NO DOUBT, THE massive new video board that now hovers over most of the north end zone of Williams-Brice Stadium has much to do with South Carolina keeping up with the Joneses of the SEC.
USC and Vanderbilt admittedly are late to the video board game, being the last two in the SEC to add the monstrous information/entertainment centers to their respective stadiums.
Of equal importance to USC when its $6.5 million video board operates for the first time during the Gamecocks Sept. 8 home-opener against East Carolina is creating a better game-day experience for fans.
Steve Spurrier skipped to the crux of the issue when asked recently what the video board means for his football program.
It will add a bit, Spurrier said. As we all know, in college sports, were all on TV almost every game. So were trying to enhance the game for the fans who come to the ballpark.
So when they come, theyll see every replay. Hopefully, it will really inspire people (to say), Hey, instead of watching on TV, lets come be a part of Williams-Brice Stadium and the atmosphere right here at Carolina.
College football is following the lead of Major League Baseball when it comes to video boards. Big-league baseball franchises realized years ago that fans had to be enticed to come to the stadium. Fans had to be provided the same amenities starting with high-quality video replays of home at the ballpark.
The explosion of televised college football games and its improved quality, thanks to high definition over the past five years or so has resulted in fans staying home. Many fans have shifted the great social event of college football from stadium parking lots to their living rooms.
For some,dealing with traffic, eating out of the trunk of a car, sitting in cramped quarters and putting up with obnoxious fans became less appealing than watching the three- to four-hour game on TV while enjoying a couple of beers with friends and neighbors.
It also is less expensive following the home team at home. You dont have the cost of fuel to travel to the game, parking fees, seat-licensing fees, the over-bloated cost of tickets, and over-priced concessions. Families began to see a way to save thousands of dollars per year while fighting through a national recession.
That is not to say USC fans do not remain loyal to their Gamecocks. Over the past three seasons, USC has averaged announced crowds of 75,317, 76,641 and 79,416. Those numbers annually rank among the top-20 in the country.
Still, USC has recognized it must work to both retain and recruit the marginal fan who no longer shows up and pays the price because it is the thing to do in Columbia. USC responded several years ago with improvements to the infrastructure at Williams-Brice Stadium and splashed much-needed paint on the entire structure.
But the introduction of seat-licensing before the 2009 season caused a decline in annual season-ticket sales and likely priced families out of the college football market. Again, USC smartly responded with advertising campaigns, three-game ticket packages and single-game ticket sales.
Like almost every other program in the country, USC struggles to fill its stadium. The capacity of Williams-Brice Stadium is listed at 80,250. Using that figure and the announced attendance figures by USC, there have been six sellouts among the 21 games played the past three seasons at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Just because a game is announced as a sellout does not mean the stadium is full to capacity. In fact, over the past three seasons, only USCs win over No. 1-ranked Alabama in 2010 appeared to be played before a full house.
Knowing that, USC continues to work to get more fans in the stands. The video board is one more vehicle used toward that goal. The board is 36-feet high and 124-feet wide. The $6.5 million price tag includes the steel structure, the board, the control room and equipment to run the board, and the metal panels that make it look attractive.
Then there will be the LED lights on each end that will flash and climb as the crowd gets louder during the playing of Sandstorm. The lights will serve as sort of a crowd-noise meter, similar to the one once made famous at old Reynolds Coliseum at N.C. State.
Hey, you cant get that kind of experience in your living room.
Watch commentaries by Morris Mondays at 6 and 11 p.m. on ABC Columbia News (WOLO-TV)