- Brandon Chatmon, ESPN Staff Writer
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Few things can match the game-day atmosphere that surrounds college football every Saturday.
Yet, more and more, the at-home experience is intriguing for college football fans.
The Big 12 understands the challenges that continue to emerge as its member schools try to fill their stadiums each weekend, and the conference is trying to be proactive in overcoming the attendance challenges each school faces.
“It’s an ongoing conversation with our athletic directors,” said Bob Burda, the Big 12’s associate commissioner of communications. “How can we continue to encourage people to come out? How can we give them an invaluable experience for a return on their investment of buying a ticket and coming to the venue?”
For example, member schools began showing in-game highlights conference-wide for the first time in 2013.
“It’s becoming more challenging to compete with the living room experience and the wall-to-wall coverage of college football on any given Saturday,” Burda said. “We’re trying to develop more of a living-room type experience in our stadiums. The in-game highlights were one step in that direction.”
Arguably the biggest issue could be Internet access in stadiums on game days. With social media developing into a staple of most fans' game experience, lack of connectivity has the potential to have an impact on fans’ decisions to attend games or watch from the comfort of their own living rooms with no concerns about connectivity.
“Many of our institutions are now addressing the connectivity challenges that are faced when you have 50,000 to 100,000 people in one setting,” Burda said. “More and more, fans' sporting game experience includes the use of a handheld device.”
It can be particularly troublesome for college students, some of whom are unwilling to risk spending several hours without cell phone service.
“That’s the next generation of season-ticket holders,” Burda said. “So it’s incumbent upon our facilities to provide a fan-friendly experience. And that’s part of it.”
Connectivity issues or not, the game-day experience is difficult to match. Memories are more likely to be made in stadiums than on couches. Being in the stadium as history unfolds is different than watching from afar.
“There’s a excitement that comes with being a part of the crowd attending a game, not only inside the facility but outside the facility as well,” Burda said. “Having attended the Sugar Bowl and the Oklahoma win over Alabama, it was truly magical in the stadium that night. For those in the stadium cheering Oklahoma, that was an experience they are going to have for the rest of their lives, an experience they would not have had if they were not inside the venue.”
Overall, the Big 12’s attendance has been solid for the past few seasons. Eight of 10 Big 12 schools played to 90 percent of capacity and all Big 12 schools played to at least 80 percent capacity in 2013, Burda said. Seven Big 12 schools averaged at least 50,000 fans for their home games.
“We play an exciting game of football in the Big 12, and I think it resonates with fans,” Burda said. “All of our teams are competitive and everybody plays everybody. You don’t win a championship in the Big 12 because of who is not on your schedule. You have to play everybody, and that resonates with fans as well -- to see your team play the best teams in the Big 12, year in and year out.”