|If the official under the hood sees it, so too will the fans in the stadium. (US PRESSWIRE)|
With attendance down 4.5 percent since 2005 and ticket sales declining, the NFL has made enhancing fans' in-stadium experience a priority (to hedge its bets, the league has also relaxed local blackout restrictions).
Last week, the Wall Street Journal's Kevin Clark wrote about efforts to make the NFL experience resemble the college game-day atmosphere. "The NFL says it has 'liberalized' its restraints on crowd noise," Clark wrote Friday. "Stadiums will now be free to rile up crowds with video displays, and public-address announcers will no longer be restrained from inciting racket when the opposing offense faces a crucial third down."
The league also plans to allow fans in the stadium to view the same replays of calls under review as the game official sees them under the hood on the sideline. “They'll see the exact same angles at the exact same time as he does,'' Falcons president and NFL competition committee chairman Rich McKay told ESPN.com's Pat Yasinksas.
“I think this is another example of the league listening to its fans about what they want from the in-game experience,'' McKay said. “I think throughout this edition of replay, the league, the teams and our broadcast partners have done a nice job of using the available technology to make the game better and make the experience better for the fans.''
McKay's right -- the league has to find ways to entice fans off their couches and into the stadiums. We've written previously that the costs -- both monetary and otherwise -- outweigh the gains. The NFL experience from home, in front of 60-inch televisions that renders action in better detail than the best stadium seats, is such that many fans aren't willing to give that up to deal with traffic, weather, and tens of thousands of other people (some of whom could be belligerent, drunk or both). And then there are the ever-rising ticket prices. According to Team Market Report (via WSJ), since 2008, the average ticket is up $5.14 to $77.34. Add a beer ($7.20), hot dog ($4.77) and parking ($25.77) and the average fan is looking at $115 for three hours of entertainment.
In the future, the NFL is considering allowing fans to eavesdrop on conversations between the officials during controversial calls. NFL executive vice president of ventures and business operations Eric Grubman told the Journal that it's a "long way off" but acknowledges that "you have to be able to make the game open, you have to give explanations, you have to give information." (Incidentally, this is the same argument for opening up the "All-22" film to anybody with $70.)
In addition to showing replays on stadium video boards next season, all turnovers will be subject to review by the replay booth. Last year was the first time every scoring play was reviewed "upstairs," and turnovers are the next step in the evolution of NFL replay. At the time, there were concerns that, with more stoppages, games would take longer. According to McKay, the average game in 2011 took one second longer than in 2010. Going forward, the question becomes how much of the decision-making is moved to the replay booth.
“The biggest question over time is, are we ever going to move all decisions upstairs?'' McKay said. “College football feels very comfortable with their decision upstairs. But I don't see that in our near future.''
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