The Times West Virginian

April 22, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN- Luck open to WVU fans’ suggestions

By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia’s fans have spoken, perhaps not verbally but nonetheless have had their voices heard, over the past few years as attendance has fallen at the Mountaineers’ football and basketball games.

The drop-off — from 60,000 a game to 52,000 in football and from 14,000 a game to 8,000 in basketball — has caught the attention of the powers within the athletic department to the point that they are in the midst of a blitz to make the experience of attending games more enjoyable.

Previously announced was a $106-million capital investment in facility improvements, some designated for the sports themselves such as a new football team room, but some aimed at the sports fan in the form of more and improved rest rooms, wider concourses, more concession facilities, more comfortable seating and more LED message boards.

But Athletic Director Oliver Luck is taking it even beyond there and announced on Monday the inception of a fan experience committee to discuss “the needs of Mountaineer fans with the hopes of enhancing the fan experience at its events,” according to the release announcing the creation.

The committee will be composed of 12-15 members including, fans, faculty and students, season ticket holders, corporate partners and university administration. The group will meet on Saturday, May 3, and Saturday, June 21, in Morgantown.

Topics of discussion will include pregame activities, tailgating, in-game activities, season ticket holder benefits, student engagement and concession items.

They are aware, of course, that such topics as $20 for parking at the Coliseum and $8 beers and the like could well be on the mind of any fan’s list of topics for discussion, but they are not looking to turn this into a whine fest — although they will have no problem if fans want to turn some of the events themselves in a wine fest.

“We want people to come with constructive suggestions,” Luck said mid-afternoon Monday. “Typically it starts with someone coming and saying, ‘Why do you do it like that? Isn’t there a better way to do it?’ That starts a conversation.

“I think our games are fun and the experience is positive for the vast majority of people. There are things we can work out, though.”

And that is where Luck wants to go with these panel discussions.

“We are just looking for input from people about everything related to the experience of the game, whether it is football or basketball or some of the other sports that are drawing a couple of thousand people,” he said.

Certainly, that involves parking and tailgating and cost of concessions, but it is more than that, too.

“We get emails all the time, ‘You should play this song at the start of the second quarter’ or ‘You should honor this group’ or ‘Why do you don’t do this’ or ‘How come the gates don’t open up at this time as opposed to that time?’” Luck noted.

“It’s just a stream of questions like ‘How come there’s not a hot dog stand open on the southeast corner?’ They take it very seriously, so this is really an opportunity to have a get together every now and then and give us some ideas.”

This isn’t a right-or-wrong can of discussion. It is an attempt for the athletic department to lend an ear and let the fans know that they are listening, aware there are many things they can’t do, be it due to tradition or finances.

Luck also understands that tied very closely to the way a fan experiences a sporting event is whether or not the home team wins or loses. You won’t hear nearly as many complaints about having to stand in line for a hot dog if you beat Oklahoma in football or that you had to relieve yourself at a two-person trough in the men’s room if you hit a last-second shot to beat Kansas in basketball at the Coliseum.

But this fan committee should not come with suggestions for the next head coach in any sport, for that isn’t listed in the guidelines of areas to be discussed.

Instead, Luck notes, the world has changed since the facilities have been built, most of them 30 or 40 years ago. Heck, it seems it’s a different world almost every 30 or 40 minutes, let alone years.

“It’s important to ask people how important it is to have WiFi. And ticketing. Not so much as buying tickets, but now it’s mostly done on line,” said Luck.

Talk about changes. Buying tickets was always done on line, but in the past it was done while standing on line at a ticket window, not while browsing the Internet on line.

“It’s the whole gamut from soup to nuts, concession food,” said Luck, again an interesting choice of words considering that they sell neither soup nor nuts at the concession stands.

“We want people to have a good time, enjoy the experience. You don’t want them to drive home complaining about this or that,” Luck concluded. “We hear from people asking why can’t students do what some of the older students did? Things like why can’t the students hold up signs like ‘WHO CARES?’ when the visiting team is introduced like they used to do. They want to go back to some of that.

“Well,” he said, “this creates an outlet for them to give us their ideas.”

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel