Arm-chair quarterbacks criticize much more than just the action on the football field.
Marketing, ticket prices, fund-raising, fan interaction, customer service — and, of course, kickoff times — are ripe for analysis, complaints and suggestions.
And while no school is going to let a merciless critic call some offensive plays to see if they work, Boise State and others around the country have decided to let fans help them make their business decisions.
Since May, a 14-member fan advisory committee has met monthly to provide input to the Broncos athletic department in a more direct, personal setting than email, Twitter and shouting at the TV screen.
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“I’ve been pleasantly surprised that it’s been productive and effective,” said Travis Hawkes, owner of The Blue & Orange Store and a Bronco Athletic Association board member. “To their credit, all the things that have come out of it, they’ve taken it, explored it, taken it up the food chain. Some things they said are not viable right now. But it hasn’t been an, ‘OK, sure, we’ll take that under advisement’ type of attitude. They’ve really tried to use us as a resource.”
The key, Boise State officials and committee members agree, is the committee’s makeup. Members range from longtime season-ticket holders and donors to a student and those who don’t buy season tickets.
Boise State received more than 50 applications and set out to build a diverse committee.
“I like that there seems to be people from different walks of life around the city,” said Mark Nelson, a football season-ticket holder. “Different ages, different affiliations, so we get a lot of different input. We get the student perspective and the business perspective. ... The brainstorming is really good.”
The committee was started by former senior associate athletic director John Cunningham, who left this summer to join former Athletic Director Mark Coyle at Syracuse. They modeled the committee after one at West Virginia.
Some members were recruited; others submitted applications after the athletic department advertised the committee.
The early emphasis has been placed on improving the fan experience at football games but the committee has started to discuss men’s basketball and even some non-revenue sports. The meetings last two hours.
“The goals that have been stated to the committee members were to increase followership with season-ticket holders and our fan base,” said Matt Thomas, the assistant athletic director for marketing and promotions, “educate fans on the whys of what we do and what options we have for change, obtain fan feedback on how to get better on all levels and create a strong brand-advocacy group to share information on how decisions are made.”
Already, the committee has made an impact.
The Huddle — the new pregame tailgating area open to all ticketed fans and serving alcohol — was designed with input from the committee, which expressed the need for more activities (redshirting football players sign autographs, kids can dress in old Boise State uniforms and play cornhole, other college games are shown on big-screen TVs and food trucks rotate through the plaza outside).
“We basically heard from them what went wrong from other pregame tailgate events we tried to put on and adjusted,” Thomas said. “... The fan advisory committee has probably been the No. 1 driver in providing the experiences that you’ll see in there.”
The Huddle’s first week, for the Washington game, was a success. About 3,000 people participated with a top crowd of 2,200, Thomas said. He expected about 1,500 people.
Committee member Dixie Grant, also a BAA board member, took note of the long lines at the Huddle entrance and spoke to the crew about why there was a backup.
Her eye for issues with the fan experience prompted her to apply for a committee spot.
“We need to make some changes,” Grant said. “... I wanted to see what I could do to get more people to these sporting events.”
Each of the committee members interviewed by the Idaho Statesman has pushed the school on a particular point. Nelson wants more marketing of events. Hawkes — who figures he was asked to join because he “showered” the athletic department with ideas — wants to find ways to fill Albertsons Stadium. Grant wants more concession options.
“BYU is a classic example. They had so many choices in concessions,” Grant said. “... That was disappointing to me that our fans leave early and I kind of wanted to find out why they were doing that and why we can’t get more butts in the seats. This forum, everybody is very open.”
Some of the ideas that haven’t been implemented but are being considered include:
• Allowing fans to vote for the football team’s uniform combination for a game.
• Offering more payment plans for season tickets. Hawkes likes the idea of something close to a monthly payment, like Netflix.
• Finding more ways for fans, and particularly season-ticket holders, to interact with the football team.
• Permit fans to go onto the field after football games.
Boise State hasn’t decided when it will bring new faces to the committee but expects to stick with this group for at least a year.
“Right now, it’s small steps,” Thomas said, “but in the end we hope it has a big impact.”