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Goodell ties increase in viewership to tough economic times

NFC Championship - New York Giants v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

In a 60 Minutes profile to be aired on Sunday night on CBS, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell ties the recent explosion in TV viewership of pro football to the ongoing economic challenges in America.

“People want to feel part of a group, feel like they’re connected, and right now during these difficult times, they can turn on free television and watch the greatest entertainment that’s out there,” Goodell said.  “They can forget their worries for just a few hours.”

The problem, of course, is that if too many people choose free television over paid attendance, the games won’t look as compelling because they’ll be played before stadiums with large patches of empty seats.

“Our biggest challenge going forward is how do we get people to come to our stadiums because the experience is so great at home,” Goodell says.  “When you turn on [a football game], you want to see a full stadium.”

For the NFL, it’s a conundrum that could become a crisis.  People love watching the game on TV in part because the background of a full stadium makes it feel like a big event.  But with ticket prices and parking costs and weather and $8 beer and fans who have no problem drinking too many $8 beers and the inability to efficiently multitask and/or to use a clean, non-crowded bathroom, folks who already are feeling a financial pinch would rather gather with family and friends and watch the game at home.

Given the explosion in broadcast revenue, the NFL has two choices:  (1) make the in-stadium experience better; or (2) in those cities where sellouts are a struggle, dramatically drop the prices of the tickets.

With fans serving essentially as extras in a big-budget TV extravaganza, the idea of soaking them for every last dollar in order to enhance the atmosphere for the home audience seems fundamentally unfair.  If the league can’t make it better to attend the games in person, the league needs to make it cheaper.

The third option, of course, would be to use digital technology to make the seats look like they contain paying customers, even if they don’t.  If it was once good enough for CBS to enhance golf telecasts with faux chirping, why not hire Industrial Light & Magic to cover up the red seats at Raymond James fans not with tarps but Tampa fans?

Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.  Regardless, all options will be on the table if the ongoing growth of in-home viewing of NFL football eventually makes in-home viewing less interesting because of the lack of in-person fans with painted faces, fat guys wearing only a barrel, middle fingers in the Astrodome, and other, um, creative displays of enthusiasm.

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54 Responses to “Goodell ties increase in viewership to tough economic times”
  1. 1buckeye76 says: Jan 28, 2012 11:52 AM

    Attendance should certainly increase if you play more games overseas… oh wait, maybe not.

  2. jackntorres says: Jan 28, 2012 11:53 AM

    Does he also tie forcing games to be played in Europe to tough economic times?

    I hope the fans in St. Louis refuse to spend another dime towards the organization unless the games in London are cancelled.

  3. icewalker946 says: Jan 28, 2012 12:00 PM

    An idea; base ticket prices on team records. If a team is sub-.500 for 3 straight years, ticket prices are slashed in half the next year.

    Improve on this….just throwing it out there as a brainstorm idea.

  4. andrejohnsonforpresident says: Jan 28, 2012 12:04 PM

    I’ve been noticing this as well. I mean Football players are usually pretty famous but I feel like a lot of them feel like superstars right now. That goes for ESPN/NFL analysts too.

    Funny when everyone laughed at Ray Ray for saying if there was no football there would be higher crime rates. I bet he would’ve been right.

    Football is growing superstar like, hope it doesn’t get too big. The last empire to have their entire country really going around one thing was rome right before it fell…

  5. chadmurdigan says: Jan 28, 2012 12:05 PM

    No brainer.

    With what the NFL makes with TV rights alone, the owners can afford to let fans enter the stadiums for free and charge $20 for beer and $1 for soft drinks and hot dogs.

    That takes care of attendance and cuts down on the in-stadium drunks.

  6. gbfan says: Jan 28, 2012 12:05 PM

    They can charge as much as they want for beer at Lambeau Field. I will never stop going there.

  7. joetoronto says: Jan 28, 2012 12:05 PM

    The obvious answer is to lower the ticket prices dramatically.

    It’s just a matter of time, they have to do it.

  8. hmisanthropy says: Jan 28, 2012 12:09 PM

    After watching a football game I have never said to myself, “That would have been more enjoyable if I had seen more fans in the stands”

  9. dmartin17 says: Jan 28, 2012 12:12 PM

    $40 to park in the middle-of-nowhere foxboro stadium. That’s where it starts for me & patriots games. And then shelling out $75+ for nose bleeds?

    Just doesn’t make economic sense for me, though I do love a good tailgate experience!

