How to Better Error-Proof a Stadium Color-Out

Posted on October 1, 2013 | in Error-Proofing, Football, Lean Tools, Problem Solving, Sports | by
notre dame green out advertisement

“Getting the word out” about wearing green and providing 40,000 pompoms to a stadium of nearly 90,000 was Notre Dame’s attempt at a “green-out” against Oklahoma.

Last Saturday, in an example of what has come into vogue with college sports recently, Notre Dame attempted a “green-out” of Notre Dame Stadium during their game against Oklahoma.

The above advertisement – a standard stadium photograph with a green hue overlaid on the fans – along with “getting the word out” to Notre Dame fans was considered to be sufficient in enticing fans attending the game to wear green. In addition, 40,000 pompoms were donated for the game in a stadium that holds nearly 90,000 fans.

Did it work?

notre dame green out aerial

Probably more green than normal…but there’s a whole lot of Oklahoma red. (Photo by NBC, shared by

Well, not so much.

The upper right corner – the southeast corner of the stadium – and the triangular patch by the right side end zone are areas designated for visiting team tickets. What’s alarming is the heavy smattering of red on the left side of the stadium. Notre Dame has seen this before – visiting teams that travel well and rarely get to play at Notre Dame will pay top dollar for tickets, and Notre Dame ticket holders will oblige, especially when the chips appear to be down.

So what went wrong for the green-out?

– ND depended on word-of-mouth to let fans know to wear green, which I’m assuming was not planned before the season started (more on this in a second)
– Distribution of green pompoms to less than half of the fans attending the game
– Loss of genuine home field advantage – ND wasn’t favored and Oklahoma fans were willing to pay big bucks for tickets ND fans were reselling – why would they wear green?

There was no error-proofing the plan for getting 75,000 Notre Dame fans to green out the stadium (estimating 15,000 tickets for the visiting school’s sections). ND expected fans to bring their own conforming clothing but depended on marketing to get that notification out to the fans, plus only had freebies for half of the fans who would find them useful.

Contrast that with Clemson when they hosted Georgia earlier this season. For that game, Clemson wanted to create a sea of orange in the stands. It was especially important because the game was between two top-10 non-conference foes on national television and the marquee game of the weekend. What were the results?

clemson orange out

That’s a lot of orange.

clemson georgia orange out

Solid orange shirts and pompoms help creating that sea of orange.

clemson solid orange georgia

Both sides of the stadium were heavily oranged out.

Clearly their plan was pretty effective. What did Clemson have or do that Notre Dame did not?

– This was planned well in advance of the season. Yes, it had to be planned in advance because this was the first game of the season, but we know it was planned well in advance because…

georgia clemson ticket solid orange 2013

Every season ticket tells the fan what color to wear.

…it’s printed right on the top of the ticket. For their orange-out, it only mattered what the fans inside the stadium were wearing, not outside. Every season ticket notified the holder what color to wear. With as many season tickets sold by Clemson as there are, essentially every game attendee received work instructions on what to wear.

What do Notre Dame’s tickets tell fans to do?

notre dame usc southern cal california ticket

Okay, yes, this isn’t a Notre Dame -Oklahoma ticket but the design remains the same.

Well, nothing. If the green-out had advanced planning, maybe Notre Dame could have included “Wear Green” on the ticket before printing.

– Every seat received an orange pompom. None of this 40,000 pompoms for 75,000 ND fans stuff, probably distributed to everyone by an usher or stadium personnel as they walked through the gate until supplies ran out. Every seat had a pompom in the cupholder in front of it. Therefore every attendee of the game had access to something orange (if they did not wear orange already). I’m not sure if the Georgia fan section received pompoms but they are so inexpensive that they might make nice souvenirs and function as an act of goodwill by the opposing school.

– Both teams were ranked in the top ten. Georgia and Clemson both had championship aspirations coming into the game – you would be hard pressed to find a Clemson ticket holder selling his/her ticket to a Georgia fan for a reasonable sum. A few Georgia fans probably paid through the nose for their tickets outside the visiting team allotment.

Notre Dame came into their game as an underdog and as an underperforming squad that was probably going to lose. Notre Dame fans knew it and weren’t interested in spending the afternoon watching their team get beat when there was an Oklahoma fan on the outside looking in that was willing to shell out a whole bunch of cash for that privilege.


Poka yoke, or error-proofing, is implementing measures to eradicate the chance of performing an action incorrectly. The ideal error-proofed solution is an automatic standalone countermeasure that makes it impossible to complete an activity in the wrong manner. There’s only one way to put a house key into the lock (generally). There’s only one way to plug a USB plug into a USB port.

In conjunction with preventing the wrong action from occurring, it is ideal to make it as easy as possible to make the right action occur.

So, here are some things a team can do to error-proof a color-out and how realistic those activities can be to implement.

Print the requested color to be worn right on the game ticket. Advanced planning makes this very realistic and inexpensive.
Have color-themed giveaways for everyone at the stadium. Pompoms are cheap, especially when sponsors slap their logos on the handles.
GIVE AWAY SHIRTS YOU WANT FANS TO WEAR AND PUT THEM IN THE SEATS. While this is an expensive venture, it makes it very easy to get fans to wear the color you want. Also, nothing says you can’t use advanced planning to raise the ticket price for that game by the price of the shirt you’re giving away so you can cover the costs. In addition, fans tend to rewear shirts at other events but not reshake pompoms.
Bar fans not wearing said color from entering the stadium. Really, really unrealistic and requires inspection and enforcement.
Plan color-outs for games against teams playing year after year. For example, it would be more realistic for Notre Dame to hold a color-out against Southern Cal because USC plays at Notre Dame Stadium every other year. USC fans wouldn’t really see attending the game as a once-in-a-lifetime event like Oklahoma fans did last Saturday. Therefore it is less likely that ND fans would fall for the temptation to sell off their tickets to wealthy and/or crazed USC fans.
Plan color-outs for games against teams that don’t travel well. Oklahoma travels well. USC generally does for Notre Dame games, but maybe not this year.
Have a team in the top ten every season. Well, Notre Dame is trying to do that.

