LINCOLN — It’s not like Memorial Stadium’s had problems attracting fans for the past 50 years. But Nebraska’s athletic director wants to make sure it stays that way.
The University of Nebraska Board of Regents approved a budget proposal Friday to upgrade Memorial Stadium’s sound system and install wireless Internet throughout the venue. They are improvements that Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst thinks are needed to accommodate the evolving demands of the new-age college football fan.
The athletic department will now begin accepting bids for the $12.3 million project, which Eichorst said likely would not have been completed in time for the 2014 season without the go-ahead Friday from the regents. Funding will be covered by premium seating contributions.
The sooner, the better, Eichorst said — even at a place like Nebraska, which boasts a nation-leading sellout streak of 333 games spanning 51 seasons.
“The in-home experience is a very formidable opponent today,” Eichorst said in an interview with The World-Herald.
It’s why Eichorst was grateful Friday that the regents supported a project aimed at addressing growing complaints from those who’ve attended Nebraska football games.
“These are reasonable strategic investments for us to make,” Eichorst told the board.
Many sports franchises and college athletic departments seem to be characterizing the addition of Wi-Fi access for fans as a necessity now — not really an investment anymore.
Eichorst said Memorial Stadium patrons have told him, “you might as well leave your phone in the car.”
That’s concerning for Eichorst.
Mobile devices have created a cultural urgency to “stay connected” at all times, Eichorst said. And he said Nebraska wants to “connect with fans” along the way.
No wonder why the NFL announced last fall that it’s crafted Wi-Fi and cell service standards for all 32 teams to meet by the end of the 2014 season. More college programs are researching ways to offer a wireless connection, Eichorst said.
Stanford added Wi-Fi in 2011. Penn State had Internet in 2012, though there reportedly were kinks. Michigan experimented with it last season.
Nebraska’s press release Friday states that, in addition to Internet connectivity, the athletic department also intends to develop an “all-encompassing Memorial Stadium game-day smartphone application that will include video features, dynamic location-based services and an engaging mobile platform.”
There are stadium-wide audio issues that need to be addressed, too, Eichorst said.
Industry standards indicated that the now-20-year-old sound system could have been removed in 2009, according to the athletic department’s proposal. The system remained functional, though maintenance had become more difficult.
Nebraska plans to add a “single-point source sound system,” according to a press release. It’ll originate from speakers attached to the “top and sides of the” big screen on the stadium’s north side. NU will also replace flagpoles that stand adjacent to the video board.
This entire project has been in the works for more than a year, Eichorst said. And the internal brainstorming won’t stop now, either.
“We want to make a great stadium even better,” he said. “We’ll continue to do our due diligence to find ways to help us improve our game-day experience.”
A $63.5 million renovation of Memorial Stadium’s east side was completed last year, adding suites, club seats and bleachers while also pushing the capacity over 91,000.