When students and fans finally make their way into the stadium, they are greeted by the loud music and bright lights from the jumbotron.
Paris Buchanan, the Assistant Athletic Director for Marketing and Fan Experience, deals with everything that the fan can physically see. Video board promotions, bobbleheads, game day presentations, fireworks, DJ and flyover are some of the special effects the fan experience manages. Buchanan said that the special effects fans see at the game are planned right after the previous football season.
“We’ll start talking about 2022 football coming up here in about a month, which is kind of crazy, because you have to be that far ahead to kind of plan it out,” said Buchanan.
There are many strategies that the fan experience department uses for each football season.
“So at the end of the year, we take a look at what kind of the past year we look at, okay, who’s coming back on our team? What kind of strategy do we want to pursue? Are we going to have a pass heavy offense? Are we going to have a player that, you know, runs the ball really well? What’s our coaching situation look like? How does their philosophy, you know, fit into our marketing strategy?” Buchanan said.
When the fan experience department planned for this year’s football season “Party in the Sip” was a targeted marketing tagline. The phrase is meant to highlight the feeling of being in a club. Buchanan said that by putting a DJ in the middle of the student section it creates an energetic atmosphere. Big personalities are another thing the fan experience department hones in on.
“When Lane Kiffin was hired, we immediately (were) like ‘okay, we need to get to work fast because this guy is such a marketable person.’ He has a personality and a persona that’s unlike any coach in college football,” Buchanan said.
As the football season approaches, the hard work that was put in months prior can finally be physically seen. Buchanan recalled his time at the LSU game. He arrived at the office at 9 a.m. His first order of business starts with making sure the game day scripts are ready and printing them off. He then arrived at the stadium at 11:30 a.m. There he did a walkthrough to make sure everything in the stadium was ready to go and no technical issues would happen. Two hours before kick off the video boards and music are turned on. After the game Buchanan and the rest of his team do a debriefing to discuss what happened during the game and what needs to be fixed by the next game.
The first football game of 2021 had a hitch that Buchanan said the audience did not notice.
“The clock stopped for about a couple of minutes. And for us in marketing. That’s like a death sentence. You don’t want any type of stoppage because it completely ruins your entire game script and timing,” Buchanan said.
There was a flyover for that game and three helicopters.
“We had to figure it out. What was crazy was that the military officer in our press box was having to sing the national anthem to the pilots in the helicopter over his walkie talkie to make sure they flew over just the right time,” Buchanan said. “So people don’t see that because they’re in the stands, they just see the flyover and it happens and everybody said it was great. But for us back behind the scenes, it was kind of a headache, but they pulled it off.”
Different organizations also participate in the stadium experience. Buchanan said that he works closely with Don Trott, a professor of music and Director of Choral Activities, to coordinate the national anthem.
“We like to go through them because they can help us identify not only, you know, talent, but also local groups who are really, really good,” Buchanan said.
The fan experience department also works closely with the ROTC program.
“We have a group or we call them our military group that we meet with weekly, biweekly sometimes, but they’re fantastic,” Buchanan said.
In order to get the planes for flyovers, the fan experience department goes to the Air Force website to request planes for home game days in the spring. Following that request, different Air Force bases will volunteer for the specific dates.
Buchanan believes that special effects such as the national anthem and the flyovers boost fans’ morale. Fireworks also increase the morale of fans. After last football season, the fan experience department decided to spruce up the firework display. Buchanan said a lot of NFL teams use fireworks, so they partnered with a group out of Tennessee and came up with a plan for a firework show this football season.
“We got a really dynamic offense with coach Kiffin and Matt Corral. We want to shoot them off after every touchdown,” Buchanan said.
In addition to fireworks after every touchdown, the fan experience department also created a dramatic entrance for the team. In order to make all the displays run smoothly, planning starts after football season and plans get ironed out in the spring and summer.