Alabama Loyalty Program Uses App to Track Students | Athletic Business

Alabama Loyalty Program Uses App to Track Students

Despite having one of college football's premiere programs to watch, University of Alabama students tend to leave games early, a fact that rankles head coach Nick Saban to no end.

As reported by The New York Timesthe university is trying something new this season — rewarding those students who attend games and stay until the fourth quarter with an incentive: improved access to tickets to the SEC championship game and to the College Football Playoff semifinals and championship game, which Alabama is trying to reach for the fifth consecutive season.

Helping make the program possible is an app that tracks where Alabama's students actually are located in and around Bryant-Denny Stadium.

The creator of the app, FanMaker, runs apps for 40 colleges, including Clemson, Louisiana State and Southern California, which typically reward fans with gifts like T-shirts. The app it created for Alabama is the only one that tracks the locations of its students, according to the Times, adding that the program's rollout did not have a bug-free debut Sept. 7. The stadium’s network servers were overwhelmed by the number of fans in the student section, which seats 17,000. Many students were unable to open their apps, leading to long lines at several help kiosks and students taking photos with the scoreboard in the background to prove they had stayed.

Still more left at halftime, with the Crimson Tide leading 38-0 and temperatures topping 100 degrees.

By Tuesday night, Alabama had made several changes, according to the Times. FanMaker plans to boost the server capacity tenfold for the next home game, Sept. 21 against Southern Mississippi. Any students who swiped their student card to enter the stadium against New Mexico State would get credit (350 points) for staying until the fourth quarter. And if unsafe weather conditions are forecast, or extended interruptions occur, students who show up will get full credit.

But privacy concerns regarding the nature of the program persist, with one student calling the notion of sitting in 100-degree heat to accumulate loyalty points "stupid" and another saying the tracking app felt like "Big Brother." 

Adam Schwartz, a lawyer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy watchdog, said it was “very alarming” that a public university — an arm of the government — was tracking its students’ whereabouts.

“Why should packing the stadium in the fourth quarter be the last time the government wants to know where students are?” Schwartz told the Times, adding that it was “inappropriate” to offer an incentive for students to give up their privacy. “A public university is a teacher, telling students what is proper in a democratic society.”

Greg Byrne, Alabama’s athletic director, said privacy concerns rarely came up when the program was being discussed with other departments and student groups. Students who download the Tide Loyalty Points app will be tracked only inside the stadium, he said, and they can close the app — or delete it — once they leave the stadium. “If anybody has a phone, unless you’re in airplane mode or have it off, the cellular companies know where you are,” he said.

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