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Thoughts on the McLane Stadium Experience and Gold Out

One fan’s thoughts on some of the most commented-on issues from McLane Stadium yesterday, as well as the Gold Out and how it could be successful.

NCAA Football: Iowa State at Baylor
Gold Out!
Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday was my first time back inside McLane Stadium in nearly two years; since Baylor took down Texas in November 2019. It was a joyful experience for me, reuniting with old friends, hugging necks, and screaming my head off watching the Baylor Bears take down Iowa State. My experience, both inside and out of the stadium, were largely fantastic. I brought my three girls with me (ages 9, 7, and 5), and they had a great time both tailgating (seeing their Pine Cove counselors) and in the game itself. The whole day was a rousing success from my perspective. In the hours since the game I’ve seen a number of complaints, some of which I observed firsthand, that I thought I would address.

The Stadium Experience

There have been some criticisms of the turnout for the game that I’ve seen floating around social media. I will say that the turnout was solid and not out of the realm of the expected for a mid-afternoon late-September matchup. There was a lot made of the empty stands on the eastern side, as there always is for an afternoon game where the temperature approaches anything resembling warmth. But it doesn’t really matter that the temperature was in the upper 80s for the game yesterday… if your seats are in the sun at McLane Stadium, they’re scorching. There isn’t any way around that. At one point, I snapped a picture of the home side to respond to someone asking how the crowd looked on that side:

In the upper right of the picture you can see that the significant empty seats begin in the sun. This was true across the stadium: if the seats were in the shade, there were people in them. In the past, it annoyed me that the stands look empty on the east side of the stadium, but have gotten pushback regarding the heat. Those fans haven’t left, they’re just in the concourse, watching from the shade, I was told. That is true, and a fair point. It’s hard for me to criticize people for moving to shaded areas from the comfort of my seats that were in the shade from about the 8-minute mark of the First Quarter. That said, it doesn’t make for a great look on television, but I don’t have a solution. If people aren’t actually leaving the stadium but are instead just watching from the concourse, I suppose there’s not much to argue with there.

Others had issues with the distribution of the Baylor Line, which is a fair criticism. There were significant numbers of empty stands on either end of the Baylor Line. That’s somewhat surprising, given the fact that the 2021 Freshman Class is the largest in Baylor History, so much so that they aren’t allowing the entire class to run the line this year (at least so far, more on that in a moment). Additionally, in the past it seemed like the Baylor Line first filled in their section, then attendants would allow other students into that section to fill up those seats (this is my recollection, feel free to check me on this). That did not happen, and the result was the disappointing look of prime seats being empty on either end of the Baylor Line, despite what appeared to be a pretty packed-out student section.

This comes with a caveat, though: the record-breaking size of this Freshman Class has presented new logistical issues for game and event organizers with variables that it would be difficult to anticipate. Tracing demand from week-to-week would be difficult, I imagine, especially with external events like Family Weekend creating external pressures on students’ time. This is a sports fan blog, and so of course our reaction is obviously that students should be packing out McLane no matter what, but that’s not always a student’s first priority, and something that organizers have to deal with.

Related to the freshman class is the concern over the empty berm. But Jovan Overshown, Senior Associate Athletic Director for External Affairs chimed in about some of the logistical issues that have resulted from the massive freshman class:

I hope that those logistical issues get sorted out, both for berm seat availability and the seating of the freshmen and student body as a whole. It’s simply not a good look to have swaths of empty seats in prime areas that get lots of television exposure like those in the Baylor LIne section.

I want to say this, too: The people working these problems are good, hardworking people that love our university as much as we do. I have faith that they will get these challenging issues sorted out.

Others were not fans of the “in-stadium experience,” which typically translates to the music played and its contribution to the overall atmosphere. Having developed a relationship with the two people previously responsible for in-stadium music (there’s a new one this year), I have deep sympathy for these people. That’s an incredibly difficult job, as they have to balance between pre-programmed, sponsored events and whatnot, music choices, and keeping the fans in the stadium hyped up. It’s a (mostly) thankless job, one that will likely leave a large contingent of our fanbase unhappy regardless of which direction they choose to go with the music. With that in mind, I thought that the music selection was fine for the most part and had no overall complaints, aside from a couple of technical issues.

