NFL VP: Maybe football stadiums should have fewer seats and more TVs

In the midst of a long article on the NFL’s concussion crisis (which is really a football crisis, but the NFL really really doesn’t want you to think about that), the Los Angeles Times’ Sam Farmer includes a quote from league VP Eric Grubman that’s pretty amazing:

The next generation of NFL stadiums could be markedly different than the ones we now know, Grubman said. He envisions smaller and more intimate venues, possibly more like basketball arenas, with standing-room-only clubs at the corners.

“What if a new stadium we built wasn’t 70,000, but it was 40,000 seats with 20,000 standing room?” he said. “But the standing room was in a bar-type environment with three sides of screens, and one side where you see the field. Completely connected. And in those three sides of screens, you not only got every piece of NFL content, including replays, Red Zone [Channel], and analysis, but you got every other piece of news and sports content that you would like to have if you were at home.

“Now you have the game, the bar and social setting, and you have the content. What’s that ticket worth? What’s that environment feel like to a young person? Where do you want to be? Do you want to be in that seat, or do you want to be in that pavilion?”

That’s certainly where some teams are already headed, but it’s still somewhat alarming to hear the head of business operations for a major sports league suggest that his teams need new stadiums so that people can go there to watch on TV because actually watching the game with your own eyes sucks. Not that it’s not true, and given that people happily paid $200 to stand outside the 2011 Super Bowl in Dallas and watch on a big screen, Grubman might even be right that it’s what fans want. Still, it’s an indication that the football business is likely to head in some really weird directions in the remaining decades before it becomes the next bear baiting.


5 comments on “NFL VP: Maybe football stadiums should have fewer seats and more TVs

  1. If the NFL actually goes in this direction it would be idiotic. The TV experience of seeing a stadium filled with 60+ thousand fans is a heck of a lot more impressive than seeing a stadium filled with 40,000.

    I think that the live experience is all about tailgating and the energy in the stadium, not having a TV screen or WiFi. The real problem to me is the fact that all of these newer stadiums eschew cantilevered upper decks, thus placing too many fans too far away. I went to Candlestick for the first time this year and it was awesome even though we were five rows back in the upper tank. At the new stadium that seat will probably be much further away even though the seating capacity is the same.

  2. Does this mean that Indianapolis will now be asked to demolish Lucas Oil stadium and rebuild a smaller facility (oh, I don’t know, like the RCA/Hoosier dome maybe…)

  3. Ben:

    I don’t know if the “tv” experience would be much different with 20-25k fewer seats. As you say, the cheap seats are a lot further from the field these days, and thus you don’t hear much from the fans in them on the field mikes. Some of the things you might hear from up there are things the NFL would really rather you didn’t.

    While shrinking stadia would also shrink the in house market for overpriced merch, beer and pieces of cardboard with a cheese-like wax substance poured on top, it would also drive up ticket prices in what are now the mid range pricing tier. My best guess is that once the demand curve and pricing had shaken out, a 50,000 seat NFL stadium would not necessarily generate any less revenue than the current 65-70k stadia do.

    Though the last 20k seats don’t really make teams that much revenue, they do cost a great deal to supply (no less engineering or concrete required for seats for the great unwashed, of course). Add to that, frankly, there are some markets where the NFL would much rather not have the kind of people who buy the $25-50 seats (and I’m approximating on price there, obviously).

    If you’ve been to a game in Buffalo, you know that there are sections of the stadium you don’t want to be seated in. And the reason for that has nothing to do with the sight lines. Oakland is the same. The old Giants stadium and the Vet in Philly were also not places you’d take your teenage children to see a game.

    I take this article as an admission by the NFL that their product no longer caters to the bottom end (sorry for the generalization, but that’s what the NFL sees them as) sports fan. They’d really rather not have those guys in the stadium, even though they do drink a significant number of $10 cups of warm beer.

  4. Imagine watching a game with friends in a living room, with Red Zone on a big screen, a full bar and a private bathroom. Oh, yeah…I already have that. It’s called my house.

  5. As a fan, I really have to disagree with this fewer seats more TVs idea. I attend games to see the game, feel that energy in the air when a stadium is packed full of that passion. It’s real when the action is right in front of you. If I wanted to watch on TV, I’d stay home or go to a bar. I really don’t see the justification for how this idea can enhance the fan experience.

    That said, I think many would agree that Cowboys Stadium is one of the best stadiums in the league, if not the best. (It was actually voted the best over at http://www.ranker.com/list/best-nfl-stadiums/sportsyeah though a small sample size.) I had a chance to visit in September for the Michigan-Alabama game and was kind of turned off by it. I had a standing room ticket and was restricted to one level and only about 1/4 of the concourse on that level. Sure I could see the game well since I was in the front of that crowd and the huge video boards helped, but being in that standing room section didn’t allow me to explore the rest of the venue to see how great it was. I understand they want to confine those with standing room tickets but my experience as a fan was hindered by this policy and something I could see replicated if these new stadiums rely more on standing room and TVs than actual seats.

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