Fresno State is taking steps to enhance fan experience and upgrade the Save Mart Center, home to four of the Bulldogs’ athletic programs.
The university will install a new high-definition video board in the arena by the end of the year and also has invested in maintenance projects and mechanical systems that might not be visible to the public but keep the building up to date – air handlers and point-of-sale systems for food service.
We have to understand that we’re in the entertainment business.
Fresno State wrestling coach Troy Steiner
The cost of the high-definition video board and control room equipment is expected to run to $700,000. The university is in the process of issuing a request for proposal (RFP) and the new video board is expected to be installed by November or December.
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The new video board at the Save Mart Center will not come into play often for concerts – most of the touring acts incorporate large video displays into their stage sets. But the Bulldogs’ basketball, women’s basketball, wrestling and volleyball programs definitely will benefit.
The Bulldogs’ men’s basketball program over the past three seasons has posted the best Mountain West Conference home record (23-4), but ranked only sixth in attendance last season and seventh in both 2016 and ’15.
“The board show for athletics, for those events, it’s just going to create that fan experience that they haven’t been able to do in recent years,” said Sean McElhinney, assistant general manager of the Save Mart Center.
Fresno State has struggled to draw sports fans to the Save Mart Center, though not due to a lack of winning. Men’s basketball has posted the best home record in the Mountain West Conference (23-4) over the past three seasons. Coach Rodney Terry and the Bulldogs also have posted back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time in 16 years and Fresno State is one of only five programs from mid-major conferences to play in either the NCAA Tournament or the NIT each of the past two seasons. Yet, Fresno State ranked fifth in attendance for its MW games last season and sixth overall in the conference.
The women’s basketball program is 35-8 in Mountain West play at the Save Mart Center with three second-place and one third-place finish in the conference, but has never ranked higher than third in attendance for MW games.
“Any time you can enhance your fan engagement it really helps the experience,” Terry said. “That’s what it’s really going to do, because with game management there are a lot of things you can do that incorporates the video board.
When I go to NBA games I’m looking at the board a lot of times more than I’m looking at the game and people are more engaged when they can really see it and it’s clear.
Fresno State basketball coach Rodney Terry
“When I go to NBA games I’m looking at the board a lot of times more than I’m looking at the game and people are more engaged when they can really see it and it’s clear. I always get a kick out of it when I’m at games, watching the Kiss Cam and how people react to things of that nature. It’s just the whole experience. It enhances it.”
There is a boost there, said wrestling coach Troy Steiner, who this season will lead the Bulldogs onto the mat for the first time since the program was dropped in 2006.
“It will be nice, for sure,” Steiner said. “Whether it’s a dual meet or a tournament for us, it just adds to the experience. I was just at the World Team Trials out in Lincoln, Neb., and they had a huge video board. It was neat to see. Very neat to watch from, and then they had reviews on certain matches and they’d put it up on the board and you’d get to see it. There’s just a lot you can do with it, even with the intro, with teams coming into the arena. It adds a lot for the fans for the overall experience.
“We have to understand that we’re in the entertainment business. Like to be or not, we are, because there are other things that people can do with their time and their money. There’s an entertainment value there that people have to see.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada