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Sports Broadcasting Technology

End the NFL TV Blackout Rule - For the Love of the Game

February 13, 2014


With attendance dropping and TV ratings climbing, it’s time for the NFL to end its outdated blackout policy and harness some of the same technology and content options that’s made it a huge hit in the home and evolve the in-stadium experience of a pro sport created in the late 1800s.

The league’s blackout policy requires games be sold out 72 hours before kickoff or be blacked out in the home TV market – a situation that hurts both advertising business for owners and deprives most fans in the affected areas from seeing the weekly matches on big screens at home with friends and/or family.

An epic TV trauma and league-wide embarrassment was narrowly averted on the first weekend of the NFL postseason when three of four games were not sold out with time about to expire. Corporate sponsors and TV affiliates quickly bought most of the remaining tickets and the shows went on.

Better that than not having their ads reach fans in the home TV market.

The In-Stadium Experience

While the league is working to add technology to stadiums to improve the fan experience, tickets sales and blackouts should be decoupled for the love of the game and the revenues attainable through TV advertising, perhaps eventually opening live streaming of NFL games to devices such as tablets and smartphones.

Efforts to improve the fan experience should continue for those seeking to attend the games, but not solely to sell tickets or to avoid local TV blackouts, especially given that affordable big-screen TVs have already forever altered how fans views the games. Technology plays a large, but hardly sole role, in reviving and advancing the attendee experience.

The fan experience needs to improve to sell tickets in general as owners have and will continue to invest megabucks in buying teams, paying players and generating revenue for area economies that are often called on to help pay for new stadiums and infrastructure upgrades.

Image via Shutterstock.

As other pro sports team owners have already learned, the stadium is just the venue for the football team. It’s the field for concerts, other sports league teams (soccer), college teams, high school sports and more. It’s also a foundation on which to locate high-end restaurants, bars, retail and hotels that are open year-round.

Team Spirit

To enhance the fan experience, NFL teams need to consider, and reconsider the following aspects of attending the game.

-Don’t fear the streamer. The NFL banned streaming from attendees at this past Super Bowl. Those who pay for the seats should be able to use their mobile devices to get content not available in the stadium. Why put season ticket holders and other at a lower level than those at home?

-NFL Now. It’s the league’s just announced channel that provides live streaming of video content from highlights to press conferences and player interviews. It’s free, can be personalized and will launch this summer. It’s the league’s effort to extend the reach of its content beyond outlets like ESPN (News - Alert) and the NFL Network. It won’t stream games live, yet, but there’s a treasure trove of alluring content out there to be viewed – a repository that teams should constantly add to. NFL Now can be accessed from home or on mobile devices so make sure attendees can get it.

-NFL Redzone. It’s a highly addictive live stream of scoring drives in games around the league that viewers at home flip to as a channel on their pay TV service rather than rely on highlight shows hours or more later. It focuses on the plays that usually lead to points. Game attendees need it too.

-Upgrade, expand and enhance wireless infrastructure in and around stadiums. This is a major impediment to fans in the stands enjoying streamed league content, often during extended TV timeouts as well as pre-game quiet time and often action-less halftime breaks.

The topic of wireless infrastructure is already a real raw nerve for those even trying to send and receive texts, let alone images while at the game. The foundation isn’t there or is being used for other reasons. Wireless devices are everywhere at games. Let’s use this technology to enable new options for improving the fan experience.

-Other reasons. Many teams have added wireless access in the last few years but limit its use to reaching specific team and league content. This may be a viable marketing move but ticks off attendees, which isn’t a smart marketing move.

-The NFL has the biggest big screens, now use them. Where once the massive displays were used to show replays, out of town highlights and in-game-specific content, some now are largely big boards for game-long advertising with sores and highlights often only available through team wireless links from league-approved web locations. Fantasy footballers need their refreshed scores and stats, which they can get from home…Size matters. Big screen wins over far smaller smartphone screens.

-Treat home games like the Super Bowl. Instead of silly competition featuring sponsors’ products, or nothing at all (halftime), put on a show for attendees. Make fans want to get to their seats early and maybe event stay a little later. Give them something they can’t get at home.

-Easy on social media. If you know your attendee demographics, you probably also know that tweet voting for the next song to be played is a miss that has far too many ticket holders’ eyes rolling back inside their heads. Posting tweets like “Go Team” and “Comeback Time” add nothing to the fan experience either. A fan cam does more.

-Leverage celebrities in attendance. If they can spend the game in the owner’s luxury box, they can replace no-name also-rans from TV competition shows and sing the national anthem or anything at halftime. Most NFL cities have plenty of real local talent. Share guests with the fans helping to pay the freight for the product. When this is done, the fans go wild! Literally.

-Consider Saturday night games. Though Saturday is game day for college football, fans like evening games, especially when they run late as Sunday can be bounce back day instead of a drag yourself to work day. The NFL had no problem holding Thursday night games and holding some playoff games on Saturdays so there’s little excuse here.

-Involve former player stars in the event every way you can. Real fans remember what the team was like before last season and are drawn to past stars and trips down memory lane, not matter how many years removed. Honor them, by showcasing them and let them interact with fans before and during the game and even between weekly games. Fans and their friends and kids love meeting players for autographs and pictures. You can’t get that interaction at home.

-Pull out all the stops for preseason games. Charging season ticketholders the same for these contests as regular season games is flat out wrong and has been a top gripe for a very long time. Parking and concessions cost the same too for these sub-NFL level games. Treat them differently even though they are not priced differently. Angering your season ticket holders is not wise as they are among your most loyal fans. Maybe have a local band play at halftime for starters? Try everything.

-Don’t lock on to technology as the only solution to the fan experience challenge. Many of the above listed suggestions or changes are old school football items, some of which were lessened or eliminated by technology. Get back to basics and put on a show.

And finally, eliminate the NFL’s blackout policy….for the love of the game. Viewers won’t root much for teams they can’t watch on TV. The league said last December it’s sticking to its guns with the blackout policy. It’s time the game created early in the 20th century gets the benefit of 21st century business and technology thinking.

 Bob Wallace , VP of Content