Joel Thorman, the dude who publishes Arrowhead Pride (the best non-pay Chiefs blog on the net), and the lead editor of SB Nation, published an article this afternoon looking at five ways the NFL can “improve”the in-game experience, in an attempt to halt the sliding attendance figures.
(League wide, attendance is down 5% since 2007 … and as a Chiefs season ticket holder, trust me – it’s down way more than 5% in Kansas City.)
I have my idea(s) for how to improve the in-game experience enough to make you want to attend, rather than sit on the couch and watch, but I thought I’d look at their ideas before giving my $.02.
SB Nation Idea One: Wi-Fi.
Stevo Verdict: Yes … but more than just Wi-Fi – end the “block” put on any cell service that isn’t the “official” cell provider of the team. For example, I have my service through AT&T. The official provider of the Chiefs is Sprint. “The Voice of Reason” and I both have modern, up-to-date phones (I have a Blackberry, I believe he has an iPhone like contraption the last time I checked). He gets service with far fewer problems inside the stadium than I do … because he’s with Sprint. It’s OUTRAGEOUS. (And spare me the “how can they do that” crap – they can. Trust me. Every day, I have to walk a block from work to catch the Metro home. The stop is on 117th Street, next to the Sprint campus. You’re not going to believe this, but for the 2-3 minutes I’m waiting? My Pandora feed stops working. Why? Oh hell yes, Sprint has blocked every cell service save for their own around their campus. F*ck you Sprint. F*ck you.)
Wi-Fi is a long-overdue idea … but I’d propose getting at least regular service up and legitimately operational for all fans first. Baby steps.
SB Nation Idea Two: Designated Family Seating Areas.
Stevo Verdict: sure, why not. Quite honestly though? I don’t think we have a huge issue with out-of-control, unruly drunk fans here in KC. For the most part, we police ourselves. If we see someone who should be in a drunk tank, spouting off obscenities like he was being paid $500 for every one he uses, and threatening to throw down with the visiting team’s fan sitting by him? We get security. I’m all for friendly taunting – hell, come November 25th, I’ll be so unbearable to certain donkeys fans I know will be there, that I’ll probably get the “Stare of Death” from the lovely lady known as “Boasheao”. (Trust me: it’s a frightening stare. I nearly soiled myself when she reached her breaking point two years ago. You gotta love a chick who has an icy “shut up or else!” stare that is so scary, you automatically shut up and hope you didn’t just crap out lunch.)
But it rarely if ever gets violent at Arrowhead. And if it ever did? I’d be the first one to step in and get security to escort the drunken idiot off to the pokey, even if said drunken loser was a Chiefs fan. Trust me – I’ve dealt with being on the receiving end of a drunken idiot’s punch / over-the-line antics at a NFL game. (Stay classy, Bengals and Vikings fans. Stay classy.)
I like the family section idea though. It’s something worth exploring.
SB Nation Idea Three: Tailgating.
Stevo Verdict: honestly? I’m not sure how you implement this. Some stadiums, tailgating is virtually impossible due to location of the stadium. Cincinnati, St. Louis, New Orleans – all downtown stadiums where you park in a parking garage that makes tailgating impossible.
In other places (like how Dallas used to be), you park so far away from the stadium, that tailgating either ends way too soon due to the need to walk 5 miles to the stadium … or the team sets up an “official” tailgate that every fan uses, because of said 5 mile walk to the stadium.
So I’m not sure how encouraging folks to show up early to tailgate, when there’s no tailgating option available, is an “improvement”. And I am fully aware that Stevo Rule of Life Number Eight is “there is no event in life that cannot be tailgated”.
However, I do have an idea sorta, kinda regarding tailgating that I’ll lay out on my five “fan experience improvements” below.
SB Nation Idea Four: Turning Up the Intensity.
Stevo Verdict: HELL. NO!
Here’s why – you already have enough drunken morons fired up, ready to throw down at the first diss thrown their way. So your proposal is to get them MORE geeked up, MORE likely to cause problems? Think again guys.
Also, and here’s the grouchy old guy in me coming out, I HATE how between every down, there’s some crappy 70s rock song, or some moronic PA guy screaming “It’s THIRD down!” to encourage you to get loud. Uum, if you can’t figure out on your own that it’s 3rd and 7, your team trails by 4, and has just used its last timeout with 2:13 to play, if you can’t figure out on your own that THAT moment is when you might want to make some noise, then what the hell are you doing at the game to begin with?
And I don’t need to hear the “YEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!” riff from “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who EVER again. We get it. Stand up, make noise. I don’t need some rejected DJ from Funkytown driving that point home.
