I am Kasey Storey and I am an avid sports fan. As such, I am normally in the seats watching other people perform, so please bear with me as I become accustomed to this very sudden role reversal.
I live in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and, for those of you who are suddenly racking your brains trying to think of Wyoming’s professional sports teams, there are none. But we do have a universally-beloved college located in Laramie, WY which we like to proclaim, often and loudly, helped produce the likes of Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen.
No, Wyoming does not have any professional sports teams, just a bitter, heated rivalry with Colorado State University across the border and an avid fan base that appears loyally to football and basketball games from all corners of the state’s 97,000 square miles despite, record, weather, or circumstance.
This may make you all wonder what my qualifications are for standing up here speaking to you as a self-professed sports fanatic. Well, Cheyenne is conveniently located on the Southern edge of the state, making it an easy 1 hour 30 minute drive (without traffic) to Denver, Colorado where I regularly attend, Denver Broncos, Colorado Avalanche, Colorado Rockies, and Denver Nuggets games, which standing in the now-home of the Las Vegas Raiders and the Golden Knights, I may need to say a little bit more quietly.
Being within driving distance to a notorious sports town, I have had the privilege of attending playoff games for the Broncos, Rockies, and Avalanche including the NFL’s 2016 AFC Championship when the Broncos beat the Patriots to advance to Super Bowl 50. That game was admittedly more exciting than watching the Rockies in-person get swept in the playoffs by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2018.
As a University of Oregon student, SKO Ducks, I watched the Ducks win the inaugural PAC12 Championship game in Autzen stadium, I watched the Olympic Swimming trials in Omaha, Nebraska, attended UFC fights in Denver along with the BMW Championship golf tournament at Cherry Hills Country Club. I traveled to Las Vegas to see the Wyoming Cowboys win the Mountain West Conference Tournament, to see the Duke Blue Devils play at T-Mobile arena, to watch the Broncos play the Raiders, and to watch the Avalanche play the Golden Knights. I have seen baseball games at Fenway Park in Boston, Yankees Stadium in New York, Arlington Ball Park in Texas, and Chase Field in Arizona and recently traveled to San Francisco to watch the Elite Eight matchup between the Arkansas Razorbacks and Duke Blue Devils at Chase Center.
I enjoy sports in all forms, whether it was a hockey or football game at Dartmouth College during graduate school or championship matchups on some of sports’ largest stages. I invest money, vacation time, and effort to see my teams play around the country and look forward to continuing to do so in the future.
Sports impact my life on a daily basis, I account for Formula 1 races when making weekend plans, I arrive back home in Cheyenne at 1:30am on weeknights after watching the Colorado Avalanche win playoff games and drag myself to work at 8 the next morning, in fact, I paused my preparation of this presentation no less than four times in one weekend; once to watch the Formula 1 qualifying in Miami, once to watch the Avalanche take on the Nashville Predators, once to watch the Kentucky Derby, and once more to watch the Formula 1 Grand Prix, along with some glances, short breaks, and pauses to watch other playoff basketball and hockey games.
Sports have helped me and my family in ways unexpected and surprising, they have become the keystones for family lore, they have created favorite memories in my and my husband’s lives, they have made me new friends, afforded me with new opportunities, and have been a framework for my free time and extracurricular pursuits.
What Makes a Memory-making Event?
I could bore you all with endless anecdotes about funny sports stories, victorious championship games and court rushings, unexpected interactions with fellow sports fans in unexpected places, but instead, I am going to talk to you about the key factors in what make my experiences memorable and what ensures that I will come back again. Some of the fundamental components of why I love sports and why I spend time, miles, money, and effort to continue watching teams play around the country, and maybe one day the world. Hopefully I can provide some insight for those of you who work so tirelessly to make these exciting games, matches, tournaments, and series come to fruition as to what works well from my perspective for logistics, experience, food and beverage, ticketing, safety, and ultimately what keeps me and those like me coming back for more.
My experience all starts from the moment of ticket purchase. I value a website whose seat map is easy to use and understand, especially when visiting new venues in new places for a first time. I’ll often look on blogs and fan websites to learn more about the best locations, the best bang for your buck, and inside tips for a good experience. Having photos of the view from the seats is always helpful.
