UGASports.com’s Q&A with Josh Brooks (Part 1)
Since returning for a second stint at UGA in 2016, Josh Brooks, the Deputy Athletic Director for Operations, has led the Athletic Department’s planning for facility expansion and construction, while directly overseeing the game-day operations for football.
Brooks recently sat down with UGASports.com for a two-part Q&A to discuss a number of issues, including the improvement of the fans’ experience at Sanford Stadium.
UGASports: In general, attendance for sporting events is decreasing because people can now easily watch sports on television from the comfort of their home, while sitting on their couches with easy access to parking, food, a bathroom, etc. With that in mind, what challenge(s) do you encounter in trying to make Sanford Stadium the best possible experience for patrons?
Brooks: "Not making an excuse, but the reality of it is we're operating out of a stadium that broke ground in 1927, was first played in, in 1929, and is located in the heart of a college campus. As the stadium has been added onto over the years, logistical challenges have mounted up. For example, making all the concourses wider and adding more restrooms would fix a lot of problems; however, because of logistical constraints, we simply cannot do that. Still, we try in every way to make that experience at Sanford Stadium the best it can be—and it starts with how we treat the people in attendance."
UGASports: Because of those built in size constraints, and if it could be done all over again, would you recommend building a bigger stadium somewhere that's not in the heart of campus? Granted this is complete hypothetical.
Brooks: "What makes Sanford Stadium great is what makes it difficult. It's old, it’s historic, like Wrigley Field and Fenway Park. You love that magic and the memories associated with that facility. You also would love to make the concourses three times as wide and add more restrooms—but you have limited space on each side. So, what we've got to do is find little ways to get better with the stadium we have."
UGASports: As mentioned, attendance at sporting events is declining. Has this affected Georgia yet, and what are you going to do to combat this issue if it arises?
Brooks: "We've been blessed that Kirby Smart is our head football coach, and with the success his staff has brought to the program—but that does not make us immune to these issues. Why should a fan prefer to sit in Sanford Stadium instead of at home? Because you can't replicate the feeling of a high-five in the stadium after a touchdown. That feeling you get—that communal feeling. It's the same reason. Why go see a band live when you can get Spotify and listen to it as much as you want on repeat and at home?"
UGASports: There are people who say the stadium experience should—to some degree—replicate the home experience.
Brooks: "I think we need to primarily focus on what makes the stadium experience different than the home experience. Why try to match the home experience? You'll never match a huge 70-inch TV in their face with replays, an announcer they can hear, and a fridge full of food. What makes the stadium experience better and different are the communal things. That's why the band, the music, the cheers, and all, are important. These are things fans don’t have access to or can't get at home—only at the stadium. You'll never replicate Sanford Stadium."
UGASports: You mentioned the music played at the stadium. What is the deal with the music? There will always be people who complain about the music, but there seems to be a lot of complaints about the music played at Sanford Stadium.
Brooks: "With certain things, you’re not going to please everyone all the time—and music is one of those things. So, you try to find a balance for throughout the game. We manage the music by trying to give a little something to everybody. For example, there are certain parts of the pregame where you want the music to be a little heavier, especially when the players are warming up and the seats are not as full. That's a great time to play some of the music the players prefer—stuff that's going to get them fired up. When the players leave the field, that's a chance for us to play music which is a little bit more mainstream. And then, once the game starts, you're trying to find your spots, you're trying to get a balance—but you also want music with high energy at the right moments."
UGASports: We occasionally hear fans say they are inundated with advertisements while at Sanford Stadium. Are you trying to sell even more sponsorships—or have you leveled off?
Brooks: "We've got an inventory that's standard and a process for it to be filled, but, no, we're not looking to increase sponsorship. Here too we have to find a balance, because if there’s too much advertising, fans will feel overwhelmed. That’s why it was very important for us to redesign the main scoreboard and not clutter it. I’m very happy with how it came out. The old layout was boxed in with lots of ads and graphics, but now it's a clean shot with a small overlay at the bottom within just two sponsor panels. The new design is much cleaner, and, when an ad is displayed, I think it catches the eye a lot more than before, because the old design was so busy."
UGASports: What’s another example of UGA making the Sanford Stadium experience better?
Brooks: "There's been a focus on more 'Grab-n-Go' concession stands (assembly line-like concessions which relieve congestion at nearby main stands) because we found they move a lot faster. Sometimes change is not as fast as we want it, but we’re always aimed at changing, always trying to find that edge or that extra inch. We also added the HappyOrNot devices (terminals where fans can provide instant feedback on concessions and restrooms) this year at the 100 level as a way to measure our success at concessions and restrooms. This gives us accountability at every concession stand and restroom—and we know how their scores compare to one another. Also, when the custodians or concession workers know that there's a grading scale or device measuring their success, they tend to step it up a notch."
UGASports: In the last couple of years, what’ are a few examples of how Sanford Stadium improved for a good portion of people in attendance—improvements experienced by fans in multiple levels of the stadium?
Brooks: "One of the main complaints we had two years ago, people could not understand what Brook (PA announcer Brook Whitmire) was saying because the speakers weren't good in certain areas. The sound people made massive improvements there, and our scores and satisfaction greatly increased in terms of audible intelligibility—being able to understand Brook. The stadium’s D.J. has worked out great. Sir Foster has provided a better mix of music and a better feel of the game. Whichever metrics that can be used to judge the music, whether it be the reaction on social media, emails, our survey systems, etc., the music satisfaction and score also greatly increased this year. And I don’t want to forget the Silver Dawgs, the stadium’s hospitality group. We can sometimes underestimate the power of just being a part of this organization.The Silver Dawgs love and care about Georgia. A lot of them are retirees, who have something fun to do on a game day. It's people you can tell truly, genuinely love Georgia and want to be a part of it. There have been some great stories about what the Silver Dawgs have done on a game day. And, it all begins with, at a minimum, just a smile and a welcome to Sanford Stadium."
UGASports: What about a hidden example of improvement—one which might not be as evident to the average fan?
Brooks: "Over the last 10 years, millions upon millions of dollars have been spent on the stadium—and, sometimes, they’re the 'non-sexy' expenses. For example, we have to waterproof the stadium on occasion, so we don’t cause concrete spalling (flaking). Like a 90-year-old home, a 90-year-old stadium has a lot of maintenance issues. We embrace this challenge, but there’s a lot of money that’s invested to continue to update the stadium. Like the restrooms—and I know people will often take shots at the stadium’s restrooms—each one has been renovated. They’re not necessarily fancy, but they have new floor coating, partitions, lighting, vents, the majority of them have touchless sinks, touchless paper towels, a hand sanitizer. We also have a custodian assigned to every single restroom in Sanford Stadium and their job is to keep it up and keep it clean. We judge these people. There is accountability there, and that's important to us."
UGASports: How do you accommodate the desires of the public versus the needs of UGA and your core philosophy?
Brooks: "First off, I care. The success of Georgia is important to me as a university and as an athletic department—it’s all important to me. Along with caring, I look beyond just what is a direct return on investment. To me, I want every single person in, for example, Sanford Stadium to have the best experience possible. And I’m always trying to find ways to get better, so they can experience as much."