it turned into one of the Tar Heels’ most popular offerings. Rams Club members accessed the space last season for a $375 season ticket plus a $425 lease fee, in addition to a donation of at least $1,200. “It’s as ‘in the game’ as you can possibly be,” said Rick Steinbacher, UNC’s senior associate athletic director, marketing and sponsorships. “It’s a different experience.” The space is exclusive, too, with only 250 tickets available.
UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA
In 2014, when the Sooners and Populous first began planning a $160 million south end zone project at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, loge boxes were a minor piece of the premium seating puzzle with just more than 20. But as the school moved into the selling phase in 2015, it became obvious that loge seating for groups ranging from four to eight was one of the most desirable premium options. The school said it eventually tripled the number of loge boxes to 66 for the finished product, providing smaller groups with a unique alternative to the suites and club seats. Loge boxes opened at $16,000 for a four-seater, along with a capital gift of $60,000. Arizona State, which will open the renovated Sun Devil Stadium next week, has enjoyed similar success with its 38 loge boxes for four or six people, selling close to 90 percent of the inventory a few weeks before the opener.
Few schools have been able to find a way to keep students engaged at college football games. Scores of students show up for the tailgating and maybe the first half, and then frustrated athletic administrators watch as they stream out at halftime. SMU hopes its new party deck in the north end zone of Ford Stadium is a solution. The deck won’t have traditional bleacher seating; in fact, the Mustangs and partner Blockparty, the Dallas-based agency, removed four sections of lower bowl seating to make room. The party deck will have some high-top seating under oversized umbrellas, but mostly the space is intended for people to stand and socialize. Even though there’s not an immediate revenue play, the school believes the deck is a way to appeal to the donors of tomorrow. Blockparty already is talking to other schools about the concept.
The Rose Bowl provides UCLA with an iconic football home, but it comes with a few twists that on-campus stadiums don’t deal with. For example, premium-seating revenue from home games stays with the Rose Bowl. That puts the onus on the Bruins to come up with innovative ideas outside the stadium that can be converted into revenue. Starting this season, UCLA will be introducing the Stella Rosa wine garden and the TCL Lounge, exclusive spaces outside the gates of the Rose Bowl for donors only. An annual donation of $5,500 is required for entry to the wine garden on the west side, where most season-ticket holders sit. The lounge on the east side commands a $1,700 donation. Levy will run the food and beverage in the high-end spaces.
-Sports Business Journal