The National Football League is making changes to the in-stadium experience for fans in order to combat attendance fatigue.
In light of five years of declining ticket sales and emptying stands (attendance has dropped by 4.5 percent since 2005, according to CBS News), the NFL is working to make going to the stadium as easy and fun as the home viewing experience.
According to a recent ESPN.com report, this season fans in the stands will be able to view instant replay footage along with the referees as they review it. The replay will run on the same stadium video boards that transmit other footage and announcements to fans in-stadium.
Other changes are in the works for fans that make the trek to the stadium. The Headline News Network (HLN) reports online that the league is working on getting free Wi-Fi into each stadium, allowing fans to access scores and footage from other games, their social media websites and stats for fantasy football players. There are also plans to provide access to NFL’s Red Zone channel, which takes viewers to all plays that day within the 20 yard line.
According to the Wall Street Journal, team owners also have agreed to allow the NFL to “live mic” players in preparation for an app that will bring on-field chatter to fans in the same way that the major networks have in years past.
But in a seemingly counterintuitive move, the NFL also has decided to ease restrictions related to its long-standing TV blackout rule, which until now has prohibited the local broadcast of games that have failed to sell out. Fox Sports reports that the new guidelines set an 85 percent capacity bar to avoid blackout, with individual teams able to reset the benchmark higher if they choose, but no lower than 85 percent.
The change is meant primarily to help give teams more flexibility in terms of filling seats without having to sell out in order to broadcast locally. Some teams would also like to expand their stadiums but fear being penalized by the rule once they have to fill a larger capacity arena.
While the move would seem to have the effect of keeping more fans at home, it seems the old rule had in recent years lost its effectiveness to bring them to the stands anyway; as the Fox Sports article notes, only 16 of 256 games in the 2011 season ended up blacked out under the rule’s jurisdiction. The old rule also had the unintended consequence of a number of teams simply buying up seats in order to avoid blackout, consequently failing to create the packed stands which had been the League’s ultimate aim.
The article also notes a change in stadium environment this coming season, with an easing of restrictions on crowd noise and even an encouragement of teams to rile crowds through their video boards and audio announcing. The move seems likely aimed at creating a more exciting atmosphere for stadium fans and a more impressive event for TV audiences.
TicketNews was unable to reach a representative from the NFL for comment in time for publication.
With nothing but falling ticket sales for half of the past decade, the NFL will be looking closely for proof of the effectiveness of its new adjustments, and the first place it will look will be this season’s receipts.