OK, they’ve already loosened up on the replays and cut-ins from other games on the big video boards and are allowing the home school’s band to be amplified so they can be heard better throughout the stadium.
Now, the latest step in the SEC strategy to keep college football fans coming to the games instead of sitting back in the recliner with a beer and snacks and watching the game on a hi-def big-screen TV is to take a page from the ACC playbook. They want to try to get fans pumped up between plays by playing more recorded music over the stadium p.a. between plays and letting it run longer.
“They were able to do things in the ACC that we were not in the SEC,” UGA athletic director Greg McGarity told the Athens Banner-Herald. “The rules have changed now for 2014 where we’re able to utilize songs and music up until the point when the quarterback gets over the ball. That’s a big change in the in-game atmosphere.”
Whether that strikes you as a cool idea or has you rolling your eyes or griping about overamplified assaults on your eardrums might have something to do with which side of the generational divide you occupy. You know, the you-kids-get-off-my-lawn syndrome.
The idea is to make it a more pumped-up atmosphere, like what UGA experienced at Clemson last season, McGarity told the Banner-Herald: “Those of us who saw what it did at Clemson, it energized their fan base with certain songs.”
“If you need to get people revved up for a big third-down play, you can do that,” McGarity said. “You could always do it with your band, but now you can do it any way you want to. You still have to stop once the quarterback gets over the ball, gets under the center or in the shotgun.”
Some fans aren’t buying what the Georgia AD is selling.
As Senator Blutarsky of Get the Picture points out, if you’re playing a cupcake game, it’s kind of difficult to get the crowd genuinely fired up: “Implicit in all this nonsense is an admission that the conference recognizes its on-field product is no longer compelling enough on its own merits for its fan base. … The obvious way to get SEC fans revved up would be to serve them a better home schedule with fewer cupcake games. But that tends to be a lot more expensive than paying for the right to shatter ear drums with a stirring rendition of ‘Zombie Nation.’”
Bernie’s Dawg Blawg also notes that game day atmosphere didn’t exactly seem to be lacking last season Between the Hedges when the game merited it. “We didn’t need canned music to beat LSU in that historically frenzied game back in October. We needed big plays. When those came, the fans rose to their feet and lifted their voices because the contest on the field motivated them to do so.”
On the other hand, younger fans tend to think the use of recorded music to get fans on their feet and create a more intimidating atmosphere is a good idea.
My UGA grad son Bill recognizes that it wouldn’t be popular with older fans, but he thinks tapping into the Atlanta rap scene more (not the graphic stuff) certainly would resonate with both students and the players on the field. There are some huge hits by Atlanta acts that all the players and students know and identify with, he says. If the stadium bosses played some well-timed OutKast or TI or Ludacris snippets, “the place would go absolutely nuts and it would tie the program a little closer with the identity of Georgia that’s strong among younger folks around the South and across country.”
Georgia’s rap scene is much stronger than any surrounding state’s, Bill notes, and this would give UGA an edge over most SEC brethren and build on the whole “Georgia’s team” identity. Only Georgia Tech could geographically claim a closer tie to Atlanta music and they are, well, Tech.
“Even people who didn’t know the songs could appreciate a beat and a stadium going nuts as they did with a few years ago when Soulja Boy was played,” Bill says.
Also, MrSEC.com believes there’s more to this than just trying to make the game day experience more enticing for fans. “There’s another angle at play here, too — recruiting. Each year, more schools are tossing out tradition in favor of mix-and-match uniforms that utilize black, gray, all-white and pink color schemes, to name a few. Teenagers like bizarro uniforms, so coaches and schools trot out bizarro uniforms. Now what do you think teenaged recruits would prefer on gameday — a fight song played by a live band or a blaring hip-hop beat or a heavy metal riff? Our money’s on the beat or the riff.”
Traditionalists might brand this yet another swig of “fake juice” and prefer sticking with the likes of the stalwart Redcoat Band instead of playing some rapper or hard-rock act, but the fact is that the alums, particularly the UGA alums who come to Sanford Stadium, are more prone to sit on their haunches, leaving the serious lifting to the student section when it comes to making noise. And if want to get the students going, there’s nothing like playing the music they love.
This sudden concern with between-plays music on the part of the SEC brain trust is part of the nationwide battle against declining attendance at college football games. The conference has a task force looking at new strategies, such as improving wi-fi access at games — a frequent complaint among younger attendees. Along those lines, UGA season ticket holders recently were asked to participate in a survey about aspects of the stadium experience, ranging from concessions and restrooms to the bands, cheers, video board, sound and more.
One of the key factors in attendance drops across the conference, ESPN recently reported, is student attendance. And that’s the case even at Alabama, where crystal footballs keep the trophy cases groaning. The Bama student newspaper, The Crimson White, conducted a study and determined that only 69.4 percent of student tickets were used during the BCS championship 2012 season.
Meanwhile, in Athens, UGA reduced its student-ticket allotment from 18,026 to 16,200 (and made more tickets available to young alums) in the face of sagging student attendance. Even then, despite overselling on purpose (17,212), UGA’s scanners revealed that an average of 28.8 percent of those students who bought tickets for home games didn’t bother to show up, ESPN said.
Various factors are at play here, and there’s disagreement on what’s needed. Benjamin Wolk, a UGA senior who is a football beat writer for The Red & Black, told ESPN he thinks one of the reasons for the no-shows is because of a stale game atmosphere that caters to the old money that wants the traditions of decades ago.
“One thing Clemson, Vanderbilt and Auburn all had in common was a crazy stadium atmosphere,” Wolk said. “At Georgia? Traditional music and a PA announcer barely yelling ‘Let’s make some noise’ on third down.”
However, my daughter Olivia, a UGA sophomore who’s among the first in the student section at every home game, disagrees with Wolk.
“Students enjoy the tradition,” she said. “They like doing the cheers and singing every home game. The homecoming game is the perfect example. Students love the 70-year-old cheerleaders who come back and cheer.”
What students don’t like or care about, Olivia said, is cupcake games, or games that aren’t closely contested. “If Georgia is up or down by two or three touchdowns, students don’t see the point in sticking around in the hot sun.”
Olivia said she understands “that cupcake games keep a winning record at home, but they don’t inspire much enthusiasm or electrify the way an SEC opponent does. The LSU and South Carolina games last season are examples.”
Students also hate noon games, she said. “It’s the worst time slot for a game,” especially when it’s hot and humid.
Of course, playing more music at games isn’t going to improve the appeal of a lackluster opponent or make anyone more comfortable in the noontime late-summer sun, just as showing more replays on the big screen isn’t going to attract the fan who’s addicted to his “ESPN GamePlan” satellite TV package.
But it could help add an element of fun back into the game day experience. If you’ve seen the Sanford Stadium stands suddenly come alive the past couple of seasons when some silly Top 40 dance number is played during a break, you get the idea.
Plus, harking back again to Soulja Boy’s brief reign in Sanford Stadium, Olivia said, “It would be nice to see the players enjoying themselves.
“I remember when they would play music and players would be dancing on the sidelines when plays weren’t happening. Students especially love to see the players having fun. Hopefully, the new music changes will allow for this some more.”
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg