A Systems Approach to Improving the Spectator Experience at Collegiate Football Games; The True Cost of the Over-Prescription Drug Epidemic in the National Football League

Mastrullo, Joseph, 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

A lack of fans and despondent environment represent the discouraging state of University of Virginia (UVA) home football games. Given the decline in fan involvement at Scott Stadium has mirrored UVA football’s lack of recent success, the school’s athletics department contacted the technical research team to understand the geneses of spectator disinterest and provide recommendations to ameliorate the customer experience. UVA Athletics hopes that resolving these fundamental concerns will enhance fan engagement and possibly parallel an improvement in the football program. While a plague of patron detachment touches UVA’s football team, a larger and more dangerous epidemic impacts players at the professional level. The sociotechnical research examines this crisis, the over-prescription of medications to National Football League (NFL) athletes, as it causes indelible health consequences for many players during and after their career. As an avid supporter of football, I chose to tackle over-prescription as failing to acknowledge and confront the sport’s clandestine scandal makes me willfully culpable in the deterioration of player health. In exploring this problem, I hope to advance the game, better athlete well-being, and give myself a cleaner conscience on Sundays. While the technical and research topics address dissimilar issues, they remain loosely connected through football as both represent recurrent and pervasive infestations that harm the sport.
As ticket sales for UVA home football games decrease and student disinterest rises, the university must find ways to engage fans with the football program. The technical evaluation used a systems methodology to improve the customer experience for Scott Stadium spectators. Taking a three-pronged approach, the analysis focused on traffic, in-game experience, and website design. A ride-along and interviews with the University Police Department (UPD), as well as ticketing statistics provided by UVA Athletics, yielded pedestrian and vehicular traffic data. Concessions figures supplied by Aramark, a student survey, and the team’s observations of game days presented information regarding in-game experience. Furthermore, an examination of the football website offered a look into the department’s digital presence. UPD interview data and empirical analysis of patron and vehicular traffic patterns indicated that a paucity of signage, GPS directions that route drivers to the same location, and an antiquated traffic plan contribute to pregame backups. Investigating ticketing statistics showed that tardy students and an inefficient distribution of stadium staff create sparsely attended kickoffs and entrance bottlenecks. Evaluations of concessions data demonstrated that UVA Athletics fails to make student-preferred food items available in multiple convenient locations. Survey responses revealed that most students leave before halftime, find the in-game entertainment dull, and attend games to fraternize with friends rather than watch football. Finally, an assessment of the game day website detailed that an outmoded design hinders fans from finding parking, concessions, and general information. Due to these results, traffic recommendations involve increased parking signage and an updated transportation plan. To improve the in-game experience, suggestions include prioritizing student-preferred food items, repositioning stadium staff to traffic-dense entrance gates, and revamping the in-game entertainment. Lastly, to restructure the website, the team proposes grouping similar information via panels and bullet points to reduce text, bolding critical details, and utilizing images to refine the platform’s aesthetics.
Hiding behind back-breaking blows and violent hits, the unseen and unaddressed over-prescription epidemic has pervaded the NFL and become a major factor in the decline of athlete health. With drugs like opioids and Toradol ravaging players, the Science, Technology, and Society (STS) research answers how the over-prescription of these medications to NFL athletes influences their mental and physical health during and after their career. Actor-Network Theory (ANT) and Network Analysis connect and dissect the associations between the league, its teams, their doctors, the players, and the drugs, examining the underlying relationships that started and fuel this persistent problem. The primary discovery of this investigation is a power imbalance between athletes and teams regarding player health driven by a history of NFL ignorance to medical malfeasance, teams’ gatekeeping doctor hires, and an athlete’s desire to fight for their career and teammates. Psychologists can utilize the research findings as understanding the mental effects of prescription drugs lays the groundwork for studying the science of addiction. Applying this analysis as background, sociologists can determine if the behavior of medications throughout the NFL ecosystem mimics other sports associations such as the National Hockey League (NHL). Finally, this exploration offers STS professionals a novel example of ANT in an untouched field.
Though each project discusses a different issue surrounding the sport of football, working on them simultaneously enhances my comprehension of both subjects and strengthens my analyses. The technical project, which heavily emphasizes systems engineering, heightens my scrutinization of the over-prescription epidemic. Particularly with the use of ANT, applying the systems methodology of continually searching for the root cause of a problem aids me in anatomizing the network to better understand the core issues that lead to the overarching crisis. Conversely, the sociotechnical research displays the importance of remaining cognizant to the interplay between society and engineering. This awareness helps the Capstone team acknowledge Charlottesville residents when formulating recommendations to advance the UVA football experience for spectators. With societal undertones informing technical work, the team ensures that improvements work for both groups. Overall, performing these projects together taught me the value of considering multiple perspectives on and of a problem as this multifaceted approach allows for deeper conversations and stronger solutions.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Actor-Network Theory, Over-prescription, Football, Opioid impacts

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, Julia Sharff

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