I HATE this idea. If anything, I support the exact opposite – shut the PA guy up save for obvious “need to talk situations”, cut out the crappy rock music, and just let the fans “enjoy” the game. It’s the ONLY redeeming feature about preseason football – the second half of the games? That’s EXACTLY what happens. The fans entertain themselves. If we can find a way to make preseason football fun enough to attend on our own? I guaran-damn-tee you we can find a way to make a game that counts “enjoyable” enough to fork over some cash to watch it live.
SB Nation Idea Five: Ticket Prices.
Stevo Verdict: I can’t speak to every NFL team … but honestly? I don’t think the Chiefs are overpriced on their tickets. I know I “downsized” what I spend on tickets this year … but I’ve got two seats in five rows up in the upper deck, in my same end zone, for LESS than I paid for one seat in the lower bowl of that end zone for the last (at least) eight years. (I think we crossed the $70 / game barrier in 2004, if I remember right.)
Ticket prices for the NFL honestly don’t bother me. This isn’t baseball, where they (in theory) get 81 times a year to gouge you, or the NBA or NHL, where they get at least 41. The NFL? You’re only guaranteed ten home games. (Or 1/8th of a baseball season, or ¼ of a NBA / NHL season). Compare the prices – my old seat at Arrowhead (Section 132, Row 26, Seat 14), was $84 / game last year, or $840 for the year. Spread that out over a full MLB season? You’re paying $10.50 / game. A NBA or NHL season? $21 / game. That seems reasonable to me (especially in the NBA’s case – if you’ve never been to a NBA game, trust me, anything in the house is beyond pricey. When I went to Milwaukee a couple years ago for the Heat game, Katie and I paid $50 / apiece to sit front row … of the upper deck. Now THAT’s pricey.)
Also, at least in the Chiefs case? The season tickets are already deeply discounted! My old seat, as a single individual one-game-only ticket, was $105. I paid $84. My new seats are $39 / game, versus $44 / game for a one-off deal. I know $5 / game isn’t much … but for two tickets, that’s a $100 savings for paying for the entire season, versus paying as you go. And last time I checked, when you’re struggling financially? $100 goes a long way. Hell, even if you’re relatively stable, like I am at this point, that $100 is one bad run at the pai gow table you don’t have to juggle things around to account for.
I’m sure in some places (*cough Dallas cough*) prices are insanely high … but for the Chiefs? I am not seeing it. At least for tickets.
Those are SB Nation’s ideas, and honestly, they all have merit, save for the “let’s get drunken fan 2/1000ths of a second away from doing something punishable by hard time even more fired up!” idea.
Here are MY 5 ideas, one of which I already hammered home further up, to improve the in-game experience, and keep fans going through the turnstiles, instead of camping on the couch …
1. Ensure ease of access for all wireless devices. Wi-Fi is a dream … but honestly? I’d settle for simply being able to send a text message to “The Voice of Reason”, or any of the other people I routinely text during a game (Damien, Phil, Dusty, Scotty, Heath, my brother), without having to hit “resend” fifteen times, and hold the phone at a 72 degree angle upside down just to get one bar of service.
I cannot STRESS how much I want this one to happen. To the Chiefs credit, they’re taking steps to making this happen, as they’ve announced that the entire stadium should be Wi-Fi accessible by Opening Day 2013. It’s a move in the right direction.
2. Establish MORE beverage-only concession stands in every NFL stadium. When we get to my next idea, this will seem a little bit trivial, if not pointless ... but the Chiefs are actually one of the leaders in this regard, as I would wager at least half of the concession stands in the lower bowl are beverage only. (I'll find out about the upper deck in 30 days.)
No having to wait for 15 minutes while some guy buys food for himself, his wife, and his five kids. I love the beverage only stands, because (a) I’m already full from eating during tailgating, and (b) all I want is a beer anyways.
I wish more NFL teams would be proactive in this regard. It cuts down on wait times for both types of paying concession customers – said dad who is about to drop $80 on food and hold up the line for 10 minutes … and people like me, who simply want to buy a beer for himself and his seatmate and get back to the action.
My third idea is going to draw some boos … because it also regards booze … but hear me out, and God knows – I cannot BELIEVE I am about to type this …
3. At a minimum, double the price of ALL alcoholic drinks inside the stadium, and if you want to get frisky? Triple them.
I know, I know, I can already see you all with the rotten tomatoes in hand, ready to start hurling them at me while booing me like my name is Robinson #Can0for10. But hear me out.
Let me establish my typical day prior to entering the stadium for kickoff, and assume it’s a noon kickoff for the sake of argument, ok?
I have arrived at Gate 6 on The Beast at 7am. I have already had at least one Baileys and coffee, or spiked hot chocolate, or mamossa, or Bloody Mary, by the time I get to said gate, if not two. In the 60-90 minutes while we tailgate waiting for the gates to open, I am highly likely to have at least two more strong adult beverages to nurse, as well as slam a few apple pie shots with Phil and his crew who tailgate next to us, both at the gate and in Lot G.
