For the better part of the last several months, Brad Bates and his Boston College athletic department employees teased us. We heard about new video boards, new sound, and expanded, enhanced marketing efforts. All of this, they said, came from initiatives and feedback from their loyal fans, the multitude of Eagle followers who existed and stuck with the team through its period of upheaval.
Friday night's game against Pittsburgh was something of a soft, yet grand, opening. On a grand scale, it was the first time for fans to see the new video boards and LED video boards. It was the first time fans got a glimpse at the new concessions and would meet the gameday ambassadors. To see something new is always exciting.
But the game played out on a weird scale. With a home game on national television on a Saturday night looming against Southern California, it was also something of a dress rehearsal. Friday night national television is great, but Saturday night is college football's prime slot. So for BC, the first game with the new boards was the perfect chance to feel out some of the kinks in an attempt to get it right for USC. This creates a marketing vibe that while it's the first game, it doesn't quite have the big game feel Saturday is almost assuredly going to bring.
As a result, there's some kinks to work out. A look at some of the tl;dr observations from the first home game of 2014:
-First off - the video boards. Gorgeous. Great job on those. They're big, they're bright, and they're amazing. The video quality on them is perfect. The high definition rivals anything on any screen on any stadium, and that includes the NFL. The replays were outstanding, and the graphics leave great opportunity for BC to be really intense in ways the rest of the nation isn't. Even though flashing lights aren't everyone's brand of tea, it will lend itself beautifully to the home field advantage to see the screen flashing DEFENSE with Baldwin while the crowd goes bananas.
-A couple of observations, though. I'm not sure anyone really knows how to use the boards. I'm willing to bet the graphics software required a substantial infrastructure upgrade to the computer systems, which is nerd-speak for saying, "They got new computers." That said, I'm not sure anyone really knows how to use them yet. The starting lineup didn't sync with the LED ribbons, and it was slow to load the guys. If there was any audio going along with it (which in the past included pre-recorded announcements by Jon Meterparel), it didn't work. So the public address announcer called a quick audible and salvaged the segment by announcing each guy. That was really great on his part, and it did something to save what could've been a really awkward moment, but because everything in a pregame is meticulously timed, not everyone was introduced. I couldn't tell you who half the starting defensive backfield was, and I have no idea who started at running back or one of the wideout spots.
-From there, it got semi-worse. Somebody hit the video intro way too early, meaning the video montage came on before the team was remotely close to the tunnel. The montage ended with no team in the tunnel; they weren't even out of the locker room. So the fans in attendance could've been juiced up...and waited. And waited. And waited. Thank God someone had the sense to play "Enter Sandman." Watching the team touch the eagle statue and burst through to that song actually turned into something kind of cool, and it was unintentional because the timing of the montage was way off.
-How can I tell the timing was off? Well, the montage wasn't really that great. The short highlight reel, set to some punk rock song I have no idea the name of (but it mentioned the word Boston a few times) ended with the team bursting through the tunnel. I think it was supposed to be timed with the team walking out of the locker room and then running out with the video board showing them running out, but that didn't happen.
-The montage itself didn't do anything to get me excited. Last year, I got juiced up and ramped up by watching this beautiful video board set to a theme of building and steel. It made me think this team was going to be hard-nosed, tough, and rugged. This year's montage showed a whole bunch of newspaper clippings and highlights. I get it - Doug Flutie played here. So did Matt Ryan. And David Gordon made one career field goal longer than 40 yards at Notre Dame (although major props for showing the highlights of Justice Smith and BC kicking the ever living crap out of ND the next year). But what happened to David Green, Brian St. Pierre, Mark Herzlich, or Andre Williams? There was like one highlight of Steve Addazio getting pumped. Other than that, we camped out in the 1980s and 1990s for five solid minutes.
-I know I'm being harsh, but I legitimately expected more. BC did come out through the smoke and fire, which is something that should continue for every home game. It shouldn't be a once off thing. Miami came out through smoke and made it their hallmark back in their heyday, and the whole disappearing into smoke thing is really cool. Make it a thing and keep it. That said, if you do it for the first game and then stop doing it halfway through the year, it loses its luster in a big way.
-As a last take on the new stuff, the new speakers are awesome. I love them The only problem was the feedback I got from the band mic. I get piping in noise and making it loud, but I should be able to carry a conversation during television timeouts with my dad who sits two seats next to me without having to scream. I'm sure that'll get equalized over time. Please nobody misconstrue this as me saying BC should be silent. I'm just saying the sound quality needs to be slightly adjusted (but this comes from an A/V nerd's point of view).
-Concessions -- I'm not gonna lie, I kind of balked at the whole health food thing, so this comes with that disclaimer. But the sushi balloons or paper mache things on the one concession stand with the sushi looked weird. It looked like a rushed add-on to the regular, plain old concessions stands. I want BC to come up with something creative. Look at Agganis Arena and BU hockey - they named all of their concession stands. There's a Terrier Grille, a Commonwealth Concessions, and a Bay Street Bistro. They do something called Terrier Town. Everything has a theme and a name. It's creative. There's major opportunity for growth for things that'll rope in a secular fan family with kids.
-Again, maybe all of this is a dress rehearsal for the second game of the year. It was the first game of the year, a grand opening after the build up, but I catch the vibe that USC is the really grand reopening. With all the opportunities for growth and Brad Bates' attention, I want to believe it'll be cleaned up, smoother, and much better on Saturday night against Southern California. I know it will be.
-It's also hard to drop a Mustang engine in a Ford Pinto. A Friday night game at 7 PM in a major city like Boston is a major tough draw for the fans. Excluding the students, it makes it very hard to generate some really awesome atmosphere. Even though the fans are usually late to arrive for a "regular game," after a long day of work, it's hard to generate the same time of energy as you do when you've been drinking for a few hours before the game.
-Some notes about the fans. I know there were observations that Superfans left early, but the students were out in full force and did some really great things. They really got into the game with the Baldwin-on-the-video-board graphic, and the defense graphic got them going. My personal favorite was before half when Pitt was starting to drive. After calling a timeout, with the band heading to the field, the public address played a personal favorite in "Turn Down For What." It got cut off, the fans booed, another timeout ensued, and they played it again. The student body went NUTS. Love seeing them all jumping up and down. It rivaled watching Wisconsin fans, only on a smaller level. If they can stay engaged against USC, I have great vibes for the atmosphere.
-The band? Phenomenal. Except "Stay With Me." I'm good with that. At least they didn't play John Legend.
-Am I the only one who felt like my cell phone was working phenomenally in the stadium?
-My pretzels had sesame seeds on them. Whoever found the salted pretzel - you're like looking for the chicken in Orange Is The New Black.
-Despite the criticisms, I really think next week is going to be great. Brad Bates is proving he's going to put energy into making this a great place to watch a game. I believe him. Alumni Stadium is miles ahead of where it was when he took over, and I really cannot wait to get in each week and see what his mad scientists cooked up. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. But with all the opportunity for growth, I know his people will identify what needs to be done and do it. Mark it down - Saturday is going to be a great coming out party.