  10. fjtardy says: Jan 28, 2012 12:13 PM

    This is a great article. Game pricing has gotten to the point where it would be cheaper for me to take a month off work (although I may have to return my $0 signing bonus) and watch football free on tv, than to see eight (or seven) home games in person.

  11. mikeeg says: Jan 28, 2012 12:16 PM

    Um, why don’t you try to make it to whe re people can take their family to a game without dropping 800-1000 bucks…

  12. anonymouslyanonymouscommentor says: Jan 28, 2012 12:19 PM

    I was thinking that third option might be charging fans to watch the games on TV, especially after Goodell started talking about the NFL the best entertainment out there for free. Let’s hope it never comes to that point.

  13. trubroncfan07 says: Jan 28, 2012 12:19 PM

    Just one more mistake by Goodell, give him ten more years running the NFL and it will be a two hand touch league playing in Pakistan.

  14. 4ever19 says: Jan 28, 2012 12:21 PM

    I watch the games on TV because I 1) live too far away from my beloved Colts to get there on a regular basis 2) don’t have the kind of money I can throw away on what it would cost to go to even 1 game a year 3) don’t much care for crowds. So I don’t care how full the stadium is. It doesn’t make me feel more connected. As long as the Colts put a good product on the field, I will continue to watch.

  15. fbman says: Jan 28, 2012 12:22 PM

    I couldn’t care less if people are at the game when im watching on tv. Doesn’t effect my viewing experience at all.

  16. harrisonhits2 says: Jan 28, 2012 12:23 PM

    Hard economic times and the fact you want to charge $9 a beer, $15 a sandwich, $40 for parking, and slam the paying customer any way you can.

    With large screen HD tvs and vs the cost of going to a game the choice isn’t very difficult.

  17. AlanSaysYo says: Jan 28, 2012 12:25 PM

    Put the part about lower ticket prices in bold font. Buy one, get one free worked in Cincinnati very well. Make it affordable, and people will come.

  18. elmobad says: Jan 28, 2012 12:26 PM

    here’s an idea.. with the increased TV revenue why not lower the ticket prices?

  19. astrosfan75956 says: Jan 28, 2012 12:27 PM

    Here’s an Idea NFL, Lower the PRICES!!!!!

  20. gallaghedj311 says: Jan 28, 2012 12:34 PM

    Mike, if they do in fact use technology to “fill empty seats” I think they should have to start use the phrase “partially live” instead of “live”

  21. ticalcaldwell says: Jan 28, 2012 12:40 PM

    see CINCY MODEL = lower ticket prices…place sells out in an hour……not rocket science

  22. rap49er says: Jan 28, 2012 12:40 PM

    $8 beer?? Try $9.50 at the Stick.

  23. ticalcaldwell says: Jan 28, 2012 12:43 PM

    Go to endblackouts.com to voice your opinion on blackouts….

  24. dachozen1 says: Jan 28, 2012 12:45 PM

    This guy is an idiot and fans reward them by watching this slop he calls football. I dont even watch this crap anymore. He has met his goal of becoming bigger than the game. I hope he is happy.

  25. edgarpoe2 says: Jan 28, 2012 12:47 PM

    …and despite hard times, when people are making tough choices to stretch their dollars, the NFL continues the blackouts.

  26. bearskoolaid1985 says: Jan 28, 2012 12:57 PM

    Everyone loves to play the lottery now and then. So why not have a game seat lottery for all 8 home games. For example if your a season ticket holder and one of your seats are picked your package would be paid for the next season. If your seat ticket is picked and your not a season ticket holder you would win a game ticket for the next season and a chance to win a season ticket package in a random drawing of non season ticket winners from all 8 home games.

  27. crambow says: Jan 28, 2012 12:59 PM

    Reflex response would be to agree with reduced ticket prices but attendees possibly could be bowing their collective heads in unison uttering the “be careful what you wish for” prayer.

    If you’ve ever experienced the RFK days of old when the intercity ticket blocks were issued, then you’ll know what I mean.

    When you toss out the portional financial commitment, you soon find out a stadium-size assemblance is no longer entertaining fans ‘on the same page’. There is always a slight chance that if you diminish fan quality, those who can afford to go might be the first to jump ship if the element deteriorates.

    And hey, god bless TV for getting a return on their sizable outlays. Somebody has to pay for those NAPCAR contracts, right?

  28. Julie Brannagh says: Jan 28, 2012 1:00 PM

    If every fan who’s been priced out of the NFL wrote Goodell an actual snail-mail letter and detailed their cost and experiences, he might (just might) see there’s a problem. There’s a NYC mailing address for the NFL available via Google.

