Imagine you and your family have just taken your seats at Camp Randall Stadium, a gorgeous late-August Saturday sky overhead, when pangs of hunger strike.
The University of Wisconsin football team is 10 minutes into its season opener against Massachusetts on Aug. 31, but instead of having to venture to the nearest concession stand, you use your smartphone to place and pay for an order to be retrieved when the first quarter is over.
Upon arrival at the concession area, you step into an express line reserved for online purchases and pick up your food. You get back to your seat without missing a play from scrimmage.
Such a convenience is one of many digital-age concepts being gathered and assessed by the UW Athletic Department as part of a concentrated push to enhance customer service in and around Camp Randall and the Kohl Center.
“We’ve brain-stormed,’’ UW athletic director Barry Alvarez said of his senior staff and department heads. “I’ve asked them for things — different ways that we can do things — and they’ve come up with some good ideas.’’
Everything from Internet access to more interactive displays to a more modern, expansive approach to concessions is on the table. Alvarez said he’d like to have as many upgrades in place as possible for 2013-14.
“We’re taking every part of our operation and looking under the hood,’’ said Justin Doherty, the UW associate athletic director for external relations. “Our No. 1 objective is: Are fans liking the experience they’re having?’ ’’
Doherty said UW Athletic Department officials are responding in part to growing attendance issues at their premier attractions.
According to a recent report in The Capital Times, 25 percent of game tickets purchased for the marquee Badgers sports — football, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s hockey and volleyball — went unused in 2012-13.
In addition, the average actual attendance figure for those sports has dropped 13 percent in the past six years, a trend tied to multiple causes, including the economy, cost of attendance — tickets, parking, concessions and travel — and the perceived quality of the opponent.
The downturn is so acute in men’s hockey the operating budget for UW Athletics in 2013-14 projects $470,000 less in ticket revenue compared to 2012-13.
Feedback from annual season ticket-holder surveys also factor into the initiative. Doherty added the Big Ten Conference is involved as well, having issued a directive to its members to increase their emphasis on making sure fans have good experiences at their venues.
“Everybody in our business — not just college, but pros — is thinking (and) brainstorming, ‘How do you make the game-day experience for your fans better?’ ’’ Alvarez said.
“TV sets are getting too good. The experience of sitting in your living room and watching (games) sometimes is much better than going through the hassle, the crowds, the security and that stuff. Every one of us is going through that.’’
Doherty attended the NCAA Frozen Four for men’s hockey in Pittsburgh last week and noted so many inside the Consol Energy Center were focused intently on their smartphones. He saw this in the stands and the concourses, as well as rink-side during the games. He saw people of all ages engaged in all aspects of social media, a trend that’s expected to grow in the coming years.
“We need to make accommodations for that,’’ he said.
UW has a central system that brings cellular data service into its sports facilities, but Crown Castle International, which manages the process, requires individual providers to negotiate for access.
Verizon signed up last year and Alvarez said AT&T representatives have expressed interest in doing so as well.
A year after introducing the free, highly popular Wisconsin Football Game Day app for smartphones, UW officials are expected to unveil ones geared toward men’s and women’s basketball and men’s and women’s hockey.
In the midst of describing a host of possible interactive ideas, Doherty mentioned how Miami (Fla.) live-streamed a pregame speech by men’s basketball coach Jim Larranaga on its website before a recent NCAA tournament game.
Doherty also spoke of displays where fans could scan an action photo with their smartphone and hear a description of that moment, like a clutch shot by Devin Harris, or an event, say the 2011 NCAA women’s hockey title game.
“It’s outreach,’’ Doherty said.
Alvarez said recent visits to other venues, including the United Center and Soldier Field in Chicago, drove home the point that the concession process at Badgers games needs to be updated. He mentioned the offerings and the modern, themed ambiance.
“It’s fresh, it’s bright,’’ he said. “We’ve got to update our concession stands for sure.’’
Alvarez said that just as improvement is expected from the 23 UW sports and their coaches on an annual basis, the same holds true for customer comfort.
“We want to improve our gameday experience for our fans,’’ he said. “There’s a message being sent that we care about them and we want to take care of them.’’