The Jacksonville Jaguars are planning to spend about $50 million to install new video boards at EverBank Field, and they’re going to use them in an innovative way. Jacksonville president Mark Lamping told SportsBusinessDaily that a portion of the video board might broadcast games from the NFL Network’s RedZone channel, which shows key moments from games around the league.
“We know this would be welcomed by the large portion of our fans who are transplants to Jacksonville, as well as all fantasy football enthusiasts,” Lamping said.
NFL attendance has experienced a marked drop over the last few seasons, and as a result, franchise owners and the league itself are looking for ways to get fans off the couch and into the stands. But while Jacksonville’s plan may work on the margins, it seems to miss the overall point. Part of the attendance drop is surely due to the economic recession and slow recovery. But most of it is probably an unintended consequence of a deliberate business strategy that has made the NFL the most TV-friendly sports league at the same time it was pricing average fans out of the game.
NFL ticket prices rose 24 percent from 2007 to 2012, and the average NFL ticket now costs around $78. According to Fanexperience.com, it costs more than $400 to take a family of four to the average NFL game, including the cost of food, beverages, and parking. By comparison, the average fan can buy DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket, which offers every game, for $225 a season. They can purchase the NFL Network’s RedZone channel, which shows every scoring play from every game, for $49.99 for the entire season.
For those prices, they can watch the games in high-definition, avoid the non-stop commercial breaks that occur during NFL games by flipping channels, and monitor their fantasy football teams, all while drinking cheap beer and avoiding stale nachos that cost $7.50. And they are! The NFL’s TV ratings haven’t slumped. It is winning on Thursday nights, Sunday afternoons, Sunday evenings, and Monday nights. Its consolidated schedule gives it built-in advantages over other sports on TV, and it has used them to become sports’ biggest broadcast behemoth.
I’m not sold that the problem is as simple as “high-definition TV is keeping fans at home,” as some have made it. As such, I’m not sure offering fans the RedZone channel on a massive video board is going to make them want to come to games, especially those played by a team like Jacksonville that has won only seven games in the last two years. The solution seems far simpler than that. Making the game more expensive to access in the stadium at the same time you’re making it easier and cheaper to access from home will naturally lead to more people watching it from their couch. The way to fix that isn’t to make it harder to access from home or to offer fans more viewing opportunities at the stadium. It’s to make getting into the stadium more affordable for the average NFL fan.