When buying tickets, I also think a clearly-defined explanation of what the ticket comes with is important. As an anecdote, when my husband and I purchased last-minute tickets to see the Duke Blue Devils play in the Elite Eight at the Chase Center, we took whatever was available within our price range. When we arrived and were finally let in, we wandered the arena unable to find our section. After asking for help a couple of times and still not understanding where we were going, we realized that a door leading into a special club section with its own food, beverage, and restroom area was where we were supposed to go. We had no idea that our tickets included this perk and were pleasantly surprised. We had made extra efforts to get food before the game not knowing that we had access to our own concessions, and may have taken that all into consideration in advance had we known. When tickets come with parking passes, beverage coupons, etc. it is always nice to have it clearly outlined. My husband and I will often purposely purchase tickets if we know they come with additional perks such as shorter concession lines and other additional amenities such as the direct to seat food and drink delivery service at Allegiant Stadium.
With the advent of digital tickets and the steady move away from paper ones, I do think it is also important to have an easy delivery/download system for them and easy methods for transfer and use. Having multiple accounts for different ticket venues with different passwords can sometimes create a hiccup in the process, especially when trying to access them right before an event. It definitely adds additional anxiety for a fan when their ticket does not physically exist like it once did, especially fans who did not grow up in the digital era. Fear that your ticket will not actually work and frustration when it doesn’t has a negative impact at the outset of an in-person experience. I also believe that it has become easier for people to be scammed into buying tickets and seats that do not exist. The ticket experience has drastically changed in the past ten years, and it is important that no fan of any age or digital literacy feels left behind.
Price is obviously a big one for fans, and, from my perspective of some recent outings, events do seem to be becoming more corporate, with bigger sponsors, bigger sponsor boxes, more reserved access for celebrities, influencers, and corporate entities. When you do purchase tickets, and are surrounded by people who were comped tickets through their business or are there as part of a corporate outing, it does impact the experience in moments. Sitting in the highest level of Empower Field at Mile High with die-hard Broncos fans who waited all week for the chance to see their beloved team is very different than sitting in Chase Center at the Elite Eight surrounded by lots of people with no allegiances to a team but access to an expensive ticket most fans could not afford.
Another recent frustration in the ticket-buying process has been the inability to even purchase them through the retail channel. When trying to purchase tickets for the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Miami, my husband and I logged on the second they went on sale, having signed up for mailing lists months in advance for the best opportunity to have the chance to go. We clicked “purchase” as soon as the tickets went live, and we immediately were stuck in an online queue where we waited and waited only to be told they were sold out. Moments later, the tickets popped up on the secondary market, and immediately they were thousands and thousands of dollars more expensive, and our opportunity to purchase and attend the Grand Prix was long gone.
This is an experience that is not unique to my husband and me. As sports continue to grow in popularity, tickets become increasingly difficult to come by, but, it seems that lifelong fans are the ones who are always left out of the big games, tournaments, and events. As I touched on before, the energy of an arena completely changes when the average fan who has been watching and caring passionately about a team for their whole life is left out of the equation. The cheers do not crackle with electricity and fervor when fans are left at home and the volume doesn’t grow until the ceiling threatens to blow off the building. Lifelong fans are the ones who proudly display and advertise a team on every single article of clothing they own. They are the ones who purchase decals for their cars, water bottles, and laptops. They are the core part of any successful franchise, and I sincerely worry that as tickets become more expensive, exclusive, and difficult to find, that they are the ones who will be left out from the venues in the future of sporting events.
For me personally, one of the most critically important parts of the fan experience is information on attendance policies, parking, transportation, etc. I know Denver sporting venues like the back of my hand, know where to park, which entrance and exit get me in and out the quickest, but when I go somewhere new I immediately visit the team’s site for information on how and where to get somewhere. Allegiant stadium had a great page that explained the limited parking around the arena and encouraged everyone to walk over Hacienda Blvd from the Mandalay Bay. Chase Center in San Francisco had incredibly helpful information that anyone with an event ticket could ride public transportation for free the entire day of the event, and the Yankees very clearly delineate which Subway stops to take. There is nothing more frustrating than starting off an experience by having difficulties even getting to the venue and nowhere to turn for insight on making it easier.
Once at the venue, attendance policies become critically important, especially with the introduction of COVID into a fan’s experience. As the world opened back up and I began attending sporting events once more, I highly-valued organizations that simply and efficiently outlined what their safety protocols were. Rules in Wyoming were very different than those in Colorado and California, and knowing ahead of time whether I would need a mask and proof of my COVID vaccination was helpful. Each arena approached it very differently, and I found it to be easiest to just show my vaccination card and ID rather than download additional applications or documentation to get in. It was also useful to know how much additional time to allot for COVID-entry protocols so that I wouldn’t face missing any of the game. I preferred venues that made it part of their normal entry process instead of adding an additional line/queue to wait in or step to take.