So by the time Wayne unlocks the gates, I’m headed down to save our and Phil’s spots in the grassy lot at the back of Lot G, and the mad dash is on (usually 8:30, but last year, he had a lot of 8am openings), I am already AT LEAST 3 potent adult beverages and 2 shots in. At 8:30 in the morning.
For the next 2 ½ hours, I will consume at least 4 more potent adult beverages. Usually, this will either be screwdrivers, or my patented vodka mixed into Gatorade. Either way, it will be vodka, and if you know me, you know I make all drinks “Stevo Style”, meaning they are AT LEAST 50 percent alcohol. In addition to those beverages, I will have more shots with Phil and Grandma and Texas and all them, the traditional “whipped cream shot” if Katie is there, plus whatever tequila-of-the-week Castro lugs over at 10:30. So figure four strong adult beverages, 4 shots, so we’re up to 7 stiff ones, 6 shots, plus some food to dull the edge, by 11am, when we break down the tailgate and begin the walk into the stadium.
Suffice it to say, I am not sober at this point.
Which is EXACTLY the point.
What is the first thing I am going to do once I get through Gate 8? (Hit the bano, of course -- by this point, folks tailgating around us have figured out why we tailgate where we do, and managed to infiltrate the almost-unnoticeable-from-the-street port-a-potty in G30).
But the second thing? Get my beer for the first half, at $10 (counting tip) for the 24oz Budweiser or Pale Ale (whatever I’m feeling that day … which is usually a large Sprite for $5, and I add the "medicine" I smuggled in with me.)
And at halftime, I usually get another one (of "something") for the second half.
Then of course, there’s the postgame tailgating as we wait out the traffic, and well, just be grateful I don’t drive to Chiefs games.
Here’s my point – as much as I’ve had to drink? You all who know me, know I’m not showing how hammered I am 97.5% of the time. I handle my booze better than anyone you will ever meet. And while I might get a little bit mouthy on “The Day I Live For” (this year, that would be November 25th) … the odds of me ever getting physical with a fan, are so miniscule, you can’t find odds on it. That’s not who I am.
But unfortunately? Not everyone in that stadium is me … and not everyone can drink as much as I do, and handle it. What ruins the GameDay experience more than ANYTHING else, is the drunk obnoxious guy next to you who won’t shut up, who keeps going back for another beer or two, and keeps cycling downward until eventually, either he passes out, throws up on you, gets drug up the aisle by four security guards while shouting obsenities and raising his middle finger at whatever person he perceives slighted him ... or some combination of all of the above.
Why can he do it? Because at $10 a tall beer (or basically $5 for a 12oz), most fans can afford it.
You raise that to $20 or even $30 per 20oz? You’ll still have people like me who might buy one … but we sure as all hell won’t be buying a 12 pack.
And honestly? In this case? If doubling or tripling the cost of booze inside the stadium means 50-60 drunken morons looking for trouble opt to stay home and drink instead? Then the idea has accomplished its goal of creating a BETTER GameDay environment for EVERYONE.
Believe me, “raise the price of booze to prices so high, no sane fan will buy more than one or two during a game” is an idea I never thought I’d embrace. But having been around enough unruly drunken morons in my day? It’s an idea I thoroughly embrace.
4. Lower the price of parking for fans who arrive before 9am.
The parking situation at Arrowhead is already tiered beyond recognition, as you get a discounted rate for a parking pass, you get a rebate if you live in Jackson County, and depending on either (a) your gate attendant or (b) the vehicle you drive or (c) both, your price can be the going rate, or double, or whatever arbitrary figure said attendant decides upon.
In addition, at least at Arrowhead, where you park is also completely up for grabs at times. If you have a great parking director (like we do usually with Glen)? You’ll have no problems being able to park people in your lot who don’t have a pass to be there. If your parking director evokes the word “nazi” in a legitimate manner? Then enjoy driving between the tape, cones, or whatever other ridiculous “force you to the front” method the Chiefs decide upon this year.
So allow me to offer a proposal that kind of piggybacks off the “more tailgating” proposal SB Nation offered, and say this:
If you arrive and are through the gates by 9am for noon kickoffs, noon for 3pm kickoffs? Then the $30 charge to park is cut in half. And for those with season-parking passes (like my group)? They scan those bad boys now – just add the $15 savings into the year-end rebate for being a Jackson County resident.
Or, if it makes it easier, since our season tickets are essentially a credit card now starting this year, do the same thing with parking “passes” – give you a pre-loaded card with XX.XX amount of parking vouchers on it, and you spend as you go. If there’s some left over? You can carry it forward and use it in the spring and summer for the Royals. All the parking revenue goes to the county, so the Chiefs aren’t losing a penny, and if anything, the county is getting you to show up for Royals games you might not otherwise opt to attend.
