Golden Age collides with Hi-tech Age

Published 9:25 am Friday, September 5, 2014

Give LSU credit.

The school is trying.

Trying to solve one of the great paradoxes of our time.

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Interest in LSU football has never been greater.

The last decade-plus really has been the Golden Age of Tiger football.

Same is true, in general, for college football and, in particular, the money gulp that is the all-powerful, chest-beating, fan-obsessive Southeastern Conference.

The SEC now requires its own personal network for wall-to-wall, 24/7 coverage, lest info-hungry fans might go five minutes without some offhand ranking of the league’s best tight end/fullback combos.

Any national radio show, it seems, quickly becomes SEC-centric to the point other listeners just give up.

Fans just lap it up, can’t get enough.

With this kind of interest/obsession, the SEC schools are rolling in so much money you’d think they’d be looking around the Caribbean for somewhere to launder it properly.

How many times did you hear over the summer: “I just can’t stand it — when is the season going to get here?”

It almost sounds like a boomtown economy with the infrastructure overwhelmed in trying to keep up with the demand.

Which is the big puzzler.

The SEC knows it has a problem. It’s working on it, all 14 schools in concert and in as much unison as possible with Auburn and Alabama in the same room.

In the midst of this unprecedented fanatical interest, they’ve got to figure out a way to fill up their stadiums ­­— four of which now top 100,000 seats.

It hasn’t really hurt the pocketbook yet.

LSU and most schools still have no problem SELLING tickets.

They even still charge top dollar, usually with a “tradition” fee of some sort tacked on, especially for the coveted season packets that often are passed down lovingly from generation to generation or the focus of nasty divorce custody battles.

The problem is getting these fans, who may have taken out a second mortgage to BUY these tickets, to then actually USE these tickets they paid good money for.

It goes further. Once people have made the decision to fight the traffic, to tailgate hours before the game, the next problem stadiums have is actually keeping them inside for the duration.

Important people have noticed.

“Increased attention to fans is critical to the continued success of our league,” SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said.

The LSU athletic department now has a position called “Director of Fan Experience,” a fellow named Jason Suitt.

Basically he’s trying to solve the riddle that if the opponent doesn’t grab the fancy of Tiger fans, the halftime evacuation looks like it could be a training film for FEMA to empty out a city in harm’s way.

Take this week, the Tigers’ home opener against Sam Houston State.

The star of the week isn’t the entertaining Bearkats or the Tigers’ quarterback duel or even to see if Leonard Fournette gets back into the Heisman race. It’s the stadium.

Specifically, in the middle of trying to figure out how to lure more people in, LSU will debut more than 8,000 new seats in a state-of-the-art south end zone upper deck that looks fabulous.

No problem.

They sold all the extra tickets — the luxury club seats were particularly hot sellers.

The cash register is working.

They built it, they sold it … but will they come?

Mainly, these game-day, in-stadium experiences now have to compete with your man cave — with home hi-def TVs the size of 18-wheelers.

It’s also not a phenomena unique to LSU that tens of thousands of people fight the traffic to get to tailgating ground zero — with no intention of ever going inside the stadium.

They can’t do without the parking lot socializing, but they’d rather watch the game out there on TVs that can spot a freckle on an offensive tackle’s earlobe.

LSU’s new upper deck will have two huge new hi-def video boards. The one in the north end zone has also been replaced with an upgrade and, as part of the conference’s fan-experience initiative, the SEC has changed a rule that will allow fans in the stadium to watch the same videos that the replay officials (and your living room) are privy to on controversial plays.

The video strip around the rim of the stadium will show more scores from around the country and the SEC Network will allow more look-ins and highlights from other games — just like your living room.

That’s a start.

It’s surely a new age.

The SEC is also learning that many of the disappearing fans, in particular the students and younger alums, just can’t bear to be away from their precious smart phones and social media for three entire hours.

That’s a problem when you stuff 100,000 cellphones in the space of a few acres. It’s a wonder the towers don’t explode.

But if it’s more important to get a selfie sent to a BFF than to actually witness a goal-line stand, the schools will do what they can.

LSU has taken steps to upgrade the reception with a complicated new system that you wouldn’t understand even if I could explain it to you.

But an LSU official said they were “excited about enhancing” reliable service while cautiously adding that “It is a learning process that will be tweaked as we go through the season.”

But perhaps the biggest complaint of fans, particularly LSU fans, is the postgame traffic jam.

Again, LSU hired respected consultants who came in last year and determined — they were apparently paid good money — that way, way too many cars were trying to occupy the same spot at the same time.

New and drastic contraflow measures will be tried, further studies conducted and, again, LSU officials are hopeful and …

Well, good luck with that one. A Nobel Prize could be on the line.


Scooter Hobbs covers LSU

athletics. Email him at