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Optimizing the Titans fan experience

A few ideas for how to make Nissan Stadium a more dynamic, unique experience for fans.

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NFL: Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Last year around this time, I wrote a post questioning why the Nashville Predators have been able to craft a wholly unique and fan-engaging gameday experience while the Titans have struggled to do the same despite being in the city for roughly the same amount of time. While I felt like the Titans did take some steps in the right direction in 2017, more needs to be done and there is good evidence that a disconnect still exists with the fanbase.

Last year the Titans averaged 65,651 fans in attendance per game which is good for 95% of Nissan Stadium’s total capacity. That 95% rate was good for just 19th in the NFL despite the team finishing with a winning record for the second straight year.

There are some real issues with how teams report attendance numbers — teams generally report tickets distributed, not tickets used — so you can take those numbers with a healthy grain of salt, but the root issue remains. Fans aren’t showing up to games. In fact, the pictures paint an even starker reality than the numbers. Check out this photo from the Titans-Bengals game 2 minutes in to the 1st quarter. Keep in mind the Titans were 5-3 at this point and coming off a nice home win over the hated Ravens the week before.

Thin crowd at Titans-Bengals in the 1st quarter.

Or this one from the Week 17 Titans-Jags matchup that was essentially a play-in game for the Titans.

Not a great turnout for what was essentially a home playoff game either.

To be fair, this isn’t just a Titans problem, it’s an issue league-wide. Check out the crowd for the Titans visit to Cleveland last year. It’s almost empty up top.

Crowd for Browns-Titans was small in Cleveland.

Even the top NFL teams have attendance struggles. Here’s a shot of the home crowd in Pittsburgh during the 2nd quarter of their game against the Vikings last year.

Even good teams with great history aren’t immune as the Steelers had chunks of empty seats for their game against the Vikings last year.

There are many potential reasons for all these empty seats.

The price of tickets is always the first one that comes up, but I think that’s mostly an overblown excuse. Just look at the pictures. The emptiest sections are the cheapest seats. You can get Titans tickets in the upper level for $50 or less. That’s no different than the cheapest seats at a Preds game or nosebleeds at Neyland Stadium for the Vols.

Additionally, according to the numbers I referenced above, 95% of the Titans tickets are getting distributed — which means they’ve been purchased or given away by the team — but there are far more than 4,000 empty seats in those photos. That means a bunch of these tickets are getting bought, but not used. So this issue has very little to do with the price of the actual tickets. Parking and concessions are a separate issue which I’ll get to later.

Another potential reason for empty seats is simply the overall decline in popularity for the NFL over the last few seasons. There is no doubt that controversy has hurt the brand of league over the last few seasons. Whether its the bad off-field behavior of the players, Roger Goodell’s inconsistent handling of punishment for those off-field issues, the anthem protests, the protests to the anthem protests, or the concerns over the league’s handling of too-long-ignored concussion problem, the NFL has been a constant target for criticism from all sides in recent years.

TV ratings for the NFL have nosedived for two straight seasons. While its hard to separate the decline in NFL ratings from the decline in TV ratings in general caused by cord cutting, its worth noting that the NBA is currently experiencing a ratings growth in this climate. These numbers are pretty gloomy for football fans and the NFL certainly needs to continue to rehab its image, but I don’t think we are seeing the beginning of the end here. After all, we did just see the first night of the NFL Draft draw 30 million viewers for a 7.0 TV rating, up 27% over last year (thanks in part to the addition of FOX coverage). That suggests there is still plenty of interest in NFL football, and the addition of legalized sports gambling will only add to that interest.

The large and growing popularity of fantasy football is another deterrent to fan attendance at NFL stadiums. Many fans follow their fantasy teams as much or more than the team they actually root for. Watching the Titans on one screen while also having NFL RedZone pulled up on another to track other games and players isn’t a terrible way to spend an afternoon. It also gives you a chance to watch the late games rather than missing the first half fighting traffic while getting out of Nissan Stadium.

