Wednesday June 25, 2014Gator Fans Are Ready to Make Their Mark With New Fan Advisory Council
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Joe Corcoran came to the University of Florida in the late 1970s, graduated in the ‘80s and over the past three decades has been a loyal and contributing alumnus, especially when it comes to the football program.
It’s been a long time since Corcoran sat in the student section at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, but he’s seen the Gators play from plenty of other vantage points, be it the club section, the north end zone or his current seats in the west stands, which he really, really likes.
Corcoran likes his seats even better when the ones around him and throughout the Florida Field bleachers are packed. That hasn’t been the case for a number of UF games the last couple years and Corcoran felt compelled -- even his duty -- to do something about it.
“The game is nothing without the fans,” said Corcoran, 55, a physician who lives in Tampa. “And God knows if you sit in a stadium for enough games you’re going to hear plenty of opinions about how to make things better.”
He’s not talking about the UF offense or kicking game, but rather the actual Gators game-day experience. A lot of people have been talking about it the last few years -- specifically, how to improve it -- and now the University Athletic Association hopes it can do something about it with the help of the 13-member Fan Advisory Council.
Hundreds of Gators fans answered a call in the spring for applications to the council, a team that will work in conjunction with the UAA to enhance the overall game-day experience at UF football games.
The council members -- a cross-section of season-ticket holders ranging from students to mid-level contributors to Bull Gators -- were informed of their selection last week and will meet for the first time in early August.
“It’s an effort on our part to try and get some real feedback from fans who care about this program,” said Mike Hill, UF’s executive associate athletic director for external affairs. “We’re expecting to get ideas from this group and we’re also expecting to use them as a sounding board and meter for some ideas that we might have.”
The composition of the council looks like this:
If that’s sounds like an eclectic mix, well, that’s exactly what it’s supposed to be. After all, a sophomore who lives on Fraternity Row is going to have an altogether different game-day experience than a deep-pocket donor in the Touchdown Terrace.
It’s because of those varying scenes of a football Saturday that fans such as Corcoran were selected for the committee. He went to games as a student and now attends them with his wife and son.
How he can do that and mesh a fun day in the stadium with the wide-ranging wants and needs that all fans want to enjoy will be the topics of these quarterly council meetings.
It’s pivotal these discussions not only take place, but suggestions, improvements and changes that come from the discussions will be relayed to Gator Nation. The goal is to make the “Swamp” the house of horrors it was for opponents for so many years.
Cassie Yde, a 66-year-old television producer from Orlando chosen for the council, hasn’t felt that environment but for a few games the last few years -- and that includes an 11-2 season in 2012. It starts with fans in the stands and the team feeding off their energy.
Then comes the other stuff the council will kick around.
“When I go to the games, I believe it needs to be a total experience from the time you walk in until you leave,” Yde said. “You can no longer say, ‘OK, here are the Gators” and that’s good enough. You have to engage people today like they’re engaged watching on their TVs at home because there are just too many reasons not to go to the game versus reasons to go.”
Corcoran flushed that thought out even more. He grew up in an era when there was one big game on TV each weekend. And since it always Keith Jackson calling Oklahoma-Nebraska the decision to go see the Gators was an easy one.
“We have the Big Ten Network, now here comes the SEC Network to go with about 42 other ESPN channels,” Corcoran said. “You better put something pretty compelling in front of the fans to convince them that 70 inches of plasma and cheap beer in the fridge is not a better alternative. And then there’s Stub Hub. Why buy season tickets?”
Enter the council, which will need to address these issues and many, many others.
The UAA already has implemented upgrades to the stadium’s direct antennae system and improved cellular call capability to increase connectivity, a huge deal for fans young and old.
When the council gets together, Bull Gators will talk about improvements to their ticket allotment and desire to be on the field for pre-game ceremonies; students will address the need for central place to rally before the game and their displeasure with open-container laws on campus; boosters, at all levels, will want to know why so many students come late and leave early; every member will want more replays on the JumboTron.
Such diversity will lead to dialogue and meaningful discussion.
It’ll be up to the council and UAA to find solutions.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Mitchell Barnes, a senior finance major from West Palm Beach selected to the council. “We’re going to pull a lot of different perspectives and put different voices together and see some common themes coming through. We’re going to help the Athletic Association take the pulse of the fan base.”
After last season, UF sent out surveys to season-ticket holders asking them about their game-day experience. Officials spoke to fans that chose not to renew their season tickets to find out why. They also staged focus groups among fans in various pockets of the state.
In addition, UAA representatives reached out to such organizations as the Seattle Seahawks -- famous for their “12th Man” homefield advantage -- and dispatched a group to attended a Sporting Kansas City soccer game at Sporting Park, where the team plays all its games to rabid sellout crowds at one of the most fan-friendly and socially interactive venues in the country.
A lot of information was gathered.
“There was value in all of it,” Hill said. “We got some very meaningful feedback.”
Now it’s time to gather some more ... closer to home.
Who better to start with than those who call Florida Field their home every Saturday the Gators are in town?
“I’m a student now, but one day I’m going to be a Gator alum -- and a very proud one -- who wants to come back and relive his experiences on campus, so I want to hear what everyone is saying because one day I’ll be in their shoes,” Barnes said. “I want to have a hand in understanding why people aren’t coming or why they’re leaving early. Most importantly, I want to be a part of changing that culture.”