Husker fans celebrate their teams from outside the stands | Magazine
Fans are the lifeline of any team.
They support the team through good times and bad. Some pass on this support from generation to generation through their families. In most cases, the easiest way to start a new fan is to get someone to a game so they can experience the thrill of being surrounded by thousands of people clapping for a common result.
One of the pride of the Nebraska football fandom is the oft-cited fact that Memorial Stadium is the equivalent size of the state’s third largest city on game day. Even with single-digit winning seasons , Nebraska men’s basketball has regularly sold games at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
The Bob Devaney Sports Center is normally packed with 8,000 fans to see whatever the Husker volleyball team is. In 2018, that’s where Maddie Luebe learned how serious Nebraska fans are about the sport during her freshman year.
“The first time I went to a volleyball game was against Florida and I didn’t know when I was supposed to be there, so I got there 45 minutes early and all the seats in the student section were busy, so I had to stand. the standing room, ”Luebe said. “I was determined to never be late again.”
Now Luebe is a Junior and Volleyball Director for The Iron N, a student organization that hosts student sections, chants and themes for Husker sporting events. The group was responsible for managing the student sections that Luebe saw during the game in Florida.
Luebe said she didn’t do much as a director of a fan section in 2021. She also didn’t attend the games.
“I always put on my Husker match gear like I would any other day,” Luebe said. “My friend Abby and I… we watch every game together, and we do the vocals together like we would at the game.”
With empty games and The Iron N not hosting events, the group have turned to social media as another avenue to stay engaged.
“We had to take a different approach and we had to sit down and think about what we could do to continue to get some fan engagement,” said Iron N internal vice president Mitch Kuhlman. “We really went to great lengths to step up our social media game… and we really gave them the task of being creative.”
With COVID-19 restrictions in place, The Iron N focused on building a social media presence. As Kuhlman described it, Iron N’s social presence prior to last year was inconsistent.
A new strategy within The Iron N was to regularly update fans on game times. This call kept the organization involved in the Nebraska sports it supported.
Social media reigned supreme in the fan experience in 2020 as it was a way to create and maintain constant fan engagement. Within Memorial Stadium there was also a more social media centric approach through the use of HuskerVision.
The 2020 red-white spring game was one of Nebraska’s notable sporting events canceled last year. Instead of not working during the absence of the scrum, the Nebraska media team held an NCAA Football 14 video game stream between teams of virtual Husker football legends on April 18, 2020.
Another part of the show featured two critical Husker Sports Network broadcasters, Greg Sharpe and Matt Davison.
“We couldn’t have done it without Greg Sharpe and Matt Davison because they put on this show,” said HuskerVision assistant sporting director Kirk Hartman. “It had nothing to do with what the spring game normally is, but it was really something for the fans.”
The age of the game hasn’t turned anyone off and HuskerVision has found something to work with.
“It started our virtual broadcast and from there we really started rolling with, ‘How do we get our student athletes … to our fans,’” Hartman said.
Hartman has been with HuskerVision since 1994 and one of his responsibilities is to improve the experience of gameday fans. Hartman’s game days are 14 hours long, coming to Memorial Stadium five to six hours before a game and not leaving until six hours after the game.
Hartman’s responsibilities included overseeing all aspects of video in a Husker football game and making sure everything went smoothly before a game started. Afterwards, Hartman helped coordinate the teardown of equipment used during the game and the creation of the coaches show for Sunday.
The routine remained the same, even in 2020, where he underwent daily COVID-19 tests before entering work as he had direct contact with a player or coach on a daily basis. Unlike previous seasons, Hartman and the rest of HuskerVision have continued on the streaming route to keep fans as engaged as they can get.
Before the match there were two HuskerVision crews instead of one. A crew helped with typical big screen action, like getting reruns. After the game, press conferences are broadcast live on social media platforms like Twitter.
The other team worked on Countdown Live, a Husker pre-game football show that launched in 2019. Upgrades for the 2020 football season included hosting the show in a studio and upgrading the show. the quality of production.
However, attempts to keep fans engaged on social media have not worked well for all accounts associated with Nebraska. Some events have unfolded in bad taste due to the pandemic.
In October, the Pinnacle Bank Arena watch party for Nebraska’s season opener against Ohio State was called off the day after it was announced. All the posts drew strong reactions on social media.
“I’m struggling to feel so personally involved with our teams this year,” said Kuhlman. “I’ve been going to basketball and volleyball games for years, but when you’re stuck watching it on TV it doesn’t feel as personal as when you’re in the arena … it’s almost over. hard to be so excited on a matchday day. “
The sea of hatches and televisions that dominate the stadium parking lot is a staple of Memorial Stadium’s gaming scene. Whether a game starts at 11 a.m. or 7 p.m., the parking lot is always crowded hours in advance.
In 2019, a former official football player hatchback was launched by former Husker offensive linemen Mike “Red” Beran and Pat Fischer, with help from the school. The university helped choose a place where former players can meet before games and continue the tailgate tradition.
It was the first alumni hatchback sponsored by the school for former football players.
“I saw a lot of former players who probably haven’t seen each other for a number of years, and they were seeing each other and just hugging each other,” said former Husker walker Joe Mixan.
Mixan runs the former Husker player hatchback Facebook page and is also a photographer, allowing him to take emotional photos of former players seeing each other for the first time in years or of players from different eras meeting each other. This content makes up the majority of the Facebook page.
Attending every hatchback in 2019, Mixan said about 30 minutes before the start of each game, he would enter Memorial Stadium to shoot the next game. A chance to remember with former teammates disappeared in 2020; instead of seeing thousands of fans, the drive to Memorial felt like a typical work commute.
“This last season has been very different,” Mixan said. “There was no one around, you just pulled up, and I and a group of photographers were going down together and entering the stadium.”
Mixan has spent over 30 years as a photographer, devoting time to Nebraska Athletics before embarking on other opportunities. At the moment, he works for the sports site The Athletic as a photographer.
For any Nebraska fan, the end areas of Memorial Stadium always had an army of lenses behind them. In 2020, another Memorial Stadium fixture had to leave because photographers couldn’t be on the pitch.
The restriction took Mixan and his camera on an adventure around the stadium for every home game. All of Mixan’s shots were from the stands, which allowed him to be unexpectedly interactive with the few people present.
“This is the first time for me in 35 years that I have not been allowed to shoot on the field,” said Mixan. “Making my way around the stadium was definitely a more relaxed atmosphere, and I found myself talking to some of the players’ parents during the game. This would never happen if I was in the field.
Despite Mixan’s interactions with families, players, and whoever was there, the interior of Memorial Stadium and other arenas all had the same sense of emptiness almost everywhere over the past year or so.
“The atmosphere wasn’t there, the group wasn’t in the stadium, the cheerleaders weren’t on the sidelines,” Hartman said. “It was a whole different look if you were in the stadium. It was a little sterile, but we tried to imitate as much as we could to create an environment, to improve the atmosphere. But without the fans, it wasn’t there.
The atmosphere at Memorial Stadium, like at athletics venues across the country over the past year, was nonexistent. Luebe noted the strangeness of trying to rally a team from his couch, when athletes didn’t feel the roar of the crowd when they needed it most.
“It’s hard to see these teams and not be able to interact with these players,” Luebe said. “It’s so hard to see these teams playing in silence.”
The past year has created challenges for fans and those working in the stadiums. Ultimately, the inevitable conclusion remains that sport without fans is different – and worse.
“I guess what we’ve learned is that we really want our fans to come back,” Hartman said.