BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Each of the 14 institutions in the Southeastern Conference have once again taken steps to improve the fan experience going into the 2015 football season as the SEC continues its league-wide initiative to enhance fan engagement.
"Our institutions recognize the passion and loyalty of its fans and are committed to applying resources to maintain and improve their in-stadium enjoyment and satisfaction of SEC events," said SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey. "This is the continuation of the commitment our schools have made to address the fan experience and recognition of the importance of our fans to the future success of this conference."
In June of 2012, the Athletic Directors of the SEC approved the formation of a working group to conduct a thorough review of attendance trends and develop recommendations to enhance the fan experience in the SEC.
The SEC continues to address the fan experience even as attendance thrives in the SEC. Last football season, the SEC averaged 77,704 fans, an increase from 75,674 in 2013 and 74,636 in 2012. Also, the average percentage capacity in 2014 for SEC games was 99.90, up from 99.02 percent in 2013 and 97.40 percent in 2012.
"There is a certain culture within the SEC that must be maintained and it is important to our athletics directors to continue to improve the elements that make the experience of being in an SEC stadium different than any other," said Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin, chair of the SEC Fan Experience Working Group. "Our research clearly identifies the issues that are most important to our fans, and SEC schools have responded accordingly."
The SEC was the first major conference to initiate rule changes that allow fans to see in-stadium replays of officials' reviews while in progress and also has increased in-game opportunities for musical entertainment the past two seasons. In 2014 ESPN partnered with the SEC to provide video highlights to schools to utilize on stadium video boards for in-game highlights and updates for fans.
Throughout the past two athletic years, the SEC has conducted league-wide fan research studies in football, men's and women's basketball, baseball and softball, adding surveys to the student population in 2014-15. SEC schools have utilized the research to address fan concerns.
"We will continue to conduct research to better engage with fans and to serve their needs," said Sankey. "Our schools are using the research to be strategic in applying resources to the fan experience."
According to research conducted following the 2014 football season, among the highest areas of concern are concessions, connectivity and restrooms.
At least 10 SEC institutions are making improvements to its concessions operations, including such features as themed food kiosks, refillable beverage cups, improved points of sale in stadiums, additional menu choices, addition of local fare to menus, additional in-stands sales persons and increased number of locations to decrease wait times.
At least seven SEC schools have taken measures during the off-season to improve cellular service in their stadiums. Research shows that fans are most interested in performing day-to-day tasks on their phones during games such as texting, placing calls and connecting to their provider's 4G or LTE network. As a result, many SEC schools are placing an emphasis on boosting mobile coverage in 2015. This comes on the heels of eight schools making similar efforts to improve cell service for its fans in 2014.
No less than six SEC schools are making improvements to its restrooms in 2015, including the replacement of fixtures and addition of restroom attendants, and -- in the case of stadiums with significant renovations -- an additional number of restrooms and family restrooms.
Research has shown that fans expect the best in sight and sound when attending SEC events and schools have responded by adding new video elements and enhancing sound systems. Last year at least six SEC schools put emphasis on its video elements and in 2015 two more schools have added new video boards and ribbon panels while several have improved their sound systems.
Other top improvements include five schools that are addressing parking issues, four adding new methods to showcase program accomplishments and school athletic history, at least four enhancing programs specifically for student fan enjoyment, as well as others adding fan ambassadors, enhanced ticket services, water filling stations, additional televisions on concourses and at concessions stands, specialized apps for mobile devices and more entertainment for fans outside the stadium.