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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Column: NFL losing stadium fans

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Whatever gets tossed the NFL's way just seems to bounce off. Lockout, no problem, more fans than ever. A bounty scandal uncovered, no one blinks an eye.

Billions of dollars from a television distribution deal among five major networks ensures the masses see as much coverage as they can possible handle, and then some.

The only problem the NFL seems to have is getting people to actually go to the games.

Not that it's a real problem. It's more of a minor inconvenience to NFL brass and (nearly all) owners. But the facts remain -- people aren't going to as many games. At least not with the bad teams.

According to "Stats, LLC" and the Wall Street Journal, teams like Cincinnati, Miami, Washington, Buffalo, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Kansas City and Jacksonville filled up less than 90 percent of its stadium last year. No surprise, not one of those teams had any shot in 2011.

Maybe there are too many "fair weather" fans.

The NFL uses the "blackout" strategy, eliminating the local TV broadcast if the game's not sold out. I guess in an effort to help the owners with ticket sales.

Some cities supply enough support to sell out all home games. Other times corporations, or the team itself, buys the remaining tickets to eliminate the out-dated, silly "blackout" to the local fan base. Last year, teams needed to sell at least 85 percent of its tickets to avoid a blackout.

For the first time this upcoming season, fans at the stadiums will be able to see the same replay the head official is seeing at the same time. Owners are trying to enhance the stadium experience by providing features someone can't get at home, even smartphone apps to allow fans to hear players wearing microphones.

Some good ideas, but will it really push people out of their recliners and to the game? And who can blame anyone for preferring to enjoy the NFL from the comfort of one's own couch? I know I can't.

Allow me to go through why it's becoming more and more attractive to watch the NFL at home.

- HDTV and Sunday Ticket. A match made in football-watching heaven. Far and away the biggest adversary to the stadium experience. I can watch every single game, in crystal-clear high definition, from a thousand different angles, without ever having to see a commercial or leave my house.

- While I'm watching every game in HD, I don't have to spend outrageous amounts of money on tickets. And parking. And gas. And concessions. And deal with potential weather... I know, I know. All part of the experience - but this is why "the experience" is becoming less and less appealing for the average family.

I've been to two NFL games in my life. The first was in 2006 at the Metrodome, and the second in 2009 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. I enjoyed both games very much and will always remember them. The Vikings were crushed by the Rams in the season finale, and Ricky Williams scored three touchdowns to beat the Panthers on a Thursday night game.

But that's two game in six years. (Actually, two games in almost 30 years.) Of course, Iowa isn't home to any NFL teams, but I doubt that number is going up much if I did live in a metro area with a team.

The "stadium experience" is always going to be enticing, but it's going to be few and far between. For many fans, going to a game once every five or ten years is enough. Good for TV numbers but bad for overall attendance.

I know I'll be turning on my TV to watch every Sunday, but I don't know how many Sundays I'll be turning a stadium's turnstile.



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Zach Jevne
Real Sports Talk
Zach joined the Daily Reporter staff as sports editor in March 2011. He is originally from Decorah, Iowa. He played baseball at University of Northern Iowa and studied multimedia journalism at Simpson College.