Lastly, the departure experience was fairly nightmarish. I was delayed in leaving the stadium (three girls under age ten take their time going to the restroom, getting down stairs, and across parking lots), so I thought it might be easier to get out of the stadium. I was wrong. The backup in my parking area was... significant. Best I could tell, there were only two exits open for multiple stadium-side parking lots, though I could be wrong about that. At any rate, cars were stacked down the rows waiting to get out. I skirted most of the backup by driving the lane that runs along the tailgate area, but most weren’t so lucky. It’s something that should probably be worked out. I don’t know what the traffic was like on the other side of the Brazos. They’ve made adjustments in previous seasons that worked out flow problems, so I hope they have traffic issues handled for West Virginia in two weeks.

The Gold Out

Well, an attempt was made.

You can see from the picture above that maybe 25% of the fans are in gold shirts, if we’re being extremely generous. That’s not entirely surprising to me, especially given the grumpy tweets and message board posts about a “Gold Out” being announced a couple of weeks ago.

Color-out games are hard to pull off. White-outs and black-outs are much easier, but even those can result in mixed results. Prior to the 2013 BlackOUt game, the only blackout that I’d been to was a 2008 Dallas Stars playoff game, and it honestly wasn’t that impressive. If I recall correctly, I expressed my concern on the podcast at that time, only to find it completely unfounded. But I digress. A whiteout or blackout is immediately easier because everyone has shirts of those colors. But make it an actual color, and you are presented with multiple problems from the jump… and a Gold Out may be among the most difficult to pull off.

First off, very few people have gold shirts of any hue. It’s just not a very popular color. I lucked out and had a gold polo that I bought 8 years ago and haven’t worn in probably 5 that BARELY fit me thanks to the COVID-19. I brought my three daughters with me; we got lucky—one of them had a gold shirt with the new bear on it, one we found a hand-me-down shirt that now fits her, and my third daughter had a yellow shirt that was technically yellow but bore no resemblance to the “Championship Gold” that is Baylor’s official color. I know that others weren’t as lucky, as there was a dearth of gold shirts available for sale, whether for kids or adults.

This is the second problem: gold shirt availability. There just weren’t that many available to people who were actually interested in following the trend. In the week leading up to the game, there were reports of a lack of gold shirts at any of the physical retail locations around Waco. I personally checked the Baylor Bookstore website for shirts, and while there were plenty of gold options, most were marked as “Online Only” options and were fairly expensive for a “wear-once” situation. I probably could have ordered one of those online options, but I’d have to have gotten it shipped express, which would have added more money to an already expensive affair.

Finally, there are those fans that simply refuse to comply with the mandate for a Gold Out. Maybe they’re superstitious, curmudgeons, or just extremely habitual people. I don’t know. But there are those that simply won’t participate… and I’m not sure what you do about that if you want to achieve a Gold Out, but I have some thoughts on maximizing success chances.

How Do We Fix It?

So how do we succeed here, if we want a Gold out to become a thing? Short of putting individual shirts on all 45,140 seats in the stadium, there are a few things that I can think of that I’ll discuss. Before we do that, we have to decide what the goal is. If Baylor is content with the current participation and buy-in level on the Gold Out, then I suppose that’s fine. But if they want to turn it into A Thing, it’s going to take more than the current effort to make it happen. In my opinion, here are things that would help.

First off: market the heck out of it. Start before the season. Mark the tickets with it. They tried this a few years ago, but they did it for every game, and that was overkill. Make it one game. Make some ads for it. Put it on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, MySpace, everywhere.

