EAGAN, Minn. – Even coming off a 13-3 regular season and an appearance in the NFC title game, the Vikings know there's plenty of room to improve.
It's a mindset that Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer has emphasized in the days, weeks and months since the conclusion of the 2017 season, and it's a mentality shared by the Vikings game-day entertainment staff.
Throughout each NFL season, fans from across the country weigh in about their game day experience via the Voice of the Fan league-wide survey. The people have spoken – in 2017 the Vikings led the NFL in Game Entertainment in 2017 and finished second in Game Day Satisfaction after ranking third and seventh in the respective categories during the inaugural 2016 season at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Vikings Vice President of Content & Production Bryan Harper and Director of Entertainment Greg Bostrom said the 2017 season offered a unique challenge as year two in a new facility.
"You expect that the first year is going to be great, and then the second year you would expect, 'OK, there will be a little bit of a drop off.' But it's a source of pride for our group to be aligned and focused on making sure the experience is as good as it can possibly be, year-in and year-out," Harper said. "It's not just because of the new stadium – it's the way that we program things."
"We knew in 2016 there was going to be an element of excitement baked into every game," Bostrom added. "At some point last year, everyone was going to their first Vikings game at U.S. Bank Stadium. We knew going into year two, some of that luster will have worn off. It's certainly still an awesome building, but in order to keep the game entertainment at a high level in the fans' minds, we had to make a pretty substantial improvement over the previous year just to maintain."
The Vikings received a score of 8.3 in Game Entertainment and 8.0 in overall Game-day Satisfaction in 2016. Following the 2017 season, their feedback score increased to 8.5 and 8.2, respectively.
While the difference may appear marginal, the three-tenths of improvement reflect responses of thousands of fans.
"Looking at the Voice of the Fan metric and seeing that we were third in 2016, we said, 'We want to get to number one,' " Bostrom said. "We knew we had to step it up to the next level."
Harper credited the Vikings fan base and its dedication for being able to execute game-day entertainment at a high level.
"We're able to work with them to make that experience great," Harper said. "They love the traditions and rituals, they get involved in those sorts of things, and when the building needs to get loud, it gets loud."
Added Harper: "We provide all the information you can get at home, or as much of it as possible – we've got tight camera looks, great replays, tons of stats – so we try to make that experience as great as it possibly can be."
Harper said he especially appreciates the personal connection of fans' individual comments, suggestions and reactions to their experience attending a Vikings game at U.S. Bank Stadium.
"A lot of the fans will take the time to write their comments – 'This is what I like; this is what I don't like; this is what can be better' – and that's better than just a data point, the 'We're grading you an 8 out of a 10.' It's that additional color that you get with it," Harper said. "That makes you smarter, so you keep accumulating that information, you look for trends, and those are the areas you need to improve on."
Along with the top ranking in Game Day Satisfaction and Game Entertainment, the Vikings finished in the top five in three more categories, including Stadium Technology, Game Day Staff and Departure.
JP Paul, Vikings Vice President of Corporate Development and Guest Relations, credits the continued development of the SKOL Service initiative, which focuses on the guest experience at U.S. Bank Stadium, for playing a significant role in the improved fan responses.
"The idea that we're making sure we're taking care of our game-day staff so that they then go and take care of our fans, and [provide] that best-in-class environment, is really what we want to do with this whole program," Paul said. "We've spent a lot of time in the offseason in conjunction with SMG and Aramark and our other stadium partners, and we've created a program that focuses not only on safety, courtesy, appearance and efficiency – which are our four pillars of SKOL – but then the behaviors that go behind that.
"We've really focused on [those behaviors] from 2016 to 2017, which is, I think, why we saw such a positive jump in our numbers," Paul added.
During the 2017 season, the Vikings allowed fans to surprise fellow game attendees with a Celebration Pack full of Vikings gear. Available via the Vikings app, fans could select from one of four themes – military appreciation, birthday, first Vikings game or anniversary.
"The Celebration Packs were tremendously successful," Paul said. "The whole idea behind it was that you have to create a relationship with your fans – whether it's 1-on-1, as a group, whatever it may be."
He later added: "Not only does it develop that memory for that person in that moment, but hopefully they will talk to people about that, and then it spreads our SKOL Service initiative over that random act of kindness."
Bostrom explained that the "key goal" for the Vikings game-day staff is to support the football team first and foremost, while simultaneously supporting and appreciating the 66,000-plus fans whom Zimmer often calls "the best in the world."
"We want to make U.S. Bank Stadium the best place to go watch a football game," Bostrom said. "We owe that to our fans, who are so passionate about Vikings football, and also we owe it to the team to be able to create a loud environment that [creates a true home-field advantage]."
Whether Season Ticket Members or visiting U.S. Bank Stadium for the first time, fans who submit feedback about their experience can be assured their voices are heard.
"We read every single comment," Bostrom said. "I think when you look at our improvement from 2016, when there was the baked-in excitement, to this year where we had the impetus to stay strong, it's that feedback that enabled us to improve and give the fans more of what they're looking for when they attend a game."
So, what's next? Just like Zimmer and his players are focused on building off of last year's success, the Vikings also are focused on improving the game-day experience in whatever ways they can.
"Ratings aside, we look at all the things that we felt like we could still do to be better than last year – things that we left on the table and couldn't pull off, things that didn't go exactly how we wanted. We're just hungry for the next chance to do those at a higher level," Bostrom said. "You can always get better. If the goal is to be better today than you were yesterday, that's a target you'll always be pursuing."
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