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9 Responses to “How to Better Error-Proof a Stadium Color-Out”

  1. Hi,

    This is all very good analysis.

    I can fill in a few more details:

    ND Athletics has two approaches to marketing: one through the athletics marketing department that is institutional and one through an official student fan group. This Green-Out was developed and promoted by this fan group and they decided on it in the week before the previous game, which is why it wasn’t printed as an instruction on the tickets. (Although that is a very smart idea).

    The overhead picture you are using is misleading. A more accurate picture with much better resolution is available here:

    You can see from this shot, taken at the fifty yard line just before game time that the Green-Out message got out very efficiently with only a social media and web message.

    I don’t understand why it looks so different on the overhead shot. I do know that you can zoom in at very high resolution in the shot above, so you can see in sharp detail just how “green” is each section of the stadium.

    This is the best response to a “color-out” promotion that I’ve ever seen in ND Stadium and I thought the student group did a very good job pushing their message to wear green.

    Far from being a failure or a disappointing result, i believe this green-out promotion is a great example of how powerful a social media only marketing strategy can be.

    Fighting Irish Digital Media

    • Chad Walters says:

      Tim –

      Thank you for the comment and added details. I was unaware of the panoramic image – thank you for sharing!

      Given the details you added about the fan group organizing the green-out and short amount of time it was turned around, the results were good. How many times has Notre Dame done an organized color-out at a football game? I think they’ve been done for basketball games before.

      The main purpose of the post was to show how to error-proof the results of a color-out. By error-proof I mean maximize the chances that the end result is exactly what was envisioned. Clemson went a long way toward making sure their game was a sea of orange – advanced planning, printing on tickets, pompoms in seats – and Notre Dame didn’t exactly have that luxury. I also have nightmarish visions of the sea of yellow pompoms at the Michigan game – why can’t Notre Dame do that?

      Back at Indiana I went to a white-out basketball game – special white-out t-shirts were available from the IU bookstore for like $2 days before the game and the uniformity of the crowd was impressive (relatively speaking). This was in the early days before color-outs were in vogue so kinks in the process were still being worked out as you still had large splotches of IU fans unaware of the promotion.

      So not to question the validity of the social media marketing strategy – clearly it was effective – but there are process error-proofing methods to make sure there is color uniformity in the stands. Marketing strategies rely on the game attendee to get the message, translate the message, and participate with the message, which is a lot of steps especially when the message won’t reach everyone or could break down by attendees forgetting the message and neglecting to participate. If everyone had a green pompom or a green towel (like 2011 USC) to wave that was waiting for them in their seats (unlike 2011 USC), you’d error-proof the distribution across the stadium and the color would already be in the seats.

      • Chad,

        I know that the Kelly Cares Foundation came through with 45,000 Green Pom Pons for the game. If you consider an 80,000+ seat stadium with 8-10,000 visiting fans, that seemed like a decent estimate. I don’t know how those poms were distributed, and I don’t actually know how they looked in venue. I don’t have a good answer as to why the number of poms didn’t equal the number of seats. (To be honest: investing in 45,000 green t-shirts for people who show up without one would likely be a more strategic purchase for future events. I really like the idea of selling the shirts at absurdly low rates too.

        Regarding your question about color-outs in the past: Notre Dame really has no culture of this. There’s a “The Shirt” every year, but the one thing that’s consistent about the shirt is that it’s never a consistent color, so it’s hard to build any color momentum. Notre Dame’s primary colors are blue and gold. Blue tends to be muted on television (it would have made Oklahoma’s crimson color even more pronounced), and we tried Gold on The Shirt a few years ago with the result that it looked like the entire student section wasn’t wearing any shirts. (which was an…odd…effect).

        (I think if everyone showed up wearing navy blue, the effect would be no different then a “black-out game” and would look pretty cool)

        As it pertains to other sports: Yes…hockey in particular hold white-out game promotions. The difference is that buying 4,000 shirts is a lot easier than buying 45,000 and it’s the kind of thing that can pretty easily attract a sponsor to offset the shirt cost.

        Women’s Basketball encourages their fans to wear neon green, but they’ve also spent a lot of time over the last few seasons building consistency behind this and selling shirts with the same color so over time they build momentum behind it. you can kind of see the effect in This picture

  2. Brian says:

    There is other thing I would like to add to this. Stick to one color for the entire stadium. Boise State does color-outs where part of the stadium will be orange, part will be blue and part white. It varies section by section. Needless to say, the effect isn’t nearly as spectacular as what Clemson did.

    • Chad Walters says:

      Oklahoma does a Stripe The Stadium. That is a whole lot of color coordination, but while it looks good when followed it looks cheesy when it’s not. So I’m with you.

  3. David says:

    Georgia’s red-out last Saturday against LSU was even better than Clemson’s orange.

  4. Chipp Norcross says:

    Another way to error proof is to have the green out against a team who has a less contrasting color. A green out against Michigan would appear much more effective, especially as Michigan’s blue and maize are not too far off the palate of Notre Dame in the first place. A green out against Michigan State would be a home run, from an error proofing standpoint.

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