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IOWA CITY, Ia. – The University of Iowa is hopeful that lots of small-scale changes will add up to a bigger, better experience for fans attending Hawkeye football games this season.
Rick Klatt, associate athletic director for external affairs who oversees the UI's sports marketing, said he hopes the improvements "when paired up with a Hawkeye victory on Saturday (will result in) families driving home saying, 'Hey. I really did get my bang for my buck today. I'm going to come back.'"
Even assistant coach Brian Ferentz said in late 2013 that Kinnick Stadium's game-day experience was "lacking" at times, and in the wake of a 7-6 season it seems the school is acting on the message and has gotten more aggressive in trying to improve things.
Iowa is likely to have its smallest home crowd in 12 years for Saturday's 11 a.m. season opener against Illinois State, with 57,600 tickets sold (13,000 short of capacity) as of Tuesday. But for those who do attend Saturday, here are some of the differences you might notice:
The Hawkeyes start the season at home against surprising Illinois State.
Better cellphone service: Really, it's possible. The UI has taken baby steps to improve wireless connectivity for those in and around Kinnick Stadium who generally have had trouble making a phone call, let alone getting online.
Verizon users have the best chance at improved service. After the UI reached out to major cellphone providers, Verizon was the only carrier to step up. It installed a 40-foot tower near the baseball field.
Fans seated in the west grandstands also could see slightly improved service, with the UI creating technology to "offload" the approximately 2,000 folks in the press box and suite areas onto dedicated wireless internet. The goal is that fewer cell users at Kinnick will need cellular data to get online.
Klatt said the recently approved $45 million to improve the north end zone could be a vehicle for a large-scale stadium Wi-Fi upgrade. Nebraska, as an example, completed in 2014 a $6 million to provide Wi-Fi for fans at Memorial Stadium.
"That's a piece of the puzzle that we've asked the architects and … experts that will be working on that project to also be considering," Klatt said, adding: "What we're trying to do is also explore every reasonable option that we can in the interim. So, I think our IT staff has done a really good job working through that."
C.J. Beathard will make his first career Kinnick start on Saturday
Extended tailgating hours: This was announced in April, but it's worth reminding fans that the UI has added an hour to its postgame alcohol restrictions for daytime kickoffs. Fans will be permitted to consume alcohol for three hours following the completion of 11 a.m. games and for two hours following 2:30 p.m. games.
Total postgame tailgating time permitted for Iowa's opener in university-owned parking lots and ramps is four hours.
Live music: The UI is bringing live music to the Krause Family Plaza for each of the seven home games, starting about two hours before kickoff. There will be a different style of music each week. Saturday, it'll be roots rock courtesy of David Zollo & The Body Electric.
Also Saturday in the Krause plaza, look for a special pregame photo opportunity that Klatt hoped would be an "Instagram-able moment" for fans.
Flat screens on the concourse: Bigger, more vibrant HDTVs were installed last week throughout Kinnick's concourses. They'll, naturally, be showing the live feed of Iowa's game.
"It's a small thing, but it's an important thing," Klatt said. "We want to be able to provide the fans an opportunity to stay connected to the game while they're purchasing their concessions or running to the restrooms."
Better handling of A/V technology: This will be the third year that Iowa's new video board has towered over the South end zone. The reviews for the first two years have been mostly unfavorable, but athletic director Gary Barta said in April that he expected improvements in how audio and video come across to fans this fall. Those who attended baseball games at Duane Banks Field this spring saw a fun mix of music and in-game entertainment, an experience that's been lacking at Kinnick.
"The first year we put in the video board — it was great technology. I'd give us a C in how we managed it Year 1," Barta said. "Year 2, we made a lot of changes, and I would give us a B (or) B-plus. We're going to continue to try to utilize the sound system and new video board and get better at that."
And (this week, at least) more water stations: The UI on Thursday announced it would be taking several measures to address Saturday's scorching forecast — with a high of 93 degrees expected.
Fans can bring more than one (sealed) plastic bottle of water into the stadium, and the price for water purchased inside the stadium was reduced to $2. Additional paramedics will be available, and there will be four cooling stations (with water mist, shades and cold towels) at each corner of Kinnick.
The university encouraged fans to begin hydrating ahead of Saturday, tailgate responsibly and consume sports drinks and bananas to replace lost nutrients and fluids.