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Boston College 28, Syracuse 7: View From The Stands

The last game brings your TL;DR final grades on a season spent reinventing the fan experience at Alumni Stadium.

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

In the marketing world, the last date is always the least pressurized. Anything that goes wrong simply doesn't matter as much, and it creates a more relaxed and loose atmosphere. There's no need for after actions, for meetings, for corrective measures. It's simply the end of the road.

Saturday's football game against Syracuse was the end of a long journey for Boston College athletics. It's one that started last year when they announced the construction of new end zone video boards and new sideline video ribbons. It's the process that included everything from meatballs to sushi, wristbands to parking passes.

For Brad Bates' crew, that meant opening the cupboard of all leftover ingredients. It meant honoring the 1984 Hail Flutie football team, and it meant new video board montages highlighting "Rivalry Weekend." It meant Senior Day. It meant throwing the kitchen sink at the team in one final flurry.

Unfortunately, it also meant some major fumbles because, as I mentioned earlier, the mistakes simply don't matter as much. As AJ mentioned in his GBU this week, the video boards stopped working. I actually noticed how it began, since one of the end zone stat boards started flickering. That led to an obvious reboot where all the side boards displaying out-of-town scores went black.

When those didn't restart, the video boards went black or displayed the We Are BC logo on a gold background. It flickered in, went back out, came back, then rebooted eventually. It was an in-game disaster but one that can probably be overlooked or laughed off since the marketing team doesn't really have to worry about fixing it for next week.

With the season winding down, let's look back, GBU style, at what worked and what didn't work this year for the fan experience at Boston College:


The video boards. All in all, I thought the video boards were great, and Boston College did a good job of ironing them out as the season went on. They used the premise of a movie to create something of a soft opening for people interested in seeing them, and the new graphics were outstanding. The black and maroon wave starting at the 50 yard line and moving out from the sidelines to the end zone with the touchdown-scoring Eagle's name shaking was a great way to make scores feel electric. The graphics built onto the side ribbons to include the Boston city skyline was a nice touch, and it made Alumni Stadium feel like a modern facility. Seeing as it was only the first year, it's a job well done by the marketing folks.

The UMass game. The Boston College Gridiron Club did a tremendous job of "taking over Gillette" on what should have been a UMass home game. The Minutemen spent most of their marketing budget to display the game as a neutral site "Battle of the Bay State," and that opening allowed Boston College to legitimately blow the flagship out of the stadium. BC fans had their own tailgating lot on their side of the stadium, and the student section owned the end zone. It was expertly done, and it created an atmosphere for Eagles fans that made the game feel special.

Eight games in Massachusetts. It feels like Brad Bates and Steve Addazio were on the same page in terms of owning the northeast whereas Gene DeFillippo and Frank Spaziani were content to lose New England. While the grade of recruit isn't on par with places like Texas, Addazio and Bates did a great job of owning their backyard through aggressive strategies. They cordoned off Massachusetts both in terms of recruiting and in terms of scheduling to maximize exposure. Seven home games at Alumni Stadium plus the eighth "home game" at Gillette helped BC both on the field and on the recruiting trail.

On the field, BC was 3-2 and within one drive of being 4-1 before they ever left Massachusetts. That meant they only needed to win three games outside the Commonwealth to be bowl eligible. Win or lose, anyone would rather stay close to home than travel thousands of miles to play someone else.

Off the field, just under half of BC's commitments are coming from New England, in particular Massachusetts and Connecticut. Addazio's done a great job of focusing his efforts in the areas he knows best, getting the best 3-star players from those areas. Three-star athletes might not have the physical attributes of the Alabama recruiting class, but they're hungry and coachable. He's targeted areas where BC is deficient, like tight end and young offensive line, and he's turned in a top 30 recruiting class by doing well in his backyard.

Attendance. Last season, less than 200K fans came to six home games for an average of 33,005 fans per game. This season, BC averaged over 34,000 per game over seven home games. If the Maine game is removed from the total because it was a home game after USC against an FCS opponent, BC averaged 35,000 fans per game. That's right in line with 2010, the last bowl season under Frank Spaziani. That year, a 7-6 BC team averaged just about 37,000 fans per home game with one being against Notre Dame.

The Bad

Increased food variety. At the beginning of the year, BC introduced new food selections, including sushi. It flopped badly in the first week and was pretty much gone by the second week. Of the new initiatives, the meatball stand proved to have staying power, but other than that, we're right back where we were with hot dogs in buns that fall apart, some really bad nachos, and sesame seed pretzels. This year marked the first time I didn't even want to get the sausage from the vendor in the corner of the end zone underneath section T. I'm not really there to get food, but bad concessions stick out. One suggestion? Chicken parm subs.

Attendance. This is a multi-fold piece. The numbers might be up, but the atmosphere at Boston College, at times, died. The student section, which was phenomenal against UMass and USC, petered out over the course of the year. Too many times, we reported on fans who sat on their hands and didn't want to cheer. Too many more times, those fans would get mad if you attempted to stand up and cheer at times that didn't suit them. You obviously can't replace them without taking hits to your numbers, but you can't inspire them to be loud and proud fans. Moving forward, there's going to be a market shift as older alumni either can't or don't want to go to football games. The challenge will be to replace them with younger alumni craving the college football atmosphere and families looking for somewhere to have fun.

Tailgating restrictions. The restrictions are often debated here, and that's fine. I'm not getting into the rationale behind why Boston College has such restrictive measures, and I'm not here to debate what they need to do going forward. I'm simply here to say that the restrictions on campus are bad.

At the end of the game, the restrictive policy says no to minimal tailgating is allowed. But standing at the trunk of my car with a Diet Coke in my hand, I've been subjected too often to a motorcycle police officer bellowing out to leave. I'm not even trying to tailgate, but this guy sees fit to act like I'm on Parris Island with contraband in the barracks. I'm not trying to stay there and fire up a grill or eat a pizza and sit in the lot; I'm trying to chug a can of soda because I'm dry and didn't want to pay $5 for a souvenir cup of flat soda water and syrup.

Then there's the drive into campus, which is a disaster of cones and traffic logistics. Someone has to devise a better system to allow cars into and out of parking lots. It's tough, and I can't even begin to figure out what to do. Maybe stagger arrival times based on lots, and maybe do the same with departure times. But forcing me into traffic to get there and out into traffic to leave there is something that makes it incredibly hard week-to-week.

The Pittsburgh Game. Let's take all of this that's in the bad and combine it with Friday afternoon rush hour traffic.

The Ugly

Shea Field Wristbands. While much of these are gripes that can or cannot be addressed, the Shea Field wristband policy was a monumental blunder. I understand the need to police who gets in and out from the area, but BC failed to protect what makes Shea Field so great: it's the only part of BC's tailgating scene that feels like the rest of college football. The flags, the tents, the grilling, and the music—that's what you get everywhere. The way BC restricted it during the USC game instead created a potentially dangerous scenario of people waiting to get in outside the gate, something they perpetuated in future weeks.

We've talked about it at length, but this is one thing that absolutely has to go before next season.