MIKE CASAZZA: Group gives WVU points to ponder

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia’s foray into the Fan Experience Committee was a success, so much so that the group of Mountaineer faithful will be called back again in August and November to keep the constructive conversations flowing.

The original plan called for meetings on May 3 and June 21, and you wouldn’t be alone if you wondered about the sincerity of the invitation and the constructive nature of the meetings. What you had, after all, was a table of WVU fans selected through an application process explaining what they did not like and what they wanted to see at Mountaineers games to a group of WVU officials who rather like what they’ve done with the place.

“They were pretty willing to express their opinions and give their thoughts on things. I didn’t sense much trepidation there,” said Matt Wells, WVU’s director of sports marketing. “For us, I think it’s human nature to maybe become defensive and say, ‘You know what? I put a lot of time and effort into this. You may not understand why we do what we do, so let me tell you why we do what we do.’”

At the intersection of opinion and occupation was a place where the two could co-exist and share ideas and offer critiques.

“We said, ‘This is a blank canvas. We may not be able to do everything you suggest, but we want this to be something where you can come out of it and say there are three, four, five things we can work on,’” Wells said.

It was a lot of what you’d expect: music and sound effects during the games, clips on the video board, improvements to tailgating, security presence in the stadium, offerings at the concession stands. And some of it was well-intended, but a little obscure. This is where Wells and his people would steer the conversation back onto the highway.

The committee pointed out Tennessee plays “Rocky Top” after touchdowns and Wisconsin plays “Jump Around” before the start of the fourth quarter. People wondered why WVU didn’t have similar in-game traditions, why the Mountaineers didn’t play “Jump Around.”

“It was almost like they gave no credit to the postgame signing of ‘Country Roads,’ but I think it’s because we’re used to that,” Wells said. “So we added perspective saying, ‘Yeah, Tennessee does that and it works great for Tennessee. Wisconsin does that and it works great for Wisconsin. But compare that to what we do in the postgame and what some other places do for the postgame and people say West Virginia does it right.’”

The committee was then reminded about the pregame Mountaineer Mantrip and the Stripe the Stadium promotion, the first being an event unique to WVU, the second being something others have copied.

“I think that was good because while they did have suggestions, they remembered that we do have some things to be proud of, and from there we could change some things to make it better,” Wells said.

Changes are coming, and significant ones, too, but exactly when is not entirely up to Wells. Wireless connectivity — and specifically the lack thereof — is a major concern at many venues now. WVU wants to improve its services, but will have to lump that into the upcoming facility work. There are whispers about a ring of honor to commemorate former football players, but if it happens, it’s also likely to be part of Mountaineer Field renovations.

Wells and his team are also intent on keeping music fresh, but also appealing to the broad audience.

“There’s never a consensus on music,” Wells said. “There’s a reason there are dozens of radio stations.”

Still, the committee members were invited at the first meeting to submit a list of songs they’d like to hear at games. Wells hasn’t received one list yet. The opinions were strong elsewhere, though, and they took aim at one little feature: Mr. T predicting pain in the pregame.

“Frankly, I think based on the feedback, my gut right now says we’re not going to see the Mr. T clip in the stadium this year,” Wells said. “We felt like people liked it more than they really did. We talked about the bells on third down. That’s something else we can mix up a little bit more now. One thing we talked about was perspective. Many people are coming to more than one game. They’re coming five, six, seven times a year and they’re going to see it as a little more of a routine.”

Routine can be a bad thing, and routine might be more prevalent at a place like WVU that relies so much on season ticket sales and a fan base without a professional team to split allegiances. That feeling led to a discussion about the marching band’s pregame performance, but a coal miner from Boone County made the committee see routine can be good, too.

“He said, ‘I hear what you’re saying about all that, but what you don’t realize is some of my buddies I work with rarely come up to games, so when they see the band’s pregame show, they think it’s the greatest thing they’ve ever seen,’” Wells said. “It makes you think. You start critiquing certain clips because you’ve seen them dozens of times and you might think it’s time to change it up, but a person who sees it for the first time, his eyes are wide open. ‘This is great. This is what West Virginia is all about.’”

Still, there might be room for an additional pregame element, one Wells and his people observed at other Big 12 venues. TCU and Baylor invited fans onto the field for the team’s entrance. Wells said WVU is “not ready to say it’ll definitely happen,” but that the committee meetings gave the school reason to consider bringing children, students, community groups or contest winners onto the field for when the Mountaineers run out of their weight room.

“But here’s another matter of perspective: I was looking at it at TCU and when the ball was going up in the air for the opening kickoff, there was a clump of students in the corner of the end zone,” Wells said. “The chances are nothing weird will ever happen and the fans would never get involved, but imagine if something weird did happen and there’s a fumble and they run it up the sideline right into the students. That’s something we have to consider as we take a look at that one idea and discuss it.”

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymailwv.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu. Follow him on Twitter at @mikecasazza.

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