Opinion: Sorry NFL, technology just makes football better on TV

Watching football on TV nfl game attendanceFor couch potatoes, fantasy junkies, and degenerate gamblers, this week is more important than Christmas. Another NFL season kicks off! I can hear my wife sighing already.

Lost in Olympics coverage over the summer was the fact that the NFL’s overall attendance for the 2011 season was the lowest it has been since the league expanded to 32 teams in 2002. Everyone has a theory. Most blame the overall state of the economy. Some blame expansion itself, diluting the product on the field to the point where we have the Colts, Dolphins, Rams, and Buccaneers of the world.

Yet some – myself included – have a different theory.

The product on TV is simply far, far better than what you can get in the stadium. Stadiums face the same problem as movie theaters: We’re so coddled by technology in our home theaters, it’s getting harder and harder to find an excuse to leave.

Although I have an NFL stadium 20 minutes from my house, I haven’t been to a Bucs game in about seven or eight years. Part of the reason is that I am an admitted fair-weather fan. I’m simply not interested in paying what I consider an exorbitant sum to watch a team lose. Just as if a restaurant started putting out an inferior product, I would stop patronizing that restaurant. And Chez Buccaneer has been an inferior restaurant for most of the last decade, not winning a playoff game since their Super Bowl run in 2002.

More importantly, the NFL shot themselves in the foot when it came to my prospective attendance when they invented NFL RedZone.

For those who aren’t familiar, RedZone is a channel broadcast by the NFL on most cable networks that shows only the most important plays from every game going on during Sunday afternoon. It simply skips around the league, staying at one game only if a team is in the “red zone.” The cost is around $50 for the season, less than one ticket to a live game.

No more rushing plays into the middle of the line, resulting in a 2-yard gain.

No more incomplete passes.

I only see what is important. I don’t even watch highlight shows anymore, because chances are I saw the highlight in real time, no matter the game. As a fantasy player, I see when my players (or the opponent’s) score before it even registers on the online fantasy tracker website. I’ve finished cursing by the time the score is updated.

I’ve heard the same refrain from the people who are lucky enough to subscribe to DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket, where they have access to every game broadcast. Or the people who would rather frequent the local sports bar, where they can also see every game and probably get better food than what would be available at the stadium.

So perhaps the cause of the NFL’s attendance woes (if you can call them that, considering more than 16 million people visited a game last year) is the NFL itself and its blinding madness to chase money wherever they may be able to find it.

stadium seating nfl sports football season viewershipThe question is: What can they do to get butts back in the seats?

I can’t say I’ll never go to another Bucs game, particularly if I have some friends going as well. But they need to provide a similar experience to what I have at home, which means letting me know what is happening in the other games. I may be a Bucs fan, but this season I’m also a fan of Tom Brady, Trent Richardson, and Jamaal Charles (until I trade them).

At Raymond James Stadium, there is one scrolling scoreboard in the whole building that shows scores from the other games around the league. Just scores. No stats. They don’t even show highlights of other games during halftime.

Meanwhile, during the innumerable stoppages of play to let the TV stations get their commercials in, the fans in the stadium are also treated to a bunch of commercials on the jumbotrons. I thought I paid you a lot of money for a ticket so I didn’t have to watch commercials?

So instead of the commercials between series, they need to show RedZone. Since it’s already an NFL product, there are no licensing issues. The people in the stadium can then get a much better idea of what’s going on around the league and won’t have the feeling that they’re missing something by opting to see the game in person.

Speaking of not missing anything, I need stadium-wide free Wi-Fi. Then I can bring my tablet to the game and keep up with my fantasy players. Or you can do some work during halftime, if you’re trying to offset the cost of the ticket.

Just as we started this conversation by bemoaning the slackening attendance at NFL games, we’re going to end it with another figure: $9.5 billion. That was the NFL’s total revenue last season. They can afford the bill for 65,000 people using Wi-Fi for three hours eight times a year, and to forgo the commercials in the stadium. And by doing that, maybe fewer games around the league will get blacked out, creating even more revenue.

Without changing the live game, the NFL risks losing a generation of fans to whom football might as well be played on a soundstage.