Others will claim that winning cures all and a good Titans team will fill up Nissan Stadium with ease. There is some truth to that, but I think the 2016 and 2017 Titans disprove that theory to some extent. During the miserable 2014 and 2015 seasons, people struggled to give away Titans tickets, but the 2016 and 2017 Titans sent fans home happy with wins in 11 of their last 16 games in Nissan Stadium. They were firmly in the mix for a playoff spot in 15 of those 16 contests.

That stretch includes some pretty memorable wins too. In 2016 you got the 47-25 beatdown of Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, the 36-22 blowout of the Jags on Thursday Night Football, and the dramatic, playoff-hope-saving win over the defending champ Broncos.

Then this past season we saw the wild rollercoaster 33-27 win over the Seahawks, the streak-snapping come from behind 36-22 win over the Colts on Monday Night Football, and, of course, the playoff-clinching 15-10 win over Jacksonville featuring the “Aloha means goodbye” stiff arm.

This phenomenon isn’t all about winning.

So how to the Titans get their fans off their couches and in to Nissan Stadium on Sundays? My suggestions fall in to two main categories:

Develop an identity for the fan base

This is easier said than done, but the Titans have to find a way to foster an identity for the fan base. Think about the Vikings with their SKOL chant, Viking horns, and fight song, the Packers with cheeseheads and the Lambeau Leap, the Jets with the J-E-T-S chant, or the Seahawks fans raising the 12th Man flag. The experience of being a Titans fan and attending Titans games has been far too generic for too long.

This isn’t all on the team as the best traditions are those that come from organic beginnings, but they can certainly help promote good ideas when they see them. In the comments under the article that I wrote last year, MCM commenter Tennessee27 suggested doing the “Ahoo Ahoo Ahoo” chant from the movie 300 after first downs that the Titans implemented this year.

I don’t know that the team necessarily got the idea from that post, but either way, I liked the move and hope it sticks around moving forward.

They need to continue to go further though. I have a few specific ideas that I think would be really good for continuing to create the Titans fan identity.

First, borrow some ideas from the Predators. One of the best things about the last two hockey seasons has been seeing the Titans players and organization embrace the Preds and their traditions. I think we should take it the next level and send some of those traditions across the river to Nissan Stadium.

I would love to see a “Booooooortles, Booooooortles, Booooooortles, YOU SUCK! Its all your fault! Its all your fault! Its all your fault!” chant after an interception.

Pro Bowl punter Brett Kern is a fan of the idea.

They could also borrow the new “Let It Be” sing-a-long complete with waving phone flashlights during replay reviews that the home team doesn’t want overturned.

Sure, the flashlights probably lose some of their effect during a sunny noon game, but fans putting their arms around each other and swaying in unison would be a cool alternative. I’d much rather do that during a replay review than play guess the temperature or watch Molly Moo race Texas Pete, the Bunny Bread Bunny, and the Coca-Cola Polar Bear for the 1,327,432nd time (seriously, these and the “guess the temperature game” have to stop).

They don’t have to borrow everything from the Preds though. I’ve always thought that the team should adopt this song from Remember the Titans.

I think 69,000 fans singing this in unison would sound pretty awesome. It could also double as a fight song of sorts to be sung when groups of Titans fans get together for road games.

Think my ideas are good? Great, let us know and spread them around to other Titans fans that you know. Let’s get some of these going. Think my ideas are lame? That’s fine — I think that about a lot of the things I come up with — but give a suggestion about what you would like to see at Titans games so we can start collecting the best ideas and spreading them around. These types of things will never change unless the fans band together and push good ideas forward. I want to make Nissan Stadium fun again.

Upgrades to Nissan Stadium

The recent upgrades to the Titans home field have certainly been steps in the right direction. The red paint on some exterior features give the stadium a sharp look from the outside and inside the addition of the Hall of Greats was a nice touch. The huge video boards above both endzones ends are great and I even like the Titans wordmark in the seats in the lower bowl.

