Five things to make the NFL stadium experience better
Cities like Cincinnati and Green Bay had trouble selling playoff tickets to their first round games. Green Bay was not that surprising considering five weeks prior, the playoffs seemed like a pipe dream with Aaron Rodgers on the shelf. It would be tough for Packers fans to send in their hundreds of dollars for a deposit on unlikely playoff tickets. Even though it goes towards the following years season tickets if they hadn’t made it, it was still the holiday season and what not. Plus you have the low population in the area and it’s a hike for San Francisco fans to make the trek on one week notice.
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You have to wonder if the Ravens would have been in the same boat had that Patriots game went differently and the division title would have been gone to the longshot Ravens.
For Cincy fans, there is no excuse. They led the division most all of the year. Even though they didn’t clinch the division until week 16 their odds of hosting a playoff game were pretty good in the weeks before. Winning is supposed to be the answer to putting more rear ends in seats. Not so much there I guess.
Regardless, the fact that the NFL has trouble selling out playoff games brings up the discussion, is the game day experience not as appealing as it once was? With the advent of big screen HDTVs, Red Zone channel in the regular season, fantasy football, and ever increasing prices to take a family of four to a game, there’s a strong argument that the comfort of your home is king. Of course there is something to be said about being there in person. The energy of 70,000+ screaming fans, tailgating etc…
Here are my top five things that would make the game day experience even better at M&T Bank Stadium, and across the league.
5. Stronger stadium Wi-Fi – These days, folks are surgically attached to their cell phones. Anyone who has ever tried to check their fantasy lineup, or tweet a pic from their seats at the game, or post their thoughts about an event in the game on facebook, all from their phone when 50,000 other people are trying to do the same in the same general area, it’s near impossible.
4. Get more footballs in the stands – One of the things fans love about going to baseball games is the chance of catching a foul ball, or a home run. Showing up early to shag balls down in the stands during batting practice, or have their favorite players toss them a ball. MLB goes through an average of 60-72 baseballs in a major league game. That’s upwards of over 350,000 baseballs a year, including playoffs. At $3 to make a ball, call it about $1M in baseballs they just give away to fans, putting a smile on kid’s faces. That’s just in game. They give away probably twice as many in BP. In the NFL, each team is provided 108 footballs each game. They use 54 for practice and 54 for the game. That’s 55,296 footballs made for the regular season. The cost to make a football is $2. Include the playoffs; call it $125K-$150K in footballs. A fraction of baseball and the NFL we know is a cash cow. Give some of those balls away to the fans. Take down the nets behind the goal post so kickers can blast balls into the stands. Encourage the players to chuck the ball in the stands after a TD. Some already do hand the ball to a kid in the front row which is nice.
3. Postgame party on the field – Don’t you hate going to the 1:00 game and by the time you get out of the stadium, to your car, through traffic to your next destination, you’ve missed the first half of the 4:00 games? I know I do. How about not kicking people out of the stadium right at games end? I kind of get it at baseball stadiums; there is usually a game the next day. The stadium crews have to get right to work cleaning up the trash in the stands and what not. But they have a week or more to get M&T Bank ready after a game. Flip the giant HD video boards to Red Zone Channel at the conclusion of the 1pm game, or to NBC for Sunday night football at the end of a 4pm game. Open up the field, so folks can stretch their legs, roam about and meet other fans. They would keep the concessions going for a couple hours after a game. Fans can’t tear up the synthetic turf that M&T Bank, and many other stadiums have in place these days. The fans would be getting more bang for their buck when it comes to ticket price, and the team would make more money in concession sales. Win-Win.
2. Pregame festivities – Tailgating is a blast, but it’s all on you to cook, host, and buy a parking pass. All that stuff. If you count the preseason and not the postseason, a team “throws a party” in their town 10 times a year. It should be considered more of party. It should be a festival type atmosphere for those who don’t tailgate. The Ravens are on the right track with how they set up Ravens Walk between the stadium complexes. The Marching Ravens enter through there like the walk many collegiate teams do. But is it enough? They could book a small concert from local bands to be held on Ravens Walk for each pregame and include it in the price of admission. I’m sure they can find 10 bands a year to play a set. There are other things they could do. They could tie in an annual Barbeque or chili cooking contest into a pregame activity. I would incorporate local craft brews into a beer garden open to anyone holding a ticket to the game. It would be better than the corporate invite only tents that offer generic corporate light beer. Like a postgame party, this would be more bang for your buck and it supports local businesses and music.
1. Scanners – Stealing a page out of NASCAR’s playbook here. Anyone who has ever been to a NASCAR race sees a majority of the fans sporting headphones. It’s not just because of the noise. They are listening to scanners that are synced up to the race teams. They can tune to the channel of their favorite driver and listen to them during the race. Get chatter about pit strategy, how the car is handling, and hearing them curse out other drivers when they cause a wreck. What other sport gets you that kind of access? Bring that technology to football. Have scanners that are available to rent, or buy at the stadium. Having the ability to listen in as John Harbaugh and his staff manage a game would be a total game changer in the football world. I would love to hear the on the spot rationale for some of the decisions coaches are making. Also, when players get injured they don’t tell the fans at the game the severity. Television viewers get that info. It’s something the coaches would discuss and the fan with the headset at the game would now get the info as well. There would be some hoops to jump through, like making sure one team’s defensive coach can’t listen to the other team’s offense. But I’m sure technology is at a point where they could give fans this kind of access while still keeping the integrity of the game.
I feel pretty strongly that putting coaches in the ears of the fans in real time would be the one true advantage of being at the game. Fans would get some real inside information rather than the coach speak you get in a press conference.