Communicate with the fans early and often
In addition to COVID and safety protocols, rules such as bag policies, sign and banner policies, permitted items, etc. are critically important to know in advance. There is nothing worse than arriving and finding out you cannot be let in because of your bag and trying to scramble to find a solution. Having bag lockers, or item check nearby is helpful but it does feel like another part of the fan journey that now costs money. You either need to purchase a clear or properly-sized bag or pay a significant amount of money to check one. It also increases time spent in line waiting if you are required to use the bag drop. My clutch bag is perfectly acceptable in Denver at Ball Arena but was not acceptable at Allegiant Stadium. When reading the online guidelines, I thought my bag qualified as a small clutch, but was wrong which I discovered when trying to enter the stadium. I was lucky to get one of the last bag lockers and was relieved to get one despite the cost. At the end of the game, I could quickly access my bag and leave, but the queue waiting at the bag check seemed miles long and certainly would have been frustrating to wait in.
As a fan, I of course know that these are all parts of maintaining safety for fans, employees, and players and as a fan, I am always happy to play my part in complying to requests. Safety is an ever-lingering concern. All of us are astutely-aware about the possibility of what can happen in a large event and that possibility does linger in the back of a sports fan’s mind. There are inherent risks in large crowds, especially when drinking and high-emotion is such a distinct part of it. Obvious efforts from venues to maintain fan safety such as guest services information, metal detectors, security personnel, access to assistance when needed, goes a long way in allowing fans to truly enjoy the game without fear and I think there is a fair amount of leeway given when a fan is aware that an additional line, screening, or checkpoint is ultimately for their own good.
Keep it Simple
At the end of the day the most important word in accessing the venue is simplicity. The simpler and more convenient you can make it for a fan, the better. If you can eliminate one extra online account to create, or line to wait in, or barrier to jump, it will always reflect positively upon the venue and the team who plays there, while also ensuring that the visitor is more likely to come back.
Once successfully in the building, there are several components to the experience of the event that matter most to me as a fan.
Food and beverage options run the gamut from the places I have visited. And different venues have offered different options throughout the years. If a food and beverage area is incredibly crowded without appropriate room for the line and for passing traffic, I will very likely not purchase anything and try to make plans to eat before the game.
Cost is a big factor
It is no secret that in-venue food and beverage is rapidly becoming more expensive. A news story went viral when people discovered that a single beer at the PGA Championship costs $18. As a fan, it can feel that we are only valued for the amount of money we can bring in, which, of course, is key to the bottom line of any organization. But when you pay hundreds of dollars to even attend an event, it is not enjoyable to arrive and discover that you will be spending hundreds of dollars more for basic amenities. There are no alternative options for food and beverage for example when attending an all-day golf tournament, and fans cannot come and go since it is often not allowed at all by venues and because parking is too complicated and expensive. Since venues do not allow fans to bring in food and beverage of their own, I do believe it is important to make items such as water and snacks, especially when at an outdoor event in the summer, affordable enough and accessible enough for people to purchase. Feeling nickeled and dimed from start to finish and paying over $8 for things such as water at an event is not a fun experience, and it is one that seems to have become inevitable.
As prices seem to steadily climb higher for in-venue food and beverage, it also needs to be of such a quality that paying the surcharge is worth it. The food and beverage experiences I have enjoyed most, have been ones that are totally unique to the region. For example, the Rockies used to have food from a beloved local Mexican Restaurant on the rooftop, the San Francisco Giants offer Ghirardelli sundaes, and Fenway Park offers lobster rolls.
Whenever you can make food and beverage unique and make it part of the experience unto itself, it makes it more fun and intriguing to the fan. If you can add local beers, regional cocktails, city traditions to the menu, it adds incredible value.
keep it clean!
Another important factor is the facilities themselves, how nice and clean the restrooms are and how long the lines seem to be, how easy it is to navigate a space and find your seats, how comfortable the seats are, how much room there is between seats, how easy it is to walk in and out of rows. As a fan, there is some give and take for this, some venues, such as Fenway Park, are historic, so you expect an entirely different type of experience from the outset. But being comfortable to watch a two plus hour game is important-if the seats, the space, and the facilities are inconvenient, uncomfortable, and unenjoyable I could easily choose to sit and watch from my couch instead.
But, ultimately, you all know these things, and I am most likely simply reiterating their importance. It would take me hours upon hours to go into every detail of my experience as a fan. I could dive into social media, into advertising, into pre-game entertainment, into merchandise, into so many different considerations that I could easily stand up here talking for the full duration of an entire cricket match.
