As the National Football League approached its Wild Card (first round) playoff weekend January 4 and 5, three of the four scheduled games were not sold out just days before they were to take place, threatening television blackouts in the home teams’ markets. Under terms of the NFL’s contract with broadcast television networks, games that are not sold out within 72 hours of kickoff are blacked out—or not televised—in the home team’s market. Three of the four markets hosting games that weekend (Cincinnati, Green Bay and Indianapolis) were in danger of such a blackout. The NFL extended the timeframe for the sellout; by Friday January 3 all three stadiums were sold out and the games were televised in each market.
The chatter among sports-talk shows leading up to Wild Card weekend included the acknowledgement that these possible blackouts are indicative of a growing problem related to attendance at NFL games—for many, the on-the-couch viewing experience is preferable to the stadium experience. In addition to forces such as weather conditions and traffic headaches, one of the reasons for this reality is the enormity of fantasy football. At home, football fans can watch multiple games at once and receive a steady stream of updates not just of teams’ performances, but also of individual players’ performances—particularly including those on a fan’s fantasy-team roster. In many cases, fans who attend games live and also have a fantasy team must forgo real-time statistical updates of their fantasy players.
What does any of this have to do with cabling and technology systems? A lot, according to many, including NFL Network reporter Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer). Weeks before the playoff-blackout scenario was taking shape, Breer wrote in his “Inside the NFL” report a piece titled “Six ways the NFL plans to sell the stadium experience.” In it he acknowledged, “the league is acutely aware of barren sections in its stadiums.” One of the six ways the league is planning to combat the trend, Breer said, is, “Pushing video boards.” Specifically, he noted, “It’s not just installing new, larger boards, and getting more of them in the stadium; it’s also programming them correctly. That means fantasy stats, and it means RedZone Channel, and it means breaking old norms to make sure the guy in Section 110 isn’t missing anything by leaving the couch.”
Another of the six ways hits the cabling industry in the DAS—distributed antenna system. Breer cited “Improving connectivity,” as another of the NFL’s tactics for improving the in-stadium experience. Breer explained, “It’s expensive and complicated for clubs to pull this off, particularly in older stadiums, but it’s absolutely, positively necessary , and will allow more programming through smartphones.”
On the subject of smartphones, Breer’s reporting also included information about the new (as of the 2014 season) home of the San Francisco 49ers, Levi’s Stadium. He said, “Numbers show 90 to 95 percent of the Niners’ season-ticket holders have smartphones, and their fans, on average, spend $1,000 on technology every 18 months. So the franchise looks to develop a program that will allow fans to manage door-to-door trips to the stadium through their phones, thus personalizing the game-day experience.”
Breer also said it’s expected that soon “there will be video boards in stadium parking lots, so tailgaters can watch games.” Those video boards, of course, will require connectivity.
You can read Albert Breer’s December 20, 2013 “Inside the NFL” report here. The story about stadium attendance/connectivity is the second part of his report.