May 5, 2008
LARAMIE, Wyo. -
Due to the vision and generosity of the Fields Family Foundation, the University of Wyoming, in conjunction with Turnkey Sports & Entertainment, recently produced a market research study designed to understand Wyoming football fans and their experience. The comprehensive study included attendance habits, factors affecting attendance, the gameday experience, thoughts on premium seating, the city of Laramie as a destination on football weekends, as well as a market analysis. The research gathered data utilizing several vehicles: an intercept survey during three Cowboy football games; focus groups at Laramie, Cheyenne and Ft. Collins, CO; phone interviews with fans living in Buffalo, Cody, Gillette and Jackson as well as Colorado Springs, CO and Grand Island, NE.; and an on-line survey. Both season-ticket and single-game ticket buyers were surveyed.
Objectives of the survey were: determine the viability, revenue potential pricing opportunities of premium seating sections at War Memorial Stadium; learn about the gameday experience of Cowboy football fans, and provide recommendations for improvement; examine Wyoming football fans' perceptions of Laramie, and assess whether the introduction of new amenities and attractions would increase the appeal of the town among college football fans making it a weekend destination during the football season.
Many fan concerns are being addressed by capital construction planned for the stadium which will include premium seating as well as improvements of concession areas, restrooms, concourse lighting, entry way, plus upgrades to ADA requirements and restroom areas on the ground level of the stadium.
Some findings were surprising such as factors affecting attendance. According to the data, the current record of the team is less of a factor than the opponent and weather. Much of the motivation to attend is for the opportunity to meet family and old friends and socialize with other Wyoming football fans. That feeling nurtures a great sense of camaraderie among fans sitting in the stadium. At the center of it all is the incredible Wyoming pride. With UW being the only four-year institution in the state, supporting its football program means supporting the state of Wyoming. Fans surveyed felt the best way to demonstrate their support to Wyoming is to physically be at the Cowboy football games.
Weather is a factor only when it creates unsafe driving conditions. In general, the Monday morning forecast prior to an upcoming Saturday game is a non-factor. Hunting and youth sports activities are factors competing with fans' time on Saturdays, but not to the extent initially expected. Family commitments other than youth sports activities are the main competition for Cowboy football.
Fans feel the athletics department and the city of Laramie especially can and should enhance the festive atmosphere around the stadium and city on gameday. A large part of the "festive" atmosphere revolves around Tailgate Park. That area allows them to socialize and get in the mood for the game. Extending the time allotted for tailgate was extremely popular among those surveyed.
The majority of fans supported a game kickoff time of 1 p.m., especially during the month of September. They would not be opposed to a night game during that month.
The majority of fans agreed that building premium seating sections at the stadium would be beneficial for the football program. However, not at the expense of upgrading basic amenities. A top priority for UW should be the refurbishment of the concession stands and restrooms in the lower concourse. Fans surveyed also believed paving of the stadium's east parking lot, TV monitors and the radio broadcast at concession locations, wider seats and traffic outflow would enhance the gameday experience. Fans also believe UW should work harder to promote and market football games and related events surrounding the game.
The city of Laramie itself is a tough sell for Cowboy football fans as it relates to a weekend destination. Potential attractions for fans include more restaurants and hotels, and organized events surrounding the game such as concerts, shows or other cultural opportunities. Friday night pep rallies and "reunion-type" events also were mentioned.
Over 70 percent of the non-season ticket holders purchase their tickets within three weeks of the game, and purchase them on-line.
Half of the fans surveyed indicated "family commitments" (45 percent) were the biggest competition to Cowboy football. Youth sports activities and hunting (20 percent combined) were a distant second.
Regarding the gameday experience, tailgating is as much appreciated for the food and and drink in a laid-back atmosphere as for allowing tailgaters to meet and bond with friends. The current start time for Tailgate Park is considered inadequate for enjoying a proper tailgate. Muddy parking lots on bad-weather days was a concern.
Fans felt Laramie is lacking pageantry and strategies for promoting the game and enhancing the festive spirit of fans throughout the city and outside of the stadium.
