I rushed to my seat with the kind of mad-dash anticipation normally reserved for just making kickoff in the biggest game of the year. Goosebumps began to manifest on my flesh as I drew closer to the tunnel entrance of my section. This was to be an unbelievably proud moment in the history of the Seattle Seahawks and their loyal fans. As I excitedly found my seat and surveyed this beautiful place filled with the steady roar of my fellow 12th Man brothers and sisters the moment had finally arrived.
Then with an announcement over the PA with the urgency of letting us know someone with a blue Ford Explorer had left their lights on in the North parking lot, the NFC Championship banner was revealed.
Oh, you have GOT to be kidding me.
I raced several blocks from my pre-funk watering hole, nervously sweating and displaying happy feet in a curiously long line, flying upstairs and slamming into my seat for this?!?!
I had already anticipated a blunder even before the actual presentation of the 2005 NFC Champions banner. I was shocked when I was informed that something as symbolically significant as our team's very first conference championship banner revealing was not only going to be at the first preseason game of the year, but a good 15 minutes before kickoff.
I am astonished that a franchise that has truly been moving in the right direction in regards to the actual football team they are presenting on the field, and one who has indeed made great strides in bridging the gap between the fans and said organization, can still seem so blatantly out-of-synch with what I would call "no-brainers"; Elements of team-to-fan connection that should not be overlooked or undervalued.
Since CEO Tod Leiweke's arrival, great strides and improvements for the fan's benefit have been made. The game-day experience is a constant focus for enhancements, and there is a clear sense that the team is truly listening to their fans regarding how to continually improve the relationship and enjoyment of the overall fan experience.
I cannot in good conscience criticize blatant areas they need to improve upon without at least acknowledging the strides and improvements that have been made in recent years. It is not just the standard of service and honoring the loudest and most loyal fans in the NFL that gives me hope, but the sense that there seems to be an active effort to continue to improve in this area. It is in this spirit that I write today. To highlight some areas they could - and should - improve upon.
The most recent upgrade is in the stadium concessions. A welcomed change to be sure. My section's concession stand now offers gourmet burgers and dogs in addition to the familiar staples (popcorn, nachos, peanuts and beer). A nice start. The ultimate goal should be to offer the complete stadium menu at every stand. Has a nice ring to it, right?
Imagine being able to walk right out of your section and order a mushroom burger for yourself, fish and chips for your wife and garlic fries for your buddy, and back at your seats in just a few minutes as opposed to the half-hour or longer it currently takes you as you march around the entire stadium looking for that one concession stand with that one particular item to complete your order.
Many a blown fuse could be saved due to missing the first few minutes of the third quarter just to collect your menu items back to your seats.
The same methodology should be applied to alcohol. I personally don't drink beer myself, but occasionally I wouldn't mind a Mike's Hard Lemonade or the equivalent. And what kind, decent and just world we would live in if the beverage of my choice was also featured at every concession stand and offered by the vendors in the stands?
This is the one category in which Safeco Field absolutely dominates Qwest Field and it is my enduring hope that the team will one day match that baseball park across the street in this regard.
NFC Championship Banner
I won't spend too much time on this since I opened my Report with it but to be perfectly frank, someone in marketing/PR screwed up here. From the timing and the flair (or lack thereof) of the presentation to the basic, bland styling of the banner itself, this was one of those no-brainers I believe the organization clearly missed.
My suggestion would be to do it again but this time, do it much better and give the banner and the revealing ceremony the class treatment it deserves. Instead of rushing through it when 40 percent of the fans aren't even in their seats immediately following the preseason warm-ups, make it an EVENT worthy of what you are celebrating during halftime of one of the regular season games when you have the entire stadium's full attention.
Lord knows the team could bump that maddeningly perpetual kiddie race performance for something the fans actually would want to stay in their seats and witness.
Now this may not bother some as it did me since I am a graphic designer, but I would absolutely redesign that banner. The current white with simple, understated font and logo is an injustice to the magical year, glory and goal the team finally achieved. Even the Seattle Sounders soccer division championship banner has more flair. I would make the banner navy blue with a great graphic to give it the look and feel it deserves. That way, every time a fan looks up there's no mistaking which banner represents the team's finest season to-date.
The Player Introduction Song
At first it was an oddity. A sort of, "huh?" Then it became a perplexing constant like a mosquito that doesn't mind that bug spray you used before sitting outside on a warm Summer's evening. Now it just seems like a cruel joke. Somebody, somewhere in the organization must REALLY like Bittersweet Symphony by The Verve for player introductions. Never mind the fact that opposing team fans quite literally laugh at us for being the only stadium in the entire NFL to play something resembling a lullaby as their team is being announced.
If they really think that song is the way to get the ol' blood pumping, might I suggest getting their ears checked?
The unimaginative and strange music selection is one of the areas that severely needs reform. Give us hard rock, rap, something with a good strong beat ANYTHING but "Bittersweet Symphony" for another year. I no longer have the luxury of having any hair to pull out. Now it's down to scalp, and that really, really hurts. Which naturally brings me to
I'm not sure when the exact moment came but sometime around three years ago it was decided not to offer The 12th Man any halftime entertainment other than a few small children racing down the field to the goal line while putting on the various principles of a football uniform. Admittedly, this can be cute to watch a couple times a year, and is especially exciting for the children's parents but when it is offered up again and again as the only source of halftime entertainment, well, then it's clear that whomever is in charge of such activities is asleep at the wheel.
A wise person once said that variety is the spice of life. Good advice. (Ahem).
Closing Off The Fans At Training Camp
Since last year there have been ominous changes at the practice fields of Eastern Washington University where the Seahawks hold training camp. Suddenly and inexplicably, a tall fence with black mesh has been installed for a good portion of where the players walk to and from the fields. This used to be a tremendous way for fans to ask players for an autograph and have a rare opportunity to engage their favorite player in brief conversation.
Now, fans young and old are forced to gather at a small open-fenced area where the players come out of the EWU building. The area is so diminutive it resembles the first row of a rabid rock concert where the threat of someone getting crushed by the surging fans eager to get to the front is nearly imminent.
Although it might be true that this fairly recent configuration of fencing may have been installed and initiated by EWU and not the Seahawks, you would think that some kind of agreement could be made during the brief period of training camp to allow the openness and accessibility fans used to enjoy prior to 2005.
It's the least they could do for the fans that in some cases have traveled hundreds if not thousands of miles for a chance to see and possibly chat with their favorite players up close and personal.
It is my hope that those involved with the design of the team's new facilities (where training camp will reside starting in July 2008) take this into serious consideration.
And To End
In closing, I am definitely aware that the organization is moving in the right direction and continue in their efforts to do so. Now that we can rejoice that the football side of operations is under complete competent control and positive influence, it's time to focus our attention on the continued partnership with the organization and remain ever-vigilant in offering our input on how they can make the team-fan relationship the very best in the NFL.
Tod Leiweke's presence is a clear indication that the team in fact holds this as one of their primary goals in their quest to become the class organization in the NFL. A symbiotic template - if our advice is genuinely considered - well on its way to being realized.
Todd Breda is the Owner and Creative Director of Seahawks.NET. You can e-mail Todd here.