Why do fans pay to go to NFL games?
It’s one of the three most mystifying questions of our existence, and it’s just as confounding as, “How did we get here?” and, “Is there life after death?”
I’ll leave the discussion about the origin of humanity and the possibility of eternal destiny for scientists, clergy, philosophers and college students who gather in dorm rooms after the coffee shop closes on weeknights. Besides, even in the unlikely event those conundrums are solved someday, the question of why fans pay to go to NFL games will remain unanswerable.
This much is beyond debate: It’s less of a hassle to follow pro football on a 60-inch high-definition television screen than it is to attend a game in person. Watching on television allows you to see more, and learn more, alongside companions of your choice. You can watch a game from the comfort of a couch, inside a house that’s warm on cold days, cool on hot days and dry on wet days.
And then, of course, there is the money not spent by stay-at-home fans. According to Team Marketing Research, the average prices for an NFL game last season were $77.20 per ticket, $7.20 per beer, $4.77 per hot dog and $25.22 per parking spot.
A Major League Baseball game isn’t cheap, either, but there are nuances about a ballpark experience that can’t be conveyed on television. A line drive hit into the gap with a runner on first, followed by a relay throw for a play at the plate … well, you’ve got to be there, even in the upper deck. Especially in the upper deck.
Football wasn’t made for TV; it just sort of happened that way. And while college football always will offer a pageantry that’s difficult for television to replicate, pageantry in the NFL is limited until the Super Bowl.
It’s no surprise, then, that while the viewership ratings for NFL games continue to dominate the ratings of all other sports, attendance is down 4.5 percent since 2007. Nor is it a surprise the NFL has taken notice.
“The at-home experience has gotten better and cheaper, while the in-stadium experience feels like it hasn’t,” Eric Grubman, the league’s executive vice president of ventures and business operations, told The Wall Street Journal the other day. “That’s a trend we’ve got to do something about.”
The trend could be bucked with some simple word combinations – “free parking,” “discounted tickets” and “$2 beer” come to mind – but NFL teams haven’t yet reached that point of desperation about the decline in attendance since 2007.
The NFL still wants your money, and it realizes taking your money will be more difficult if prices are eased on tickets and concessions. So it’s on to Plan B, not that there ever was a Plan A.
An essential part of Plan B regards replay reviews necessitated by a coach’s challenge. Those replays will be shown this season on stadium video boards.
Allowing the crowd in the stadium to see everything that folks at home are seeing might not sound like a big deal, but at least it relieves fans from the frustrating sense they paid $72.20 for a ticket that deprives them a chance to offer insight around the water cooler on Monday morning.
For the past few years, the conversation has gone something like this.
Home-schooled fan: “What do you make of that disputed touchdown catch in the back of the end zone?”
Ticket-buying fan: “Not a clue.”
Home-schooled fan: “I thought you had season tickets. You didn’t go to the game?”
Ticket-buying fan: “I went to the game. That’s why I don’t have a clue.”
There is a price for everything, of course, and the price of enabling fans in the stadium to view a video-board replay of a disputed call is substantial. Will the rulings of neutral refs be swayed by home-crowd dynamics? (I suspect so. They’re only human.) Will rulings that go against the home team enrage those fans whose behavior already is teetering on obnoxiousness? (I suspect so. They’re only human.)
The possibility of an unfavorable call fanning the flames of a riot is minimal. We’re Americans, after all, representing the most advanced society in the history of the world. Our cohabitants in this great land would never storm the field in the way those crazy soccer fans do in Europe, and Africa, and South America. Right?
Major League Baseball umpires aren’t so sure. Their collectively bargained contract with MLB forbids any replays of disputed calls on stadium video boards. The next time a bang-bang play at first is shown to a Safeco Field crowd, it will be the first time, and the last time. The umpires will walk off the field. They’ll declare the game a forfeit, with the home team responsible.
MLB fans, by nature and the sheer disparity in the schedules – 162 games, compared to 16 – generally are more mellow than NFL fans. Baseball is a sport that markets to families and group outings for day campers, church congregations and civic organizations. If umpires fear the consequences of disputed calls replayed on the video board during a baseball game, what’s that say about the potential for a disputed call to turn into a crowd-control crisis at a football game?
In addition to allowing stadium fans access to replay reviews, the NFL will relax its restrictions on public-address announcers. Before attendance waned, overzealous P.A. announcers were frowned upon. Just note the down and the yardage, guys, the rest shall be self-explanatory.
No more. If the home team’s defense is challenged to stop, say, a third-down and two, the P.A. announcer will be encouraged to goad the fans into the frenzy.
“Dee-Fense!” he’ll implore, five or six times, while an artificial drum beat blares over the stadium sound system. Well, duh. It’s third-and-2.
The NFL’s response to dwindling attendance is revealing. It has concluded that football fans are stupid.
Just another reason to stay home, as if you needed firstname.lastname@example.org