Several elements of the in-game experience at the stadium deserve immediate attention. Inadequate concession areas, including conditions and slow service, and restrooms in dire condition were most often mentioned by everyone surveyed. Other improvements suggested were: wider seats; installation of hand railings; improved access and experience for people with disabilities; installation of a new scoreboard and audio-system; well-organized traffic leading out of the stadium.
The general perception among fans participating in the survey was that more promotion of the games by UW is necessary. This is especially true for areas outside the state boundaries of Wyoming where the local media does not cover the Cowboys in-depth. Fans would like to see the athletic department, the city of Laramie, and the Laramie Chamber of Commerce coordinate their efforts in promoting events and attractions and the improved accommodation options in Laramie.
The general consensus among fans is that Cowboy football tickets provide a great value for what they cost. When compared to the price of tickets for professional sports or other Division I school games, UW football tickets are competitively priced.
While the majority of fans surveyed believed premium seating would be a positive addition to the stadium, and would raise the profile of the football program (hopefully attracting better talent), reactions were mixed. There was sentiment by a smaller percentage that premium seating would create a feeling of a social class system in the stadium. But 45 percent indicated that premium seating would be beneficial for the Cowboy football program. Not many of those interviewed expressed definite interest in purchasing club level seats. It was noted that affluent fans who are typically the target market for club and luxury seats are unlikely participants in focus groups.
Focus group participants and the majority of fans surveyed on-line found it difficult to consider Laramie as a weekend destination around Cowboy football games. The feeling was that the city does not offer enough amenities and attractions to warrant a weekend stay. Laramie's existing attractions were evaluated. Participants were typically aware of most attractions but expressed low interest in them, and were not likely to plan an overnight stay in order to visit them.
The study also looked at the demographic profile of the Wyoming football fan. Typically a Cowboy football season-ticket holder is 50 years old, male (80 percent), lives in Wyoming (85 percent) within two hours driving distance of Laramie (57 percent). The fan lives in a household earning around $118,000 annually, does not have children under 18 residing at home (72 percent) and does not attend games with children under 18 (56 percent)
The typical Cowboy football single-game buyer is somewhat younger--around 44--and is also male (74 percent), a Wyoming resident (69 percent), and lives within three hours driving distance of Laramie (69 percent). His annual household income is just under $100,000, does not have children living at home (59 percent) and rarely brings children under 18 to the game. He attends five games over the course of two years.
While the market research study offered the UW Intercollegiate Athletics Department some interesting, if not surprising results, most of the concerns voiced by Cowboy football fans have been at the very top of the department's priority list.
A capital funding-raising campaign was initiated as the next phase of updating and improving War Memorial Stadium. Construction will begin following the 2008 football season on the east side of the stadium that will include a spacious entry way that will be a beautiful "face" to the building, and premium seating--10 suites and 256 enclosed club seats. At the same time, the lower east-side concourse will be remodeled to improve lighting, concession areas and restrooms. Better service at concession stands is being addressed as well. Paving of the east parking lot also is on the drawing board.
An upgrade to both scoreboards--including video enhancements--as well as a state-of-the-art sound system is currently underway, and will be ready for the upcoming 2008 season. The athletics department also is working with the university to add handrails similar to the stadium's west side. Also in the planning stage is a system of closed circuit televisions, and the capability of bringing the radio broadcasts to the concession areas, so that fans may stay abreast of the game while purchasing food items.
The athletic department's marketing and promotions area has begun talks with the Laramie Chamber of Commerce, and the Albany County Tourism Board to address the city's "lack of welcoming Wyoming fans from all corners of the state" and to create a more festive atmosphere for Cowboy fans on gameday. A more comprehensive marketing plan by UW also is in the works. Research indicated fans wanted kick times to begin at 1 p.m. earlier in the year, and noon later in the year. Of Wyoming's seven home games for 2008, four start at 1 p.m., 1:30 p.m. or 2 p.m., and three at noon, two of which are in November.
The Turnkey study has been an extremely valuable tool to UW"s Intercollegiate Athletics Department as a guide to better serving Cowboy football fans, and making gameday a positive, enjoyable and memorable experience.
(To learn more about Turnkey Sports & Entertainment go to www.TurnkeySE.com)