One of the more ubiquitous personas creeping across the nation is the multitasking sports TV viewer, who regularly accesses social media platforms to enhance their viewing experience. Add in the latest in electronics – plasma, HDTV, 3D, SmartTV and more – and we’ve seen rapid enhancement in the home-viewing experience. Is the in-stadium experience keeping up and its gatekeepers doing enough to stem the tides?
Across the NFL, for example, attendance is down more than 3 percent from 2007. Conversely, TV ratings have continued to climb – average regular-season NFL game was viewed by 16.6 million viewers in 2011, according to figures from Nielsen. The most obvious culprit is cost. It’s still cheaper to pay for a sports specialty channel package than to purchase tickets to a live sporting event, never mind factoring in the cost of parking and concessions on top. But cost is only part of the trend.
Twitter has become the app of choice for sports fans to interact with each other during games. It’s quick. It’s easy and it’s no surprise fits perfectly with a fan’s dialogue of choice – “chirping” – or berating an opposing player, team or performance. New apps, such as GrabFan are raising the stakes beyond Twitter, giving fans the ability to bet game credits against other users on winners of live sporting events. Points can be exchanged for discount coupons on tickets or merchandise. “We believe the market is wide open,” says Steve Smith, a co-creator of GrabFan. Plus, while there’s no predicting the future success of 3D or interactive TV, services such as DirecTV (providing fans coverage of six games at once, for example) prove that manufacturers and broadcasters are not sitting idly by waiting to find out.
So where does that leave the in-stadium experience? Not as bad off as you might think. Being in your seat at the game still delivers what your couch never will – the crowd atmosphere, the buzz, the roar, the aroma of hot dogs – to say nothing of the pre-game tailgating or post-game autograph sessions. But teams are starting to recognize they have to step up their game, by offering extra benefits exclusive to those who attend live. Hot on the heels of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell‘s desire to outfit all NFL stadiums with advanced technology, Cisco introduced Connected Stadium Wi-Fi. ”Yankee Stadium was in fact the first venue we ever deployed our first offering in this space, called StadiumVision,” said David Holland, general manager and senior vice president of Sports and Entertainment Solutions Group at Cisco. Connected Stadium extends content capability and makes it available to even more mobile devices and screens, he explained. New Meadowlands Stadium went one step further, offering fans free smart-phone applications that work only inside a stadium to deliver replays, updated stats and live video from other games.
So whether fans pull up a chair or pull up to the box office, the competition is definitely heating up. The most ironic thing in all of this? A packed stadium makes for a superior in-home game-watching experience.