The National Football League is battling a surprising problem given its stature as the top sport in America – declining ticket sales.
According to a story in The Wall Street Journal, ticket sales have dropped in each of the past five years, with last year’s average game attendance down 4.5 percent since 2007. The biggest problem? The fact that the games are shown in HD, the growth of fantasy football and the availability of NFL Sunday Ticket make staying home to watch a game better than going to the stadium for many fans.
“The at-home experience has gotten better and cheaper, while the in-stadium experience feels like it hasn’t,” said Eric Grubman, the NFL’s executive vice president of ventures and business operations. “That’s a trend that we’ve got to do something about.”
The NFL will try to lure fans back to the stadium by offering better replays at the stadium, offering wireless Internet (so you can check your fantasy players), as well as access to the NFL Red Zone channel.
One of the biggest changes comes to the TV blackout rule. Starting this fall, local broadcasts will be allowed even when as few as 85 percent of the available tickets are sold. Individual teams can set its own seat-sales benchmark as long as it is 85 percent or higher of the stadium’s capacity.
The change to the blackout rule is one that Browns fans should be very interested in as, according to a chart accompanying the article, the Browns played to 89 percent capacity for their eight home games last season – the seventh-lowest in the NFL. There were four teams below the 85 percent mark – the Dolphins, Bills, Bengals (lowest in the league, hah!) and the “win now” Redskins.
The Browns have a strong home schedule this year – in addition to the division games they host Philadelphia, San Diego, Washington and Kansas City, with Buffalo being the only “bad” game. The addition of Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden also gives the team an NFL-caliber offense for the first time since 2007, which should reward fans who had to endure two years of Eric Mangini’s prehistoric offense and last year’s injury-fueled mess.
So while it may not seem likely that the Browns could face their first blackout since returning in 1999, how the NFL tackles the stadium experience is worth watching.
(Photo by The Plain Dealer)
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