Insufferable heat, Tide Loyalty Points app cause fans distress

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Insufferable heat, Tide Loyalty Points app cause fans distress

CW / Hannah Saad

CW / Hannah Saad

CW / Hannah Saad

CW / Hannah Saad

Savannah Bullard | @savannahkt_ and Ben Stansell | @ben_stansell

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While the Alabama Crimson Tide took care of business in a 62-10 win against New Mexico State, no one was safe from the scorching temperatures that fried fans inside Bryant-Denny Stadium on Sept. 4. 

A 107-degree heat index debilitated many student fans who were disappointed in the conditions that prohibited them from enjoying Saturday’s game. The heat became such a problem that The Crimson White reported that over 130 people were treated for heat-related injuries and illnesses by paramedics.

As the stifling heat created unbearable conditions inside Bryant-Denny, many students who were at the game had difficulties using the newly-implemented Tide Loyalty Points app, which was designed by UA Athletics and the University’s Student Government Association to reward students who attend games and stay for all four quarters with points that will help them earn priority for post-season tickets.

SWELTERING HEAT STUNS FANS

Some students were ready to leave the game as early as the first quarter, citing dehydration and unbearable spectating conditions as a reason to seek shade or shelter. 

“We wanted water so we came down here, and it felt better down here than being up in the stands,” Molly Legros, a freshman majoring in international studies, said at the end of the first quarter. “We lasted probably like what, 15 minutes into the game? We’re ready to go, honestly.”

Alexis Kilcrease found solace inside Bryant-Denny while she recuperated from her first hour in the sun. Kilcrease, a freshman majoring in political science, said even before kickoff she witnessed another student pass out, hitting her head on the metal bleachers on her way down. Kilcrease’s game-day partner, Canaan Coleman, added that, while she loves coming to the games, she hopes the extreme heat will not drive her away.

“I definitely have football tickets to other games, so I’m going to try to come to those, but as the season goes on, I’m sure it will get a little cooler,” Coleman, a freshman majoring in hospitality management, said. “I mean, it’s Alabama, and we knew what we were getting into as far as heat goes, but I feel like there could be some ways to up the [conditions].”

For students like Alabama superfan Luke Ratliff, who said he properly hydrated, wore suitable clothing for a hot day and sought shade when he needed it, no amount of water was going to squelch the heat that blistered Bryant-Denny. The people who have it worse, he said, were the very students over 100,000 fans came to see. Decked out in head-to-toe pads, Alabama’s football players put their stamina to the test by delivering an electric game and taking down New Mexico State. On the field also stood the Alabama cheerleaders, whose men were required to wear long pants for their routines, and the Million Dollar Band, who were also covered head-to-toe in uniforms. Worst of all may have been Big Al himself, whose fleece costume probably felt not too different from standing on the sun. 

In the stands, fraternity members don sport coats and khaki pants as part of their Greek organization’s rules for game day. Some students come festively dressed in ‘Bama gear, one student even wearing a long-sleeved, fleece Big Al onesie. But no matter what someone has on in Bryant-Denny, odds are, they’re feeling the heat. 

“No one should be subjected to this. It’s inhumane,” Ratliff, a junior majoring in public relations, said. “Even though I’m about to die right now, I stay for four quarters every game. But we need to be more lenient with stuff like this because no one should be out in this – no one, especially with the metal bleachers, the heat coming up off the bleachers. It’s well over 100 degrees outside.”

TIED UP IN TIDE LOYALTY

The Tide Loyalty Points program has caused a bit of a snag in the athletic department’s relationship with students. Ratliff said he stays for all four quarters of every game but feels that Tide Loyalty is more like a bully than an incentive. 

“It’s unfair to come in here and support the team, which we don’t have to do,” Ratliff said. “We’re not contractually obligated to be here. As a student of The University of Alabama, I’m supporting this football team because I want to support this university. I don’t have to be here. I feel, with the new loyalty points system and all that, I’m sort of being bullied into being here because if I leave, it’s a detriment on my character, a detriment on my future of getting tickets from the University.”

The promise of accruing points via the app did achieve its purpose by keeping some fans who would have otherwise left in the stands for the duration of the game.

“The only reason we’re really here is for the Tide Loyalty points,” Coleman said. “At this point in the game, it’s already kind of like, ‘OK, we’ve got this in the bag.’ But I mean, we have to wait until the end for these loyalty points, so we’re kind of stuck here. I mean, the heat is insane.”

However, numerous students found that the app didn’t work and were left wondering if they had been cheated out of points. For several students, the app wouldn’t even open on their phones.

“I died until the fourth quarter to get zero points,” Claire Studor, a junior majoring in accounting and finance, said. “It felt like they were really trying to make it work, but it just didn’t.”

Senior Leah Thomas came to the game determined to earn the maximum amount of points possible: 350 (100 points for attending the game with an additional 250 points awarded to students who stayed until the fourth quarter.) Despite her best efforts to remain hydrated, Thomas, a senior majoring in biology and dance with a minor in Spanish, was forced to leave the student section before the fourth quarter with an illness. When Thomas arrived home, she looked to see if the app had recorded her attendance, but was disappointed to see her point total still at 0. Once she began the appeals process in the app, she faced even more problems.