You all know it’s important to have integrated ticketing systems, quality food and beverage options, parking lot access, accessibility upgrades, clean facilities, COVID-prevention procedures, improved safety and security systems that prevent unthinkable situations in a world that seems to have more and more of them, advertising that appeals to a vast array of causes ranging from social to political, you know that fans want to see themselves reflected in the players, in the coaching staff, in the administrative levels of a team. You know that diversity is of critical importance to grow the game, to welcome everyone and anyone who wants to be there, and you know that genuine efforts to be inclusive are critical. You know that growth is key to the bottom line, to the success of franchises, you know that you have to offer convenience, comfort, and entertainment to fans from all walks of life, despite where they are seated, how they got there, or who they are. You know that ticket prices, bots, and secondary market sellers are keeping lifelong fans from the arena. You also know that there is growing demand and interest from new markets in a vast array of sports. You know all this, better than I do. You pour over data, you implement new systems, you hire new employees, you create new budgets, new campaigns, new approaches each and every day.
the experience matters
What I can tell you is that the biggest factor in getting me to watch sports in-person, is the environment. The music, the traditional cheers, the energy and the fervor. This is the thing that absolutely cannot be replaced at home. You can eat delicious food, drink cold beer, rest comfortably, see the game from the best vantage point, and easily access the restrooms from a house, but you cannot join in with 75,000 other people to stomp your feet and create Rocky Mountain Thunder when the Broncos defense is attempting to make a critical goal line stop at 4th down. You can’t join in with 54,000 other people to sing “Shout” as the Oregon Ducks prepare for the 4th and final quarter against a PAC-12 rival with a trip to the Rose Bowl on the line. You can’t sing “All The Small Things” with 20,000 fans in perfect unison as the Avs win a faceoff in the 3rd period to help protect their lead in the playoffs. From your couch, you can’t jump up as one and see the confetti falling as the Broncos win the game to make the Super Bowl, you can’t witness Coach K cut his final Elite Eight net from the basketball hoop just 40 yards away, you can’t loudly applaud in respect and admiration for your lifelong home team players as they take to the baseball field for one final wave after a devastating playoff loss.
Live sports are an escape. For a few hours, fans are removed from the confines of their stressful lives. When I’m at home, I’m likely to fire off an email while I watch the first quarter, or take a phone call with questions about work, or try to clean my messy house, catch up on yard work, address the bills, responsibilities, and worries that are always there. But in a stadium, I am immersed in the love of the game, swallowed by the pride and passion those around me have for the same team, players, and coaches that I do. This ardor is felt everywhere I’ve been for a sporting event. It fueled the polite claps coming from a lush green on a Sunday at the golf course, it powered the whistles, hoots, and hollers of fans and coaches trying to drive a swimmer onto an Olympic qualifying time, it rallied the opposing fans around me as they cheered on their team to beat my own.
That intangible, incomparable, energy is what drives me from my warm and dry home to a -20 degree outdoor football game, to two hour traffic jams as I try to get into Denver at 5:30 on a Tuesday night, to treacherously icy roads on a mountain summit as we drive back from watching the Wyoming Cowboys take on the Colorado State Rams in Laramie. It’s what drove my mom to work her tail off in physical therapy after a fight with bone cancer so that she could attend games in-person during the Broncos 98-99 Super Bowl season, after missing the year before. All of this, being there in person for the music, the cheering, the chanting, the fans, it is more than an environment or an experience. I honestly have no other words for these sporting experiences than magic. It is a spirit that fills your soul, ignites goosebumps in your skin, brings tears to your eyes, and pride to your chest.
Make it Magical!
As those in charge of these experiences, these teams, and these venues, the biggest piece of advice from a fan that I can give you is to be stewards of this magic. Make sure that those who pour their hearts and souls into a team are not excluded from seeing them in-person. Make sure that this magic remains attainable for the average person. Make sure that those to whom sports matter the very most are not driven away. Sports instill wonder and inspiration, they offer escape for those who need it more than anyone. This magic only exists for fans in the seats of their hometown sporting arena, it is real only for the couple of hours when they have finally made it to their seat and are entirely immersed in the incomparable experience of cheering a team onto victory. This magic is fleeting, powerful, and unique. It is riveting, captivating, and a wonder to behold. So, please make sure this all remains untouched by the realities of life, that these bastions of sporting magic remain enchanting for all of the everyday fans like me.