BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- Each of the 14 institutions in the Southeastern Conference have taken steps to enhance the fan experience going into the 2014 football season in the next stage of a league-wide initiative to address fan engagement, the SEC office announced Wednesday.
"SEC fans are the most passionate and loyal fans in the country," said SEC commissioner Mike Slive. "Our institutions have made it a priority to engage their fans in a way that will enhance their in-game enjoyment and satisfaction. I salute our schools for being bold in addressing the fan experience and recognizing that increased attention to fans is critical to the continued success of our league."
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 75,674 fans, which was an increase from 74,636 in 2012. Also, the average percentage capacity in 2013 for SEC games was 99.02 percent, compared to 97.40 percent in 2012. Out of 100 games played at SEC venues in 2013, including the SEC Championship Game, 57 were filled to 100 percent capacity or more.
"Even as attendance at SEC events is as robust as ever, we would be remiss not to reward our fans with a great experience at each and every event," said Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin, chair of the SEC Fan Experience Working Group. "The fan experience goes beyond winning and losing games. It starts from the time they approach the stadium to the moment they leave campus."
The SEC has initiated rule changes that allow fans to see in-stadium replays of officials' reviews and increase in-game opportunities for musical entertainment, and in 2014 ESPN is partnering 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 2013-14 athletic year, the SEC conducted league-wide fan research studies in football, men's and women's basketball, baseball and softball. The studies included quantitative research conducted by "Now What Research" and qualitative analysis to provide an in-depth profile of SEC fans across all 14 institutions.
"We will continue to conduct fan research for the next several years in order to communicate better with our fans and to provide our institutions with the data they need to monitor fan expectations and satisfaction," said Slive. "Our schools have already begun to react to our studies by investing in areas that research shows are most important to our fans."
According to the research, among the areas of most concern to fans is availability of concessions and satisfactory restroom conditions. In response, at least 12 SEC institutions have indicated they are taking steps to improve concessions for fans, with various schools increasing the number of points of sale in stadiums, offering the opportunity to order with smart phones, increasing the number of in-stands concessions sellers and/or improving the variety of offerings.
At least eight SEC programs are taking added steps to improve restroom conditions in 2014, including adding restroom attendants, increasing the number of restroom facilities and adding audio to restroom facilities so fans can follow the game while away from their seats.
At least eight SEC schools have taken recent steps to improve cell service for its customers, and some have added wi-fi for fans in premium seating areas.
Research shows that fans expect a high quality video experience in the stadium. At least six SEC schools are putting added emphasis to that area in 2014, including improvements to video elements and production as well as the addition of new HD video boards in some stadium renovations.
Several schools are taking steps to address specific groups of fans, including expansions to Kids Zone areas, the implementation of young alumni programs and special ticket opportunities for students.
At least four schools have made administrative changes to address the fan experience including the addition of full-time staff members to focus on the fan experience or the establishment of fan councils and committees.
Facility improvements are widespread throughout the SEC, including major renovations at several stadiums that will improve seating, concourse space and sound systems. Other improved fan services at various schools include a mobile ticket delivery system, the addition of open captioning on video boards, smart phone interaction with fans and a specialized app.