“It was really glitchy,” Thomas said. “When I got home and saw that the points still hadn’t loaded, I clicked on it right away and it took over an hour for me to put in an appeals form. There were like three questions, and it said it would take 5-10 minutes or something like that, and every time you would try to upload one of the pictures they were asking for or a picture of your ACT Card, it would crash, the whole app. It was frustrating to deal with.”

After she struggled through the appeals process, Thomas was awarded 100 points.

UA Athletics employees stationed at several kiosks throughout the stadium’s concourse helped students work through their problems with the app and even had students sign in and out of the game on pieces of paper. But not every student was aware of these kiosks – many of which were constantly cluttered with dozens of students who were seeking assistance.

“I had no idea that existed until after the game,” Thomas said. “Thinking back, I guess there was a huge group of people there but you couldn’t tell what it was necessarily walking by. I didn’t have a reason to look for it because the app wouldn’t even open. I figured ‘Oh, it’ll show up once the app opens all the way.’ Maybe if I had known about it and looked for it, I would have found it. But I didn’t know to look for it at the game.”

Recognizing that the app’s failure caused countless students to miss out on points, and that unsafe weather conditions forced even more to leave the game early, UA Athletics has decided to award 350 points to every student who scanned their ACT Card to get into the game. Athletics has also conducted a review on why the app didn’t work properly and is working with the app’s developer to fix the bugs for Alabama’s next home game against Southern Miss on Sept. 21.

Official statement from UA Athletics:

A full review has been conducted of the technical issues surrounding the failure of the app on Saturday. FanMaker has addressed several items within the app to assist with its demand on the server while also securing more than adequate server capacity to handle the workload for future games. It’s estimated that efficiency should be approximately 10x greater for our next event.

Due to the technical failure of the Tide Loyalty Points app and weather conditions, all students eligible for the Tide Loyalty Points program that swiped their ACT card to attend the New Mexico State game will receive a total of 350 points (100 for attending and 250 for staying for four). Points will be processed this week.

Should potentially unsafe weather conditions be forecasted, occur during the game or any other potential extended interruptions of play occur, stay for four points will not be awarded and attendance points will be increased from 100 to 350 points. A determination on these types of scenarios will occur as soon as possible and communicated at that time.

STRUGGLING WITH START TIMES

Leniency, Ratliff said, is a keyword the University administration should take into account when planning for future game day-related initiatives. Speaking on game day experiences like concessions and Tide Loyalty, Ratliff said the New Mexico State game was an unfortunate way to start. 

“Especially today – it’s this hot, you’ve advertised, you’ve got all these cooling stations,” Ratliff said of the 12 water monster coolers and complimentary sunscreen stations. “The one thing you can’t do is run out of water or supplies. I don’t see how this has happened. I really don’t. It’s a nightmare. And like, we’re being bullied to be here, because if we don’t, it’s a detriment to if we get tickets in the future. And it’s a 38-0 game at halftime. It’s unbelievable. I’m disappointed.”

Equal in disappointment is Alabama’s athletic director, Greg Byrne. In a statement made to Twitter on Sept. 9, Byrne addressed his displeasure regarding the announcement of Alabama’s 11 a.m. start time against Southern Mississippi, which is scheduled for Sept. 21. With temperatures slated to remain in the 90s for that day, Byrne gave the following statement:

“We are disappointed that our game against Southern Miss has been selected as a daytime kickoff at home. We realize we’ve played more non-conference day games at home in September than any other SEC team since 2014. There have been a number of conversations with our conference office, and they also recognize the challenges these kick times present for our student-athletes and fans.”

Similarly, head football coach Nick Saban took an opportunity during a Sept. 9 press conference to step back from the words he said during last week’s post-game presser, wherein he criticized students’ game-long attendance and dismissed the Tide Loyalty Points program. 

“One thing I would like to say is, I know it was a difficult day for our fans because of the circumstances surrounding the weather, and I’d like to thank the fans for supporting the team and a lot of people hanging in there to try to support the team,” Saban said. “I think the players really appreciate it. We know it was a difficult circumstance for a lot of folks, and hopefully, our administration will continue to work to try to play some of these games at a different time.”

Neither Alabama Athletics nor the University of Alabama administration has the final word on when the games are scheduled to kick off, as television networks play a large role in choosing air times. But, Saban’s sentiments remain the same. He acknowledged in his post-game presser that his job is not to deliver loyalty points, control the weather or plan game-day initiatives, but simply, to coach football. 

“I’m trying to coach our team,” Saban said after the New Mexico State game. “I’m wondering why we lost contain when they ran a damn zone play. I could care less about [Tide Loyalty]. I hope that there’s something we could do that could enhance [students’] wanting to stay and have the spirit to stay and all that, but I don’t really know much about all that stuff. That’s not my cup of tea. I’m trying to figure out how to stop Snag 7 Flat.”

This week, Bryant-Denny will get a break as Alabama travels to Columbia, South Carolina, to face the Gamecocks on Sept. 14. But, pack the sunscreen and start hydrating now – the Crimson Tide will kick off at 2:30 p.m. yet again, and the average temperature in Williams-Brice Stadium will be a cool, crisp 92 degrees with 57% humidity.