Project Gameday

Ole Miss officials said they wanted to improve the gameday experience for football fans. On Saturday, they get to show they meant what they said.

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Last fall, an extensive survey of the fans was done, and Rebel officials began to evaluate how better to serve their customers. In May, the 100 improvements in 100 days plan was announced. Saturday's season and home opener against Brigham Young University is day 100.

"We're almost done," said Michael Thompson, Senior Associate Athletics Director for Marketing and Communications, who recently completed his first year with Ole Miss athletics. "We should hit all of them (by kickoff)."

Thompson said they basically stuck to the gameplan, which included a variety of areas for fans and their gameday experiences. But there were some additions throughout the summer.

"It was pretty much what we thought," he said of the way things unfolded the past three-plus months. "It's just a lot of stuff. We've added some things that weren't in the original 100. We changed all the TVs in the concourse (of the stadium). We're doing the Rebel Fanfare (outside the stadium beginning three hours before kickoff). We're changing out the mesh above the videoboard (in the north end zone). There are customer service things outside the 100 that people will notice."

In a nutshell, the survey spelled out in writing what its intentions were.

The fan experience can be broken down into the following categories:

First impressions, pregame, concessions, restrooms, merchandise sales, band, videoboard, sound, cheers, and crowd participation.

Thompson has mentioned for a year that Ole Miss needs to lead, at least in some areas. There was that opportunity to do so with this project. The football TV coach's show, which kicked off this week, is definitely an industry leader and a unique viewing.

"The new coach's show is just ridiculously cool," Thompson said. "Houston (Nutt) is really excited about that, and he's like 'that's bigtime.' And it is. It's a game-changer.

"It will help us as a brand. It will help our coaches recruit. It's an inside look at something that nobody really gets inside looks on."

It's the type product Thompson said he was hoping for when the gameplan for gameday was undertaken. Be unique, be effective, and be fan friendly.

Michael Thompson
Bruce Newman

"I don't see any reason to be different just for different's sake," he said. "But if you can find something, an idea, a concept, anything like that which you can differentiate yourself and still be consistent with how you want your brand to be portrayed, it's all cylinders."

Nutt certainly voiced his approval after practice Wednesday.

"You've seen those NFL deals, those Hard Knocks. I just saw (the new coach's show) this morning for the first time," Nutt said. "Most coach's shows are boring. Let's face it, they're dull. This one will not be that way. It's like a Hard Knocks deal. I think it's going to really be worth watching. It's going to be huge. Watch it catch on, too. It will go nationwide in a hurry."

Improving the restrooms in the old portions of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium have been a top priority.

"We upgraded all the ones on the east and west sides, which are the ones that needed the most work, especially for women," Thompson said. "We put in automatic flushers, which is a huge priority. You don't have to touch the handle or kick the handle. That was causing a lot of leaking and water on the floor. Hooks on the backs of stalls for females to put their purse on. More baby changing stations. Hand sanitizer in multiple places."

And likely something unique to college football and maybe even all of sports.

"We'll have an attendant for every single restroom on game day," Thompson said. "Every single one will have an attendant. They'll monitor things and if we're running out of something, they'll take care of that."

There will be new and improved food offerings at the stadium.

"Chops is brand new," he said of one of the new foods offered. "It's great bar-be-cue. There are two gourmet sauces that are locally made – Papa's Sauce. You can buy it at the farmer's market. Those are the options for your bar-be-cue. Then we'll have the Chops sauce. We thought it was important to add some local flavor and we did that with the sauce.

"The biggest stand in the whole stadium is going to be the Rebel Grill on the west side. Right there underneath right about the 50 (yard line) is this giant concession stand. They'll have all kinds of stuff.

"There's a new fry stand just above sections R and S in the southeast corner. It's all new cooking equipment up there."

They want more fan participation, and they've worked on that. Rebel 101, to help fans with cheering and supporting the team, was a video released in August.

"We've tried to really make things consistent," Thompson said. "Every first down when our defense is on the field, this is what we do. Every second down, this is what we do. And we keep it consistent. That's the kind of stuff that once people catch onto and continue to do, it works.

"We've texted students the link. We've worked with the fraternities and sororities, ASB, Cardinal Club. Then there's the pep rally on Thursday. The most viewed video during the summer got about 5,500 views and that was the Brandon Bolden run. The cheer video had 27,000 in the first four days."

The Pride of the South has been involved. The Ole Miss Band is a large part of the gameday product.

"There's a new pregame for the band," Thompson said. "We've moved them to a new section (in the south end zone), which is a much better place for everybody. They're bigger. They're excited."

Rebel, the mascot, will be at the Rebel Fanfare outside the stadium to hang out with kids and fans.

"Rebel will be there for an hour, then take a 30-minute break, then another 30 minutes there, and then head into the game," Thompson said.

Michael Thompson
Bruce Newman

Thompson said the whole effort has helped those involved come together for a common cause. And it's gotten fans excited over the summer, a time when there is usually not a lot going on except the anticipation of a new school year.

"The new pads (in the end zones) come in and everybody says they're awesome," Thompson said. "The helmet comes down (off the west side elevator shaft), and everybody wants to take a picture. It's been awesome. It's been fun. And to check them off as we go has been a lot of fun. This has been a total team effort, and that to me is as important as anything else."

Is the pressure going to be on to make sure things work, that they come off without a hitch, and that fans are pleased?

"The pressure's already on," Thompson said. "It's on every Saturday and on with every sport and facility we have. This is a huge game for us as a department."

Thompson likes what it's done for all those who have been directly, and in some cases indirectly, involved.

"A lot of people that made these things happen over the summer are not in marketing. They're in facilities, they're in concessions, the band. Tons of people have worked on this, and it's been awesome," he said. "It's developed a lot of camaraderie in this building, working as a team to get this stuff done."

Ole Miss Athletics Director Pete Boone said it's been interesting to see it unfold.

"It all comes back to the survey Michael did last fall and our efforts to listen to the fans," Boone said. "It's something to enhance their experience at all our venues, but certainly football has the largest fan group we have. He put together a plan of action, and we even had to redo some of our budget for it. But we felt like from a priority standpoint it was that important enough to get done.

"It's been kind of a challenge to get it done," Boone continued. "There are always last-minute things that pop up and you wonder if you're going to get it done. But Michael had everybody's nose to the grindstone. It's all been rewarding."

And it isn't over. This will be a fluid effort that will continue.

"We'll survey again and compare," Thompson said. "We'll add in some parking questions, which we didn't have in the first one. We'll be able to overlay almost exactly question to question how we've improved. Based on those results, we'll see how we can do even better."

Thompson said he hopes everyone knows just how many people had a hand in what's taking place, from the fans to those who actually carried out their requests.

"I get way too much credit for these," he said. "All I did was ask the fans, and we figured out what we needed to do."

And one other important thing Thompson mentioned as he left his office to go with a group to check out the sound system at the stadium.

"Wear Red."

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