How do you consume college football?
Are you a three-day tailgater who goes all out even when your team is playing a directional Louisiana school? Do you casually drop in to town for the big games? Are you content sitting in front of your 76-inch flat screen on your recliner?
The SEC is going to find out.
According to AL.com, the SEC approved funds to conduct market research into the fan experience, and specifically why attendance at SEC games is declining. The SEC led the nation with 75,444 fans per game, but that was its lowest mark since 2007 and down two percent since 2008.
So what are the reasons for the decline? Technology has a lot to do with it.
"The problem has been HD television and big-screen TVs," LSU athletics director Joe Alleva told AL.com. "The bathroom is right there (for fans at home), the refrigerator is there."
The draw of being in attendance is great, but it's not convenient for the fan. The majority of SEC college towns aren't easily accessible, aren't built to properly host 100,000 or more fans and are virtual wastelands of cell service on game days.
That's in addition to the hundreds of dollars that fans must shell out to get to the game, stay in town, buy tickets, become eligible for season tickets and eat.
It's a battle that SEC administrators—and administrators in all sports—simply can't win.
Texas A&M made news this offseason when it announced a $450 million renovation and expansion to Kyle Field that will increase its capacity to 102,500, add and renovate suite-level seating, renovate entrances and plaza spaces, and add a museum.
The renovation part make sense. Giving fans of all ages the ability to enjoy the atmosphere inside and outside is a top priority.
But is that much expansion needed? This isn't meant to be a knock on Texas A&M's ability or inability to sell out Kyle Field, which has been well-documented. Why spend $450 million to renovate and expand by 20,000 seats when you can spend $300 million and make the fan experience top notch with expanded amenities, concession options and connectivity so that fans are happy and connected at the games during the good times and the bad?
The SEC is working to fix cell-phone service and increase WiFi capabilities in stadiums, according to USA Today. That's big. With the technology that exists today, we are caring less about what's on and more about what else is on.
What's the rival doing? Is that upset really happening? Can I post this sweet picture I just took to Instragram? Can I stream another game on my phone?
Better yet, can I visit a lounge with 10 different games on to catch up on the day's events, or can I charge my device from my seat?
Those are important issues that fans at home don't have to address.
It will be interesting to see what the SEC does. We could wind up with standard focus-group results that include general ideas like fan-friendly tailgating areas, increased wireless capacity, better food and drinks.
That'd be a start, but I'm not sure it can contend long-term with the draw of the flat screen. This is a problem that isn't going away.
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