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Business students strive to improve stadium atmosphere

Anna Boarini | Friday, October 28, 2011

This season, Notre Dame fans have sought a few “-ation’s” in their gameday experience, specifically intimidation, motivation and elation.

Notre Dame business students Kristen Stoutenburgh and Matthew Cunningham believe they have the solutions to achieve these states at every home game: music and a jumbotron.

After this year’s loss to Michigan, Cunningham and Stoutenburgh created a research project aimed at making the game day atmosphere in Notre Dame Stadium more exciting, energetic and intimidating.

“If you look at all the successful college football programs of the last ten years or so, they all have intimidating home field advantage,” Cunningham said. “We think Notre Dame has the potential, with all it’s tradition, to have as good an atmosphere as anybody.”

Cunningham said the project researches how Notre Dame can achieve a more intimidating home field advantage.

Home field advantage, Stoutenburgh said, is the key to being more than just a tough game on paper.

“When opponents come in and see our name on the schedule, they are like, ‘Oh [man], we’re playing Notre Dame,” she said. “But once they get [here] it is different … It is not as intimidating as other places.”

To begin their project, Cunningham and Stoutenburgh surveyed University students.  The survey asked students questions such as, “How would you compare another school’s game atmosphere to Notre Dame’s?” and “Do you feel Notre Dame Stadium is an intimidating place for opponents to play?”

They compiled the results of over 950 surveys, formulated ideas and presented them to the Athletics Department.

“We … talked to [members of the Athletic department] and they said ‘we are supporting you and want to work with your project,'” Stoutenburgh said.

The students worked with Josh Berlo, senior assistant athletic director for event marketing and events management.

“Kristen and Matt approached the Athletic Department and met with myself, as well and other athletic administrators, to ensure that we were receptive to their conducting the project and would welcome their presentation of its results,” he said. “The department is always open and receptive to student feedback and appreciates their efforts.”

In order to develop their idea further, Cunningham and Stoutenburgh conducted a focus group of ten people.

“We had two people from the band, one with a traditionalist, don’t change anything view, and some other students,” Stoutenburgh said. “We basically asked questions that were similar to the survey, but engaged more in conversation.”

The students said an interesting observation followed from the focus group.  More tradition-focused individuals were receptive to music being played and a jumbotron being installed.

Despite the music idea’s popularity, Cunningham and Stoutenburgh said they do not want the music to distract from the Band of the Fighting Irish.

“We don’t want to take away from the band at all. We love our band,” Cunningham said. “That’s why we involved the band in the focus group because there are parts where the band can’t play at all.”

Stoutenburgh said the additions of a video board and music would make game day traditions a bigger part of the game day experience.

“When the players run out of the tunnel and hit the ‘Play Like a Champion Today Sign,’ let’s see that,” she said. “[We are about] enhancing tradition … not taking away from it, but [bringing] it to the forefront.”

To continue their research on game day cultures, Cunningham and Stoutenburgh hope to visit various universities known for their intimidating game day atmospheres and talk to their marketing departments.  

“We want to ask them, how do you use a video board, how do you keep your fans engaged in the game?” Cunningham said.

 “As soon as kickoff happens [in Notre Dame Stadium], the energy that is generated the whole day by being on campus … just goes downhill from there,” Stoutenburgh said. “So we want to sustain and build on that.”

For the rest of the season, however, Cunningham and Stoutenburgh will suggest new music and other fan-engaging techniques in conjunction with the Athletic Department.

Both said they are open to positive and negative student feedback.

“We love talking to people about [our research],” Stoutenburgh said. “Even if people aren’t on our side, we want to hear it.”