KU tweaks game day plans to better handle full football stadium

Fans watch during the second half of an NCAA college football game between Kansas and Duke Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, in Lawrence, Kan. Kansas won 35-27. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

The Kansas football program set a record for both concession sales and merchandise sales during last week’s sold-out win over Duke.

But that did not keep KU administrators from looking for ways to improve upon the game day experience for fans, who have suddenly started showing up in huge numbers to support the 4-0 Jayhawks.

Last week’s game marked the first KU football sellout in three years, and with the program trending toward another one this weekend, when they play host to Iowa State at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium, efforts are being made to make things smoother this week than they were a week ago.

For the most part, things went well last week, said Jason Booker, KU’s deputy athletic director for external affairs and revenue generation. That was especially true regarding entry into the stadium. But there were issues with the concessions stands, and Booker said that is the area KU officials have focused their attention on the most in the past few days.

Booker said the department received several emails with feedback or complaints after Saturday’s game and he replied to each one of them on Monday morning. Beyond that, he said KU administrators were walking around the stadium during last Saturday’s game timing the lines at the concession stands and entry gates in search of “pain points.”

“We’re always looking for continuous improvement,” Booker said.

Booker said the two main goals last week were to have enough product on hand for the fans and to have enough workers to distribute it. This week, the focus is on shortening the lines and making the concessions experience faster and more efficient.

“Now we know what a full stadium looks like and how people are interacting with concession stands and that can help us make sure that this week is better than last week,” Booker said.

To that end, KU plans to add 20 new points of sale for concessions throughout the stadium. Most of them will be placed near the south end zone and in the outer concourse areas.

In addition, they’re adding what Booker called “hawkers” to carry refreshments through the stands for quick and easy sales (credit card only) and also will have some cash-only concession stands in hopes of speeding up the process for those paying with cash.

“We certainly have some limitations here and we know that, but we also know that we can make improvements to address some of those,” Booker said. “We’re going to learn and react from week to week to how things went the week before. Our job is to make sure we’re listening to our fans and trying to provide the best experience possible for everyone.”

In addition to increasing the number of concession stands on site, Booker wanted to remind fans that the stadium features four refillable water stations. Fans are allowed to bring in their own unopened water bottles and refill them or they can refill the bottles they purchase inside.

For the second week in a row, KU also will host a “happy hour” from 1 to 2 p.m., where concessions will be sold at discounted prices for those fans who enter the stadium early.

Although he did not have final numbers, Booker said last week’s happy hour was effective in both getting people in early and alleviating some of the issues with concessions.

“We’re starting to see that people want to move into the stadium earlier,” he said. “The game is the show again.”

As for merchandise, Booker said KU will bring in a handful of kiosks on loan from the Kansas City Royals to help fans purchase Kansas football gear. Like Lance Leipold’s program, which has shocked college football with its 4-0 start, that number is on the rise.

“Our fans have always had generic Kansas gear or even Kansas basketball stuff, but now they want something with the helmet on it or something that says Kansas Football,” Booker said. “So we’re starting to see a resurgence of people wanting to buy merchandise that’s in line with what Lance and the team are doing on the field.”

Booker and the rest of the KU athletic department realize that things are not perfect at Memorial Stadium. And until some kind of large-scale renovation or stadium upgrade is executed, it likely will remain that way.

His hope, though, is that fans retrain themselves to operate in full stadiums and that administrators continue to look for ways to make the game day experience as enjoyable as possible.

“These are great problems to have,” Booker said. “We may not see everything on game day, and we’ve got 47,000 people that are the eyes and the ears for us right now, and we really value that.”

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