However there are still areas that could use some attention. My biggest gripe about the stadium is the continued existence of the “LP Building Zones” below the video boards in the north and south endzones — or as they’re better known, “the dollhouses”. These were added when the stadium was known as LP Field and they are supposed to look like suburban houses similar to those built with LP Building Products, but every time I look at them they just look like weird dollhouses that are completely out of place in an NFL stadium.

The dollhouses need to go and I have a few ideas for what could replace them.

What about turning one of the ends in to a stand for a pep band? I know, I know, bands in football stadiums are typically a high school/college thing, but it’s something that two NFL teams do — the Ravens and Redskins — and with Nashville being one of the premier college football markets in the country, it wouldn’t hurt to bring that familiar element to the Titans gameday experience. The Titans have had the TSU drum line as part of the pregame festivities for years. Why not add some brass to that group and put them in one of the dollhouse areas during the game to play some music?

Another option for these areas would be to invite different food trucks in to park there during each game. Nashville has a pretty thriving food truck scene these days — just go to any festival this summer and check them out — and it would add some variety to the food options presented by the team at games. I’d love to be able to walk over and grab something from the Grilled Cheeserie or some Yayo’s tacos during a game. Or if they wanted something more permanent, replace Logan’s — which is #notgood — with one of Nashville’s famous hot chicken restaurants like Party Fowl or Hattie B’s.

A third choice to replace the dollhouses would be to go all in on the Greek imagery and add columns with statues of former Titans greats standing on top of them in those areas. There are at least six guys that I don’t think any Titans fan would argue with putting atop those columns: Steve McNair, Eddie George, Bruce Matthews, Frank Wycheck, Keith Bulluck, and Jevon Kearse. Or, if you don’t like the idea of player statues, you create a ring of columns with a gas-fueled flame on top — think the Olympic flame except with Greek style columns — and we could say that opposing teams were “stepping in to the ring of fire”.

Outside the stadium, it would help to have some re-development done around the stadium area. It would be great if we could get an entertainment district built in the lots neighboring Nissan Stadium with restaurants, bars, and some decent hotels for out of town fans. This would both improve the gameday experience as well as creating a place for fans to hang out and celebrate together after the game. I would envision this becoming an area for the sports fans in Nashville. Right now, the city has the music lovers accounted for on Broadway, the hipsters have East Nashville, and the college/young local crowd have Midtown and 12 South, but there is no real sports hub in the city. This could turn in to that.

There is some inherent difficulty with this due to the property being on the “wrong side” of the river for traffic on all but 10 days of the year, but with the rapid growth of Nashville, eventually the east bank is going to have to experience a renaissance. The RiverNorth development could help spark this progress, as could the recent consolidation of ownership of the eyesore PSC Metals site just south of the stadium on the east bank.

Another issue that needs to be addressed by the team is a streamlined drop-off/pick-up area for Uber/Lyft at the stadium. Due to traffic routing patterns on gamedays and certain roads being blocked off, drivers can’t get anywhere near the stadium, especially when trying to pick up riders after the game. Setting aside a designated drop-off/pick-up lane that was easily accessible would create a better experience for fans that want to drink a few beers at the game and then be able to safely and easily get a responsible ride home afterwards.

One last suggestion is a pretty easy one, in my opinion. Follow the Falcons model for concession pricing. They slashed prices across the board for food and drinks at their games and not only did they end up with happier fans, but they reportedly made MORE money as the increased volume made up for the decreased margins. An idea that builds goodwill AND your bank account? What’s not to like about that.

So that’s my dream for where the Titans are going from a fan experience standpoint. What are your thoughts and ideas? I would challenge all Titans fans to think about what would make Nissan Stadium the place to be in the “it” city this fall and put it out there, because this franchise is finally headed in the right direction and they deserve a loud and proud crowd like the ones that used to fill Adelphia Coliseum in the early 2000’s.