NFL Blackouts And The NFL In-Game ExperienceJuly 2nd, 2012
Joe was killing time at Lambert Field in St. Louis, waiting to catch his flight back to Tampa Saturday afternoon, when he came across the Wall Street Journal story about how the NFL was going to relax blackout restrictions.
Locally, just about every Bucs fan jumped on the angle of “less blackouts.” We will see. Per reports, NFL teams must sell 85 percent of tickets as opposed to 100 percent.
It has been Joe’s contention that one reason blackouts have spiked (and ticket sales slumped) throughout the NFL is because going to NFL games is less and less a good investment and staying at home watching multiple games, including the Red Zone Channel, with access to replays (and watching them multiple times with your DVR), all with HD quality flatscreens, and access to cheaper and more plentiful beer and food have made staying at home a far better experience.
Kevin Clark, who wrote the Wall Street Journal piece, types this evidence is too obvious, and NFL teams are thinking of different tricks to get fans to drop cash to attend games.
The league also is planning to introduce wireless Internet in every stadium and to create smartphone apps that could let fans listen to players wearing microphones on the field.
With declines in ticket sales each of the past five years, average game attendance is down 4.5% since 2007, while broadcast and online viewership is soaring. The NFL is worried that its couch-potato options—both on television and on mobile devices—have become good enough that many fans don’t see the point of attending an actual game.
“The at-home experience has gotten better and cheaper, while the in-stadium experience feels like it hasn’t,” said Eric Grubman, the NFL’s executive vice president of ventures and business operations. “That’s a trend that we’ve got to do something about.”
Grubman is right.
While waiting for Joe’s plane Saturday, Joe was sitting with five random professionals ranging in ages from 25-50 from various walks of life from different corners of the country, Boston, Denver, Dallas, Houston. All claimed to be rabid football fans.
None of them said they would ever drop a dime on season tickets in their neck of the woods for many of the same reasons listed above. One gent from Dallas had an interesting point.
“When I buy a ticket, I buy a ticket for a seat, not a speck of concrete to stand on for four hours or waste an afternoon staring at the back of some clown’s Tony Romo jersey.”
Joe was a former Bucs season ticket holder and got rid of his season tickets years ago for several reasons. Joe would hope the Tampa Sports Authority do a few upgrades to the stadium on Dale Mabry Highway to make it more fan-friendly.
1) Bud Zone: Joe believes, though he hates the Jags, that the Gator Bowl is the most underrated NFL experience in the league. Aside from boat access to games from watering holes, there is shaded tailgating with concrete parking lots.
Now Joe knows that putting up overpasses near the stadium to give tailgaters shade isn’t going to happen. But how about paving those dust-choking parking lots. Who the hell wants to eat food, much less drink beer, when ever time you open your mouth you are eating dust. It’s damned near an environmental hazard, especially for parking attendants.
If those lots cannot be paved, at least hose the damn fields down the night before.
Also, the Gator Bowl has the infamous “Bud Zone,” a sports bar above an end zone where fans can escape the heat (or rain) and get in air conditioning while watching both a game on TV, as well as the game just below them.
2) Free water: While in Illinois, Joe was reunited with the brutal three-digit temperature, roasting Midwestern summers. On Saturday with temperatures at 105, the St. Louis Cardinals were playing a mid-afternoon game. The team offered free “complimentary” water stations throughout the stadium, partially to help the 37,000+ fans avoid a heat stroke.
(Strangely, no whining about needing a domed stadium from the locals.)
Joe knows day games in Tampa early in the season can be awfully oppressing as well. Why not take a page from the Cardinals and hand out some water, not just the few drinking fountains around the stadium? The Cardinals also employed “misting stations,” which are not unlike what NFL teams have on sidelines for players, a fine, air-conditioned mist being blown in the air. Joe has been through one of these before, and trust Joe, it’s an instant 20-degree chill down, if not more.
3) Better replay boards with more replays: Dallas has massive HD screens for fans. The Titans are installing the same kind. Currently, the Bucs’ scoreboards pale in comparison. Upgrade those to giant HD screens and show more replays, not just of the Bucs game but other contests (via Red Zone Channel) during breaks in the play.
Joe’s going to guess fans would rather see out-of-town highlights as opposed to Captain Fear during timeouts. There can always be time set aside for commercial videos from sponsors.
Of course, all this is moot if fans have smartphones and free WiFi.
Joe loves the idea of WiFi for all. With that, and your NFL Sunday Ticket app, or even just your NFL.com app (which includes a live feed of the Red Zone Channel), highlights are at your fingertips from around the league.
The idea of having special apps for season ticket holders where they can have access to audio from coaches and select players is a bulls-eye, not unlike what NASCAR does with its driver teams.
Though Joe would still prefer soaking up NFL games on the leather couch with his cold beer in air conditioning, there are many ways both the NFL and the Bucs can upgrade the fan experience at games (and thereby increase ticket sales).
It’s good to see the fine folks of the NFL are seeing the light.
Besides, without these bells and whistles, getting a sellout at Bucs home games will just be that much more difficult.