NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Rutgers Athletics Director Julie Hermann told the press last week that she wants to make the Rutgers football experience more like Disney World, as Rutgers prepares to join the Big Ten athletic conference officially on July 1.
"When you come see us at ball games," said Hermann, "starting with High Point Solutions Stadium, you [will] have a world-class, Disney World experience. That's important to us."
Based in Florida, the Walt Disney World theme park is known for its heavily-themed decor and scenery, background music, heavy crowds, costumed characters, thrilling rides, animatronic robots, high prices, and for fostering a sense of being in a world different from everday life.
"You know we have a ton of work to do," Hermann cautioned. "It's going to take the entire village… In about a month, we're going to start sending a ton of information so you will know, first and foremost, what I've been up to for a year and what we're getting ready."
Hermann plans to build a new football headquarters and basketball-practice gym by the Highpoint Solutions Stadium, as part of an athletes' village. Her report estimates the cost of the village as over $60 million.
The embattled athletic director has been a target of criticism since she was hired just over a year ago, embroiled in scandals such as her initial denial of an incident in which she was videotaped telling her assistant coach at a previous job not to get pregnant, and for her handling of an alleged bullying incident in the RU football program last season.
Hermann was unavailable for media interviews during her "R B1G Tour" event in Cherry Hill where she made the "Disney World" comment. However, she made it clear that the "student-athlete experience" would be taken seriously in the wake of the bullying scandal that created the job opening for her.
Her predecessor, Tim Pernetti, had intended the Rutgers Athletic Center, which the Rutgers basketball teams call home, to get a $30 million makeover, about $15 million of which had been pledged.
However, many of those pledges vanished after the player abuse scandal became public and Pernetti resigned under mounting pressure.
Reaction to the "Disneyfication" comments have, so far, been mixed, with some deriding the effort as being a "losing-team" strategy, while others defended Hermann's ideas as worth trying.
The Star Ledger's Dan Duggan, after reading many comments and suggestions left by his readers, outlined ten potential areas for improvement with respect to football:
- The long lines at bathrooms, especially mens' bathroooms
- The quality of concession-stand food
- The perennial traffic jams when leaving Rutgers football games
- The narrow width of stadium concourses
- The lack of Wi-Fi
- The quality and nature of entertainment in the stadium
- The distance of game parking from the game,
- The question of whether to start serving alcohol at games
- Whether or not to change the tailgate experience
- Whether or not to make the games more "family friendly"
An NJ.com poll on Duggan's article revealed that bathrooms were the top priority of readers (almost 18% in favor of improving bathrooms), followed by traffic (15%) and parking (12%).
Comments on the article showed the diversity of viewpoints.
"PureEconomist" groused, "Rutgers football games currently shuttle bus people from far away parking lots, charge a lot for concessions, and shuffle the crowds through long lines… not to mention the lines for the restrooms. So how much more "Disney" can it get? Require the purchase of a 3 day pass? Build a football-theme hotel?"
He or she preferred that the university focus on "the basics," such as providing "ample parking at the Stadium on campus instead of taking over Johnson park" and "EDUCATION!"
Rutgers game-day parking demand often outstrips supply, so large expanses of grass including county-owned Johnson Park are designated as game-day parking spaces.
The campus uses buses from Hoboken-based Academy Transportation to bring people to the game from parking areas, although many opt to walk from New Brunswick due to the traffic.
Another critic, "lickingwindows,"complained, "Apparently winning isn't important at Rutgers anymore? Guess that is why we joined the Big10 to begin with."
"Lithdevil" made an apparent reference to the Walt Disney World monorail, asking, "OK, so how about a monorail that connects between the campuses and the stadium area and start retiring the buses?"
"Joe" responded that a monorail was a "great idea, but very expensive".
Another commenter provided a link to an actual Rutgers monorail proposal, but warned, "I wouldn't hold your breath the project would be over double the school's endowment."
Still some opinionated fans, such as "abro1971," defended the status quo as good for fans, especially when compared to other big schools.
"The vast majority of fans park in nice, grassy lots minutes away from the Stadium, RU has terrific parking. Buy tickets by the game, yes you may have to shuttle by bus from 10 minutes away at the RAC- compared to Syracuse, BC etc it is much better," the commenter wrote.
At Disney amusement parks, the parking lots tend to be large, and the company employs road-trains, called "trams", to bring park-goers to a transit station or to the entrance, depending on the park.
At Disney World's Magic Kingdom, guests then have to board a ferry or a monorail to get them to the park. The monorail is also an option when going to EPCOT Center, one of the centerpieces of the famous destination.