A Systems Approach to Improving the Spectator Experience at Collegiate Football Games; The Sociotechnical Nature of Fantasy Football: An Analysis of the Impact of the Users, Athletes and the National Football League

Sharff, Julia, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Riggs, Robert, EN-SIE, University of Virginia
Seabrook, Bryn, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

Both the technical project and research paper in this portfolio focus on the aspects surrounding football games outside of the action on the field. Through the technical project, the interworking’s of game day operations for UVA home football games was explored to better understand the stadium fan experience. The many ways that traffic, parking, in-game activities, concessions, and ability to find information regarding the entire process could impact the fan experience and their overall enjoyment of the games was observed over 5 different games, providing both quantitative and qualitative data for analysis and recommendations for improvement. The sociotechnical research focuses on another aspect of the fan experience outside of the stadium by addressing the fast-growing industry of fantasy football. The actor network of the fantasy football system is analyzed to uncover the different relationships between the users, athletes, and the NFL. Both of these projects dive into the important aspects surrounding the game of football, addressing two key ways that fans now watch and enjoy sports.
The team was brought onto the technical portion of the project to use a systems approach to improve the customer experience for UVA football game spectators. As ticket sales and attendance for University of Virginia (UVA) football games decline, the football program is seeking ways to brings these numbers back up and have a more successful season. Taking a three-pronged approach, the analysis focuses on traffic, in-game experience, and provided information regarding game day events and procedures. Ride-a-longs and interviews with the University Police Department (UPD) yield observational data to assess game day pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Surveys sent to UVA students, and researchers’ observations of game day and the UVA Athletics Department’s digital presence provide qualitative information regarding game experience. This data, analyzed using time series, heat maps, and ticket entry models, detail the main issues presented to spectators on game day. Lastly, a user experience design analysis of the website provided insight regarding the information available on the website, and the impact the design has on finding and understanding key rules and game-day policies. Results show that a lack of UPD staff, inexperienced officers, and a paucity of signage contribute to traffic backups, along with an outdated traffic plan misrepresenting the current state of the traffic system. Ticketing and survey show that most fans scan their ticket after games start, with many leaving before halftime. Additionally, long concession lines and outdated in game activities and entertainment, result in a less than ideal game day experience for fans. As a result of these findings, recommendations include increased signage during game days and an updated traffic plan to reflect the downsizing in the police department and current information on the system layout and posts, a restructured website providing the key information on parking and game-day policies in a way that is user friendly, and incentives and in-game activities to encourage students and fans to arrive early and stay throughout the entirety of the game.
The sociotechnical portion of the project focuses on another aspect of the football fan’s experience. The billion-dollar fantasy football industry is changing the way fans watch and engage with the sport. With more and more users creating leagues, a new dynamic is forming, one in which the fans have control over their own teams, players are being recognized for their high scoring talents, and viewership across the league is rising. In answering the question: How does the sociotechnical nature of fantasy football impact those involved, this paper explores these changes by addressing several major components; the users, the athletes, and the NFL. The positive and negative ways in which the three components are connected and interact with each other is shown through the application of actor network theory, a sociotechnical theory that explores the intricate relationships that come together to form a network. As with any new technology, it is necessary to determine the effect it has on society, in this case, the society of football. This research analyzes the strengths of fantasy football and how it is benefiting this network, but perhaps more importantly, it addresses the downside of the technology, highlighting areas for improvement. Focusing on the negative relationships found in fantasy football will help create a healthier and more respectful environment centered around the growth and enjoyment of the sport of football.
By working on these projects simultaneously, a clearer picture on what impacts the fan experience has been uncovered. A deeper understanding into how the sport of football is being viewed has been gained, discovering that it is not all about what happens on the field. A poor match can be enjoyed based on the quality of the atmosphere or through the appreciation of individual player performances. The work that goes into providing the optimal fan experience is greater than it has been in the past, with those focused on bringing fans into the stadium addressing the quality of their stadium atmosphere in hopes to provide a unique and enjoyable event, and those focused on outside entertainment through fantasy platforms tailoring televised games and media attention to those playing in fantasy leagues. Football fans and their priorities have changed, with the focus shifting from the game itself to the overall event and the ability to have a good time whether watching the game live and in person, or at home through clips and highlights of key players.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Actor Network Theory, Systems Design

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Systems Engineering
Technical Advisor: Robert Riggs
STS Advisor: Bryn Seabrook
Technical Team Members: Haley Austin, Abigail Freed, Alexandra Labus, Brendan Lynch, Joseph Mastrullo

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