The National Football League has tried for decades to bring the stadium experience to its television broadcasts. Now it wants to make fans at stadiums feel as if they are in their living rooms.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told ProFootballTalk.com this week that he wants to make free and easily accessible Wi-Fi a staple at every NFL stadium so that fans can surf the Internet as easily as they would at home.
“We believe that it is important to get technology into our stadiums,” Goodell told the site. “We have made the point repeatedly that the experience at home is outstanding, and we have to compete with that in some fashion by making sure that we create the same kind of environment in our stadiums and create the same kind of technology.”
Is this a man bites dog moment? Or just an acknowledgment of the interactive experience that watching NFL games has become for the couch potato as well as how watching the game at home is a far more affordable option than going to the stadium?
Fantasy football has millions of fans tethered to their laptops — or their smart phones — keeping track of their teams every Sunday. The NFL has tapped into the fantasy market by not only sponsoring leagues at NFL.com but also by starting the “RedZone” channel in which fans can watch every touchdown of every game. RedZone is available as both an over-the-air channel and on cell phones.
The explosion of social media has also allowed fans to comment on the game in real time on networks such as Twitter and Facebook. Add it all up and fans at games have far fewer interactive options than those watching at home.
“We want them to have access to the same information,” Goodell said. “Have access to our RedZone. Have access to highlights. Be able to engage in social media, including fantasy football. When you come to our stadium, we want to make it a great experience.”
But will it match the one at home? A case could be made that the NFL is better at generating made-for-TV storylines than the networks that produce original shows.
NFL programming accounted for nine of the top 10 broadcasts in 2011, with only the Academy Awards (at no. 9) breaking football’s dominance. NBC’s Sunday Night Football is regularly the most-watched show on television and last year’s season finale between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys drew the biggest audience in the six-year history of the program.
Indeed, in a perpetually struggling economy, the at-home experience may be too good for the NFL’s own good. Since the start of the 2008 season, 73 regular season games have failed to sell out, which meant they were blacked out in the television market of the home team.
Even contending teams are not exempt from blackout concerns. The Cincinnati Bengals made the playoffs last season but sold out just two home games at Paul Brown Stadium. In 2010, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers went 10-6 and missed the playoffs on tiebreakers but didn’t sell out a single game at Raymond James Stadium.
Just 17 games were blacked out in 2006 and 2007, including a record-low seven in 2006. On the bright side for the NFL, the number of non-sellouts did drop from 26 in 2010 to 16 last year. The league has to hope that number will drop by bringing a little bit of the living room experience into 70,000-seat stadiums.