We’ve bemoaned the NFL stadium experience for a while here at WFNY because of the guy with the huge orange gloves. This is the TV guy who stands on the sidelines of NFL games and ushers the game in and out of TV timeouts. He’s not the man responsible for the jamming of commercials down our throats, but he embodies it in every NFL stadium every week. The one example that trumps all the rest is the overload of commercials after a touchdown. Typically there is an extra point, commercial, kickoff, and another commercial. Heaven forbid there’s a replay challenge on the scoring play, a team timeout or an injury to shoe-horn yet one more commercial in there. As the NFL loosens rules on blackouts and mandates in-house Wi-Fi and tries to re-invigorate the stadium experience, I think I have the way for the NFL to fix all its problems.
When the NFL announced that they were going to release the “All 22″ angle which shows a low-quality picture of the field so that every player on the field is in view, the reception was overwhelmingly positive. There were some nay-sayers, but they were easily drowned out by the people who were more than willing to shell out the $60 per season to have access to this football-geek angle a few days later online.
This tells you something very important that the music industry learned long ago. Sometimes fans want things you never could have predicted that they want. In the case of music, the industry kept trying to upgrade the sonic quality with Super Audio CD and DVD Audio. Those “high quality” options quickly failed as a “low quality” option thrived with the sales of MP3 players. As it turned out, quality wasn’t defined to most music fans as extra bits of sonic range most likely beyond the scope of their stereo systems, let alone their ears. It was defined by convenience and portability. Music fans were willing to scale back the quality a bit if it meant they could take their own soundtrack to the gym, on the bus or subway and into their cars more easily.
It isn’t a perfect comparison, but NFL fans who want to attend games don’t want more in-game Wi-Fi. They probably don’t want extra access to more replays from other games or even the Red Zone Channel. Fans who buy tickets to football games want a smooth-flowing game and the ability to scream their heads off. They want it to flow so that the energy isn’t unceremoniously sucked out every few minutes by TV commercial breaks. It’s true that a lot of them play fantasy football, bet on other games and do the kinds of things that some of the people at home do, but they made the effort to be there in person. They shouldn’t be catered to the same way as fans at home watching the game on TV.
So, what should the NFL do? Present two different games. Fix the live experience for fans who attend the games by taking out most of the commercial breaks. Keep a few breaks in the action as it makes sense for, you know, the game itself, but don’t let the live action suffer simply because Bud Light needs exposure. Cater to the people who are buying tickets inside the stadium by giving them the best version of what they’re paying to go see. Sounds simple, right?
What about the TV audience? Go ahead and just insert those commercials for the TV audience. They’ll be a little bit behind the action, but so what? Do away with the halftime show to catch up a little bit if you need to. The halftime show will continue to be marginalized over time as people have access to highlights and replays on their mobile devices and computers.
That’s it. Treat the TV audience like a TV audience and treat the live audience like a live audience. It creates some issues about live versus nearly-live action because of Twitter and things like that, maybe. The NFL can just sell it as an opportunity for those who want to buy tickets. Create a real incentive to be there live instead of creating a disincentive with the commercial breaks.
In addition, it will create new opportunities. Want to see the game live without commercials from home? Maybe someday down the road the NFL makes that an option for a steep price on an annual pay-per-view basis. If you want to sit at home and watch it for free it won’t be truly live because of commercials, but it will be close.
Look. It’s the modern world. How many people do you know already who DVR the game, wait a half hour and then watch the thing in overdrive? Those numbers might not be huge, but I can guarantee they are growing and not shrinking. The home viewer is generally a pretty adaptable and crafty person. Even if they’re not, they’re getting their game basically for free, so how can they complain?
The ones who we need to think about are the people sitting in the stands. They can only be so crafty with their phones and with stadium jumbotrons. It’s time to stop punishing them for showing up. Don’t give them more things to do and watch, fix the thing they went to watch in the first place.