Stadium staff working to fix problems
ALOHA Stadium knows it gets blamed for a lot of things. Sometimes deservedly, sometimes incredulously.
I actually had someone call me and say that a reason attendance at UH football games is down and dropping is because Aloha Stadium doesn't have a cool enough scoreboard.
Aloha Stadium does have its share of problems. Any public institution of its size that serves so many people, that is supposed to do all the things it does, can have these problems, and will. And does.
But of all the problems Aloha Stadium does have, I've thought in recent years its biggest problem was a PR problem. Being blamed for everything, never defending itself, just letting every accusation stand. Letting a negative reputation build until it's accepted as common knowledge.
So, yes, word has gotten out and the good people at Aloha Stadium realize they get blamed for a lot of things.
And they're working on it.
For the unreasonable stuff, well, they're working on PR, the perception problem. How? With this next sentence: For the reasonable stuff, well, they admit it -- they want to fix it.
Or at least start to, step by step.
Because, you see, a lot of this stuff isn't as easy as it looks. This isn't PacBell Stadium (or whatever it is called now) or any other big-time operation a lot of people who complain like to compare it to.
"They said you can use the money," Stadium Authority chair Kevin Chong Kee said at one point in his presentation at the Honolulu Quarterback Club last week, "but then we couldn't use the money."
"It takes 23 deliberate steps to change a rule or repeal one," former chair Larry Price wrote in MidWeek last year.
But they're working on it. They're knocking off your excuses not to go to the stadium, one by one. You can bring in ti leaves now (turns out you always could). Inflatable noisemakers are OK. Backpacks are cool again.
Too little, and not soon enough for many. A stadium contingent of Chong Kee, interim manager Kenny Lum and interim deputy manager Scott Chan addressed the Quarterback Club last Monday and were hit with a barrage. And if the Quarterback Club hits you -- fine, good-hearted, well-meaning sports fans all -- you know something's up. The club did not offer its usual senior discount when it comes to holding off on the tough questions.
It's going to take more than allowing backpacks to sway public opinion at this point.
But the stadium people are doing the right thing in their new quest toward fixing slights both real and imagined. First, they are admitting there are problems and moving to repair them. Second -- and this may be a radical idea to some UH football fans these days, maybe we should get some Mike Post music to introduce this next part -- they have made a conscious decision to treat UH football fans as customers.
"Our guests are also our clients," Chong Kee said.
"I realize it's been pretty tough in the past since 9/11," Chan said. "That has come and gone, and we're willing to look at entertaining the thought of making some adjustments in the rules."
Caps on water bottles?
"That's a good one," Chan said. He realizes this is the most volatile issue since van cams. He has a hard time with it himself, he said. But still no caps.
"The reason why we've had to take off the caps is because we've had some incidents -- not lately," he said.
So they're asking the vendors to pour water into soda cups with covers. They're working on getting cup holders on seats to stop spills.
Can I bring my own food?
"If it's a medical issue we will accommodate you," Chan said. "You can bring in the water into the facility. We'll allow case by case with some of our clients. It still depends on what the situation is. Our concern is more contraband than anything else.
"Be consistent with your employees and make sure you draw a clear, distinct line so that they can make those decisions and you can always go with those decisions, and not be inconsistent from gate to gate. Again, it's difficult to do that when you have a revolving door with employees coming through.
"And we're doing our best to try to train them. I'm not making excuses. I'm just looking at the reality of the situation itself and to give our people some leverage so they can be consistent."
Which is a long way of saying you need to have a few firm rules to stick by when you're constantly training an ever-changing cast of people to interact with 50,000 (OK, 20,000) people.
And they are re-training people, Chan said, they've put a lot of money lately into putting the aloha in Aloha Stadium. New uniforms. They want that perception to change. They're looking at everything.
"We know where the areas in the parking lot where the baddest guys are," Chong Kee said. "They're going to patrol that more. As far as the stands, they know what sections are heavy drinking. And they're going to go after them even more."
They're scratching off your reasons not to go to the stadium, one by one.
"We want you to just be a happy camper when you come to the game because of the people in your area who create that environment for you," Chan said. "And say 'I'm coming back every week, regardless of what the outcome is.' Of course we want the University of Hawaii to win. But, 'I'm having a great time because of the employees of Aloha Stadium.' So we've been working very hard on changing attitudes."