The NFL has become a monster of its own doing. As popularity has soared and fans have become ever engrossed in fantasy football, HD TVs, and DirecTV game packages, attendance at games has actually dropped.
That's right, while the sport continues to boom, fans are shying away from witnessing action firsthand.
|NFL Annual Paid Attendance Since 2007|
|* Source: NFL Record & Fact Book|
It makes sense really: the in-home experience has, in some ways, become far superior to the one provided by going to the stadium.
Why pay for parking and sit in traffic when you can plop down in front of a 70" HD TV and check your fantasy team at the same time?
In order to reverse this trend and rejuvenate ticket sales, the league must become proactive instead of reactive.
Do not take the Bud Selig route and wait for fans to cry foul before finally making instrumental changes to improve the game.
Let's examine a couple of ways to improve the in-stadium offerings and make fans clamor for tickets on Sundays.
Embrace Social Media and Technology like Never Before
When I say embrace social media, I do not mean to ask fans to "like us on Facebook" or "follow us on Twitter." Those two phrases almost make people cringe at this point in their over-saturation.
Instead, try something like allowing fans at the stadium exclusive access to sideline cameras and audio on their phones or iPad.
This could easily be done by putting a scannable code on each respective ticket and using it for fans at the stadium to access "behind-the-scenes"-type stuff.
Few things enthrall fans more than feeling as if they are privy to information that others aren't.
How about letting those who show up early be able to watch live video of Calvin Johnson getting taped up before the game, or listen in on the coach's final bits of inspiration before hitting the tunnel.
Nothing that is too revealing about the game or the team, but intriguing enough to draw interest.
Who wouldn't want to be able to hear live sound-bits from "mic'd-up" players?
By making these types of features exclusive to fans in attendance, the NFL can create a type of exclusivity that attendees will love.
Bring the Comforts of Home To The Stadium
The technological revolution has happened whether old-school fans like it or not. Nobody enters a stadium anymore without at least being equipped with a cell-phone.
And while the behind-the-scenes access is a start, it is in-game content that fans need.
At home, we can watch multiple games at once and keep up with fantasy or whatever else peaks our interest.
NFL stadiums need to feel more like home if they are going to compete with the couch.
Scoreboards need to constantly update fantasy information, show highlights of other games and include injury information.
Fans should have the option to rent headsets and listen in on radio broadcasts of both the game in front of them and others around the country.
Halftime should feature live streams of games across the country on every scoreboard and Jumbo-Tron.
Oh, and Roger Goodell may have suggested putting Wi-Fi in every stadium, but it is a real necessity at this point.
Fans still crave the energy and pulsating joy that comes from going to the game. That fact has never waned, but the NFL has to be willing to adjust its game-day philosophies in order to accommodate our ever-changing society.
Don't Blame the Economy
Waiting for fans to come back to stadiums on their own accord simply is not working. New things must be tried.
And to say that the recent recession and economic difficulties are the main cog in ticket failures is an ill-conceived notion.
Look at the city of Detroit as an example.
A city hit harder economically than perhaps any other in the country, and yet attendance at Ford Field has risen in the last few years as the Lions have become relevant.
Money is clearly not what is keeping fans at home, it is convenience and comfort.
The NFL can force its stadium atmosphere to respond to both of those characteristics.
Are all of these ideas going to work and revolutionize the sporting world?
No, but why not at least try new things and see what sticks?
Watching games live and in person should forever be the ultimate way to take in a sporting event, and implementing a few changes to stay current can help the NFL ensure that seats never remain empty.