This idea is way too sensible for an organization that actually employed Steve Schneider* once upon a time to ever contemplate enacting … but it’s a credible, sensible idea that (a) encourages fans to show up, and (b) show up early to save a few bucks that (in theory) they’ll invest in concessions or adult beverages instead. (Again, Chiefs? The COUNTY gets the parking money. YOU get the concession money. Do you get my drift here? Regarding re-appropriating that $15 to something else on GameDay? Something that YOU, not the COUNTY, benefit from the purchase of?)
(*: in Mr. Schneider’s defense, he was always willing to answer any email inquiries I fired off at him. And God knows I sent him more than one.
To his detriment? The man was even more stubborn than Carl Peterson when it came to taking fan suggestions. Pre-2006, we had people literally coming from all over the place, attempting to somehow PERFECTLY line up, in order, outside Gate 6, since the Chiefs forbid you from saving spots for your crew post-2002. We had people driving from western Shawnee (me and Gregg, and his folks sometimes), Illinois (Gregg’s folks the rest of the time), southern Overland Park (Gregg’s sister), Lenexa (Jasson), Liberty (Randy and Nancy), to say nothing of any friends we had coming from south KC (Dusty), Brookside (Scotty or Phil), Topeka (Brent when he was in town) … well you get the point. The odds of getting seven cars to arrive at the EXACT same time, were miniscule. Which is why, to open the 2003 season, I emailed Mr. Schneider to ask for a 30 minute moratorium on saving spots – namely, lift the ban until 9am. If someone wasn’t there by 9, absolutely, take the spot for the next arrival through the gate. But give the line time to sort itself out and allow people who had tailgated together for decades to be able to keep parking by each other.
Mr. Schneider’s response: “why don’t you just meet up at (the now defunct) Blue Ridge Mall and proceed across 43rd Street, to ensure you wind up together.” It was the most infuriating response to an inquiry I’ve ever had in my life, and I am fully aware I have my cellular service through the idiocracy that is AT&T.
Things finally came to a head for the Buffalo Sunday nighter in 2003, when we actually took up Mr. Schneider on his offer to meet up beforehand and head in as one … and STILL wound up spread out and blocking spots for the cars that wound up one or two spots farther back in line, to the outrage of the parking Nazis. This is the game where Randy uttered his greatest one liner ever:
(randy, to parking guy) You must have majored in Asshole 101!
(parking guy, to randy) Yeah, you taught the class!
(randy, to parking guy) So you’re the mother f*cker I flunked! Glad to see you’ve made nothing of yourself!
This was also the game where either Gregg or I reached the “f*ck it, you’re not walking through our tailgate ever again!” moment with the line for the port-a-potty, and set up a rope system to where folks waiting for the bathroom had to line up away from us, instead of in the midst of us. That led to some always fun exchanges when some drunken idiot would get pissed at said rope system. Man, I miss the Lot N at the Crosswalk tailgate sometimes. Maybe we need to do a “Restore the Tradition II!” tailgate sometime this fall …
Anyways, at least the Chiefs let you save spots again … provided your parking nazi is bribable. Please, dear God, let us get Glen for a third season …)
And so, with that ramble complete, my final suggestion to improve the in-game experience … or at least give fans a reason to show up, as opposed to stay home:
5. Of all my pie-in-the-sky ideas … this one is the highest. Hang on … nope, I have NOT been hitting the dugout tonight. Although I have consumed a couple glasses of shiraz.
OK, Kansas City. In light of the awesome, incredible week we just witnessed? In recognition of the fact that right now, for the first time since we saved Union Station 18 years ago, we’re actually united as one community?
Let’s undo the GIGANTIC mistake of 2006. And hang on, I'm putting this in all CAPS for emphasis. Ready? Here it is.
BUILD! THE! GOD! DAMNED! ROLLING! ROOF!!!!!!!!!
If this week hammered home ANYTHING to this metropolitan area, shouldn’t it be that we CAN pull off a gigantic sporting event that the eyes of the nation are upon?
It’s simple fellow readers. You build that rolling roof? We WILL get our 11th Final Four. We WILL get a Super Bowl. We will NEVER again have to sit in sub-zero temperatures for a meaningless December game. The Royals will NEVER experience another rain-out.
And did I mention, Chiefs fans, we’ll NEVER again have to dress in fifteen layers to simply attend a football game?
Now granted, I’d want stipulations on the roof, like the Colts have – namely, unless it’s as hot as Phoenix, or bitterly cold, or a monsoon is falling, leave the stadium open-aired. But why not try to put a $150 million fundraiser metro-wide tax proposition on the ballot for November?
Because NOTHING will improve the fan-experience more than never having to sit in the rain, the cold, or the extreme heat ever again …