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If I Was on the Nittany Lion Fan Council...

by on August 11, 2015 6:00 AM

Grassroots communication. Feedback from customers. Input. Participation. Ideas. Involvement.

Although these are some of the many buzzwords familiar to successful businesses, Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics is attempting to take them one step further and engage Penn State supporters in a way and at a level heretofore unheard.  They want to know what we think, in person, from our own mouths.   

Perhaps you’ve read about the creation of the Nittany Lion Fan Council?  Twenty-five Penn State fans have four opportunities over the next year to personally meet with athletic department staff and express opinions on their experiences with Penn State athletics. 

In May Penn State announced this initiative and asked that people interested in joining the Council complete an online application to be considered for the 25 spots.  I haven’t heard how many people replied to this “all-call” for fans, but I imagine it was a lot.  As in hundreds, if not a thousand or more.

Now, I’m not one to keep quiet if I have a few thoughts on a particular subject (“Really,” you say?!), and as I have many thoughts about Penn State athletics I went online and completed an application.  Unfortunately, after doing my best creative writing – arranging my skills as if they were a display counter at Tiffany’s (apologies to Lewis Lapham) – I was not deemed worthy of inclusion on the inaugural panel of Penn State fans.  Bummer.  As the students say, I has a sad.

Two weeks ago the lucky two-dozen-plus-one fans chosen to the very first Nittany Lion Fan Council convened for their initial opportunity to tell the athletic department what’s-what (their next three chances come on October 19, January 18, 2016 and April 18, 2016).  According to the department a report on the meetings will eventually be issued on their website.  In the meantime I wanted to take a few moments to review that which, had I been present, I would have covered in the meetings.

The five specific areas the Council members were summoned to provide feedback on are: Game Day Experience; Communications; Facilities; Sales and Ticketing; Redemption and Retention.  

Starting at the end of that list and working backwards, Redemption and Retention is an odd topic because I have no idea what “Redemption” means in this context.  I’ve never “redeemed” anything with Penn State Athletics. And retaining me as a fan is almost completely about executing the other four areas well, and keeping academic metrics at the top of any performance rankings.

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On to Sales and Ticketing. As much as I loathe Ticketmaster (and since I am a local I usually bypass them by going directly to the various ticket offices), the University has gotten its act together over the last decade in ticketing.  Even that nasty secondary ticket market (re-selling your tickets, or buying from others) has been tamed enough by the Ticket Exchange program to make it a reasonable experience.  The only area needing any improvement is the student tickets for football which every year seem to find new and exciting ways to not function smoothly.

Facilities. Where to start with facilities?!?  First, let’s combine this topic with Game Day Experience, as in my mind they are connected and inseparable – I can’t talk about one without the other.

Here are the sports for which I think the current playing facilities – where we fans watch the game day action – are acceptable: baseball, basketball, cross country, field hockey, golf, ice hockey, lacrosse, softball, tennis, and track & field.  For those of the hard-core basketball persuasion: I do not understand moving men’s basketball games to Rec Hall – apparently nice seats, plenty of rest facilities, expansive food and beverage availability, and extensive convenient parking are not working for some folks. But hey, if it gets fans excited, whatever floats your boat is what I always say.

Gymnastics and volleyball work fine in Rec Hall, but upgrading all the seating there would get a positive response from my nether-regions.

The soccer teams recently received practice field upgrades that are stunning and the regulation pitch is very nice. Now if they can just build a few permanent Quonset huts for locker rooms – those cold nights have to be rough on the teams during half-time!  Also, a concession stand on the east side of the field would be wonderful.  And perhaps some 50-amp power outlets for team busses so they can eliminate running their engines or generators.

The swimming & diving teams compete in a building that has been around since before I was a freshman.  These folks (and the Centre Region) need a 50 meter indoor pool.  It was on the building plan.  Get it back on the schedule.

Wrestling.  Ah, wrestling.  My personal hope is a well-to-do donor provides the money for a new building and the endowment for upkeep.  Barring that, the aforementioned seat upgrades in Rec Hall would be wonderful, along with more concession stands and upgraded restrooms. Lines for food at wrestling dual meets have to be the longest on campus. Yes, longer than Creamery lines at Homecoming. All that aside, I would defer to Coach Sanderson on anything regarding his sport.  In Cael we trust.

When football’s Beaver Stadium was moved to its current location in 1960, some were unhappy it was moved so far away from Rec Hall and the Nittany Lion Inn.  The problem may now be that it wasn’t moved far enough.  As other uses encroach on the surrounding land, parking lots – and tailgating – begin to move further afield.  One aspect of a Penn State football game that should always be maintained is the ability to view a sea of vehicles in all directions from the stadium. 

However, assuming Beaver Stadium doesn’t move, there are issues it shares with many other large college stadiums such as long lines for bathrooms and food at action breaks, inflated food prices, no in-and-out policy, and bench seating.  Although bench seating can be a plus in non-sold-out conditions: fans have more room and the stadium appears full even when attendance is down by thousands.

There are also quirks unique to it: troughs in men’s restrooms, extended exit times from just about anywhere, no “club” seats on the sidelines, and a prison camp feel once the game starts (how quickly can those gates go up in an emergency?).  And, for the record, escalators can be built in just about any height so there’s no need to exit before your destination. Also, they’re designed to go both up AND down.

Last but not least on facilities, I must admit to never watching a PSU fencing match (I can tell an epee from a saber though!) – so I have no suggestions for them. Sorry!

What about Communications?  My primary input regarding communications from the athletic department is that somebody who is not associated with, and has not read the communication – email, letter, press release, tweet, whatever – should proof-read it before it is distributed.  A virgin set of eyes on any final draft can catch seemingly minor slip-ups.  An inaccurate calendar, a misprinted parking pass, a spelling or grammar error in a press release – these are things we fans will remember, even though they are an infinitesimally small percentage of the millions of words the department distributes annually.  As a wise man once said, “It’s the little things that give you the edge.”

There you go Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics - grassroots communication, feedback, input and ideas.  And you didn’t have to buy me lunch or put my name up on the Beaver Stadium scoreboard!  

John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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