The second requires capital commitment. Drastically increase the availability of gold shirts for this game, both in the lead-up and immediately before the game. For years we had the Gold Rush t-shirts that could be had for $5-10. Do that again. They don’t have to be the coolest shirts in the world, but nice enough that they’re appealing, and cheap enough that someone would say, “Okay, for $10, I’ll buy in. Give me a gold shirt, let’s do this.” Shoot, take a page (or MANY) from the Penn State Whiteout Playbook (more on that in a second) and have students design and pick the shirt. And make it widely available in the weeks leading up to the game.

Then sell them everywhere on Game Day. Set up card tables in every tailgating area. Sell them near every entrance. Make sure every single fan has to pass at least two Gold Out stations before they even get inside the gates. Man these tables with barkers who are unafraid to get loud in advertising the Gold Out shirts and will not be ashamed to question the fandom and insult the mothers of anyone not wearing gold and refusing to buy the cheap shirt. Okay, that last part was a joke, we don’t want to insult people’s fandoms or their mothers. You get my point. Make sure people have easy access to Gold Out shirts and ample opportunity to partake, even if they did not come to the game prepared.

Thirdly, growl towels on the seats. If t-shirts on every seat are too expensive, towels would be less so. Having 45,000 fans waving gold towels could help compensate for not every fan being clad in the exact same color of gold/yellow/whatever your preferred nomenclature for Baylor’s secondary color is. Don’t just give them away to 500 fans that attend the Bear Walk, put them on every single seat. Then, when playing music in the stadium, have graphics on the Jumbotron and ribbon boards in the stadium encouraging people to “fling” their gold or whatever. Just look at any Penn State whiteout game, and you see 106,000+ fans all waving white towels in unison. Even if fans aren’t wearing white, the towels help that impression.

The key to success with a color-out of any kind is buy-in from the fans. Penn State’s whiteout game is one of the best atmospheres in college football. Setting aside that white is infinitely easier to pull off because literally everyone owns a white shirt, Beaver Stadium holds over double the amount of people that McLane does, and they pull it off to near perfection. The whiteout is under 20 years old, but in that relatively short amount of time it’s become one of the coolest traditions in college football.

Could Baylor pull that off with a Gold Out? Possibly. For my money, it will never happen without full, long-term commitment to the bit. This isn’t like declaring a blackout two weeks before what was possibly the largest game in program history to that point. In 2013, Baylor was able to capitalize on unprecedented buzz about the program and encourage fans to wear a color that already resided in probably everybody’s wardrobes. The intensity surrounding the matchup with OU and the narrative around Baylor at that point in that particular season (“They haven’t played anybody yet” etc.) made it an easy sell. A gold out is much, much more difficult, even if you had the same level of buzz.

Because of that, buy-in on a Gold Out would take a multi-year strategic effort. Peruse the reaction to the Gold-Out announcement over the past few weeks on any social media, and you’ll find incredibly mixed reactions. “I hate the color!” “That’s not gold, that’s yellow!” “That color does NOT go well with my complexion.” “PICK A GOLD.” Etc. And I get those reactions… Personally, I don’t love the color for me, I really only own one shirt of that color that fits, and it isn’t the most flattering. But I’m also not overly concerned about my own personal attire at football games (my standard game day outfit doesn’t exactly scream “fashion icon”) so I’m fine taking the hit to my personal brand for the sake of the Gold Out. But to get others on board means convincing people that the visual of an entire stadium clad in gold is worth doing, despite their own objections. That’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to require showing a commitment to the event from the university side of things, and a winning of “hearts and minds,” so to speak.

Would it be worth it? I don’t know. For my money, I think a true Gold Out has the potential to be as striking as the Whiteout. It would be more so than even the Black- or Green Out, since it’s my personal opinion that both require night games to be truly striking (and I’m not really sold that Green would ever be that successful). But doing so would take both levels commitment from Baylor and buy-in from fans that we have yet to see to date.

**NOTE** These are just my thoughts and opinions. I’m not an event organizer, so there’s likely a metric crapton of stuff that factor into these issues that I’m not even thinking about. None of this is intended to offend or belittle the work of those at Baylor that are in charge of these things, and I sincerely hope that it does not come across as criticism of the fine folks in the University, personally or professionally, that work on these events.