CINCINNATI, OH - NOVEMBER 27: Andy Dalton #14 of the Cincinnati Bengals takes the field for the game against the Cleveland Browns at Paul Brown Stadium on November 27, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Bengals defeated the Browns 23-20. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)
In a recent foxsports.com article, Patriots owner Robert Kraft describes that he went to an NHL game between the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins and was so impressed with the viewing experience that he approached NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, asking if the NFL could borrow some of the NHL's ideas to encourage the average NFL fan to become more excited and involved.
The league's response, not surprisingly, wasn't an embracing and enthusiastic one. One of the league's brass replied:
"The fan bases actually interact with their teams in a very different way," said Grubman, who has discussed the topic extensively with Kraft’s son and Patriots president Jonathan Kraft. "There are music elements and other things that relate to football that are popular entertainment, but we’re not looking to (other leagues) as a role model. They may be going in another direction of things that other people may enjoy. We’re going football and connectivity."
Admittedly, I haven't been to many hockey game in my liftetime (just not a Cyclones guy), but I can guarantee that the viewing experience at an NHL game is far better than any NFL game I've been to.
At Paul Brown Stadium, Bengals fans have become accustomed to a few cheerleaders before and during the game, but little else of note. It surprises me that the outdated animated tiger intro is still played before the game, and the players only run out to some smoke and small fireworks. Fans can watch highlights from around the league during halftime (because the league mandates that all stadiums must show some NFL RedZone coverage), but these aren't on HD display screens, nor are the screens very big in terms of league standards. I'm there to watch my Bengals, and that's about it.
The NFL and the Bengals organization itself seem to be doing little to improve what is a subpar viewing experience. The league seems to think that the most important area for improvement is the "connectivity" with other fans. As in, let fans tweet and text and check scores on their phones by increasing the available bandwidth in stadiums. That's a good idea, but that's not the only aspect of the viewing experience that the NFL should consider improving. It's not just 'football and connectivity', as Mr. Grubman explains.
If the league decides that improving connectivity is the biggest issue, they should at least focus on doing it well. At our own PBS, AT&T installed a "dual-antenna system" in hopes of improving cell phone coverage late last season. But, that didn't let me get messages any faster when I was at Paul Brown Stadium in November and December. I still received messages at least an hour after they were sent, and couldn't tweet anything until the game was over. I tried to send out a picture message of one of Mike Nugent's missed field goal attempts (sly lady two rows in front of me decided to keep the football and hide it under her seat), but it never sent.
Maybe the league should focus on improving the more pressing issues of the viewing experience, like ticket-pricing, concessions pricing, parking, tailgating, long bathroom lines, and on a related note- TV blackouts. PBS doesn't necessarily reflect all of these concerns, but stadiums around around the country are far behind the trend when it comes to these contant pains.
Take it from the National Football Post's Jack Bechta, who's been to 26 of the NFL's 31 venues and is extremely dissatisfied with what he's experienced, as he explains in a mock letter to the league.
Bechta lists five solid areas of concern that the average NFL fan must face on gameday: ticket prices, getting in and out of the stadium, the parking lot and tailgating, over priced concessions & long lines, and obnoxious fan behavior.
Bechta's argument is definitely worth a read, as it gives NFL fans a bit of perspective on what they have been enduring for years and years. Though Bechta is a little on the whiny side, I certainly agree. There are so many flaws with the fan's experience when he goes to an NFL game. It's a shame that the league thinks the only issue worth addressing is "connectivity".