In the big picture, athletic director Scott Stricklin and Mississippi State’s administration concern themselves with putting their teams, coaches, players and fans in the best position to succeed.
When dealing in the minutiae of individual games, however, the focus turns to what we often hear referred to as the “fan experience,” while the coaches and players worry with what happens in the field of play.
It’s a collaborative effort of all involved, but MSU’s marketing department is charged with the makeup of things outside the lines at games. How video boards are used, when commercials air, what music is played, promotions done, halftime entertainment, giveaways, white outs and anything else imaginable.
When MSU erected one of the largest video boards in the country at Davis Wade Stadium several years ago, it immediately added a new element to football game days for all involved. The question, though, has been how to use it, something Stricklin and all involved have been tracking.
Whether it seems so or not, they are keenly aware of complaints from fans worried the commercials took away from the atmosphere of the game.
Working alongside Bulldog Sports Properties, the group responsible for securing sponsors for MSU events, among many other things, the effort to respond to those concerns has been significant.
“One of the most important things to us is fan experience,” Stricklin said. “We want to be sensitive in how we use the resources we have to make sure we enhance that experience, not take away from it.”
Don Williams, the general manager of Bulldog Sports Properties, has taken several steps to enhance that vision of fan experience, adding to the atmosphere of game days rather than taking a way.
The main difference is an easy one: the number of advertisements has been cut significantly.
This fall, the amount of commercials has been cut 35 percent from 2012 football games, a drop in total number of nearly 50 percent from two years ago. In addition to the cut in the amount, the length has changed, as well. Nearly all commercials have been halved from 30 seconds to 15, with at least some of the longer ones being moved to pre-game rather than in-game.
A couple weeks before the first home game, Williams and his staff had a showing in Davis Wade of all their game day commercials, a chance for sponsors to watch their spot in action before it debuts in the season.
“We do this so you can see and critique what’s up there,” Williams told them. “This way, if you don’t like something, we have time to change it.”
In those commercials were the MSU themes he talked about.
Former players, coaches and even Stricklin made appearances.
Some were interactive, involving cowbells and/or fans, while some have no audio, just visuals while music of MSU’s choice can play.
One was pertinent stats from the game, just with a sponsor, and similarly, another was the play of the game.
New Senior Associate Director of Athletics for External Affairs Scott Wetherbee spoke to those in Davis Wade and shared a familiar refrain.
“We focus on fan experience,” he told the room.
The key is making everyone part of that.
In a meeting with Wetherbee, new marketing director Leah Beasley and the rest of her staff, Williams provided a rundown of a typical game with the required advertisements inserted into the lineup.
“You tell me where you want things,” he said. “Some of these are more flexible than others, but we can set things up in whatever way works best for your needs.”
More commercials in the first half than second, for instance.
One commercial might fit best between quarters, while another has music and would provide a nice transition in timeouts.
Built into the rundown are flex spots, where Beasley and her staff can make the call to not play commercials and continue with music if they feel the momentum of the game or the importance of the situation merits it.
“Really,” Beasley said, “we just want our fans to enjoy themselves. The product on the field is what attracts people and we want to do whatever we can to enhance their experience.”
Part of her charge now is to fill the time previously held by commercials. Much of it will be music, but in the month since joining MSU, her and her staff have worked on promotions, videos and similar such things to insert in some of the other spots. The hope, of course, being to make that fan experience a better one.
This Saturday, the new “fan experience” debuts. Commercials will still exist, to be sure, but MSU’s hope and goal is to have responded to its fans in a way they will be pleased with.