TV Sports/Business NotesGoing to the Game, to Watch Them All on TV
By Ken Belson, The New York Times
- Sep. 15, 2013
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Inside EverBank Field, during the second half of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ lopsided loss to the Kansas City Chiefs last Sunday, Carlos Boria finally found a reason to cheer.
“Yeah, baby,” he screamed as tight end Jimmy Graham scored a touchdown. But Graham is not a member of the Jaguars. He was playing for the Saints, about 500 miles away, at the Superdome in New Orleans.
Boria’s cheer was part of the cacophony in the new 7,000-square-foot fantasy football lounge at the Jaguars’ stadium, where fans were primarily following not the game they had bought tickets to attend, but those in other N.F.L. cities involving players on their fantasy teams.
In recent years, sports sites have increasingly been outfitted with high-definition video scoreboards, and high-definition televisions in the concourses, the better to essentially create a broadcast of the game that fans are also watching live. But lounges like the one the Jaguars have unveiled take that one step further. They attempt, in essence, to entice fans to watch not just the game that is being played a few hundred feet away from them but every other one going on around the league as well — and to spend money on food and drinks while doing so.
The lounges function as technology-friendly sports bars, with great locations and, because fans need to enter the stadiums first, expensive cover charges.
“We have to have a very compelling reason for fans to come to the game,” said Shahid R. Khan, the Jaguars’ owner.
Many times, that reason may not be the game on the field. Though the Jaguars limped to a 28-2 defeat last week, Boria, 41, happily tracked the performances of his fantasy players, like Graham, on a Microsoft tablet computer mounted to a table in the lounge, and on the nine large screen TVs nearby.
“That will be my spot from now on,” said Boria, who, as a Jaguars’ season-ticket holder, pays an average of $40 a game for a seat that he plans to rarely visit.
Traditionalists might scoff at a fan who buys a ticket, drives to a stadium and then spends the game in a lounge focusing on out-of-town scores using televisions, computers and smartphones. But N.F.L. teams have been challenged in recent years by the growing number of fans who prefer the game-day experience in the comfort of their own homes, where high-definition TVs and high-speed Internet access — not to mention recliners and cheaper food and beverage options — provide a more suitable place for taking in several contests at the same time.
Enter areas like the Jaguars’ lounge, which is open to any fan in the stadium for no extra charge and offers air-conditioning, fast WiFi connections, video-game stations, comfortable recliners and food and drinks. The field of play is partly visible from the lounge, but that is almost incidental, and last Sunday, the Jaguars’ game was merely one of several on the TVs.
The Jaguars realize that in the fight for fans’ attention and wallets, their competition is not just from college football and other sports, but from fantasy football, social media and the highlights, statistics and online discussion that can sometimes be hard to follow in stadiums but have become an essential part of N.F.L. Sundays.
“The most important thing is to make sure they have a good game-day experience,” said Khan, who, during the game, stopped by the lounge, above the end zone on the stadium’s south side. “Teams like us are looking for every competitive advantage.”
In effect, teams are trying to marry live football with the digital experience. In fantasy football, fans create “teams” with real players and compete to see whose players perform the best statistically in any given week.
“Fans are left in the dark when they go to the stadium because the home experience has improved so dramatically,” said Phil de Picciotto, the president of Octagon, a sports marketing agency. The fantasy lounge in Jacksonville, he said, is “in part life imitating art imitating life and in part, if you can’t beat them, join them.”
It is a far cry from the years when about the only way to see your favorite team was to buy a ticket and the only way to get details of other games while sitting in the stands was to have a transistor radio handy.
Smartphones have helped blend the home and stadium experiences, allowing fans to check their fantasy scores while at games. Yet overloaded networks have made for spotty connections, and the technological advantages of staying home gave fans a reason to do just that. It is one reason that after peaking in 2007, leaguewide attendance has slowly declined. The challenge is especially great for struggling teams like Jacksonville, which finished 2-14 last season.
“The teams are asking whether the TV has gotten so good that the snake starts to eat its own tail,” said Andrew Billings, who teaches sports media at the University of Alabama and is a co-author of “The Fantasy Sport Industry: Games Within Games.” “You’ve offered such a good product at home that people don’t go. Yet the product is good in part because you have so many screaming fans.”
The Jaguars, the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots are among an increasing number of teams that have improved wireless signals in their stadiums and added areas like the Jaguars’ lounge, scoreboards with more video capabilities and other amenities to recreate the living room experience. Jacksonville and the Jaguars will spend $63 million next year to install an enormous scoreboard and make other stadium improvements. One reason the Cowboys chose AT&T as the naming rights partner for their stadium was the company’s technological savvy.
In some ways, the N.F.L. is a victim of its own success. Interest in games is high because fans have so many ways to follow the games, yet the profusion of options is starting to drown out the in-stadium experience, even as teams have raced to keep up with technology. One TV channel, NFL RedZone, shows every scoring play in the league as it happens, providing a real-time highlight show every Sunday.
Still, the N.F.L.’s many media deals generate billions of dollars a year. This summer, for instance, Verizon Wireless expanded its agreement with the N.F.L. so that next season, the company’s customers can watch more games on their smartphones.
“Changes in technology scare a lot of incumbents, but consumption is going up, and the pie is getting bigger,” said Brian Rolapp, who oversees NFL Network, NFL.com and the league’s other media holdings. “I don’t know if there is a normal way to watch the game.”
In Jacksonville last Sunday, more than 1,000 unique users tapped into the WiFi connection in the lounge, which was so crowded that bouncers controlled how many fans could enter.
With the temperature outside in the mid-80s, some fans surely came to simply enjoy the air-conditioning. Others ate the food being sold, like chicken scallopini. The bartenders were rarely idle, and fans lined up to play video games.
Most, though, appeared to enjoy the chance to satisfy their omnivorous football appetites.
“Last year, by the end of the game, my phone would be dead from checking scores so much,” said Susie Leary, who was keeping tabs on her five fantasy football teams on the tablet Boria used to check his two. “It’s nice to have the WiFi.”http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/15/sports/football/jaguars-use-fantasy-football-lounge-to-lure-fans.html?hp