    Then again, Goodell has already shown that his concern about the “fan experience” is limited to making the NFL “family-friendly”, i.e. working hard at getting any fan using the same language players on the field use ejected. I’m wondering if he has any idea how much it costs a family of four to attend a game in the first place.

  29. varnbo says: Jan 28, 2012 1:01 PM

    For me, it’s the drunken idiots that deters me from attending an NFL game, followed by the price. I love to tailgate and I bend my elbow like I’m on the way to the electric chair, but the instances of disorderly drunk and increasingly violent fans at NFL game are on the rise, which has been well documented.

    The billionaire owners would be well served to take a small portion of their TV profits and hire extra police for the games. It would be money well spent.

    A big time college football game is so much more enjoyable than the present NFL game day experience, with the exception of the tailgate- of course.

  30. ronaldmexico says: Jan 28, 2012 1:02 PM

    I agree that it’s too expensive to go to a game, but I doubt that teams will drop prices. People will still watch even if the stadium isn’t full and teams can continue to buy up the available seats for a percentage of the cost to avoid a black out.

    Speaking of the background of fans in the stadium, one rule I wish Goodell would put into place is a limit on the number of times a network can show close ups of Fireman Ed.

  31. cliffordc05 says: Jan 28, 2012 1:03 PM

    This is a good analysis but barely touches on a key point when addressing the issue of an enhanced stadium experience. Fan behavior

    Excessive drinking that leads to rude behavior and real safety concerns is a real problem. In Seattle last season a fan had to be ejected and knocked out the off-duty police officer when they were away from the crowd. He was drunk and harassing some 49er fans when he was asked to leave. Professional games are too pricey to be considered a regular family event for most people but they should not be an environment that children should not attend.

  32. hoosiermizuno says: Jan 28, 2012 1:03 PM

    i’ve said it before…this is just the start of the problem thats only going to get worse.

    its the combination of home experience getting better and cheaper with cheaper big screen HD tv’s, the invention of channels like the Redzone and being able to follow and watch any team or fantasy player, all while avoiding the skyrocketing prices to park, gas to travel, ticket prices, and $8 dollar beers, while sitting next to an obnoxious fan.

    Fewer fans want season tickets, instead choosing to go to one, maybe two games a year and are perfectly happy to watch the remaining at home. I don’t care what the economy is like, I’m not spending $200 plus for a afternoon at the game.

  33. freemantowilliams says: Jan 28, 2012 1:05 PM

    Who cares how many people are in the seats besides money hungry owners!!! I just want to see my time play well. Too bad I’m a bucs fan seeing that we have the cheapest owners in the NFL. Everyone says us bucs fan suck and dont support the team. Ha our owners are the ones that suck and don’t support the team. I’m tired of pro bowl alternate guards and kickers. That’s why I don’t go to games. Single male 40k a year, I can do it but I won’t.

  34. dmobin says: Jan 28, 2012 1:07 PM

    I find it interesting that so many fans are putting ticket prices, beer prices, parking prices on Goodell, last I checked he doesn’t own an NFL team, in fact, he doesn’t own anything. HE WORKS FOR THE OWNERS!!

    He doesn’t set prices, the owners of the teams do, he can’t force what they charge, he doesn’t have anything to do with how the owners run their teams.

    Go and yell at the owners. Goodell’s main job is to work for the owners to do things like negotiate TV contracts, negotiate with the players association, and enforce the rules of the game, manage the operations of the league (things like schedules, organizing the draft, marketing the league/game) and enforce the rules that were collectively bargained with the union. That’s it, no more no less.

  35. derekjetersmansion says: Jan 28, 2012 1:08 PM

    Most NFL stadiums are sold out every week. The Northeast and good teams have season ticket waiting lists.

    Once people stop buying season tickets, prices will go down.

    Also, only having 16 games raises demand.

  36. ironworker329 says: Jan 28, 2012 1:40 PM

    I don’t think the fans of blacked out games would really care who was in the stands if they could watch. And the Last time I checked the NFL network and espn are both channels for which someone is paid for you to watch. Making his entire statement B.S.
    Thank you!

  37. ironworker329 says: Jan 28, 2012 1:43 PM

    P.S.
    So wake up!
    They’re already charging us to watch. Lol!
    Btw The 150$ shirts don’t help either.

  38. 1buckeye76 says: Jan 28, 2012 1:46 PM

    The price of beer is the least of the issues.. you can’t make beer affordable enough at the games that half of the stadium can drink 15 beers throughout the game and then drive home. Ticket prices, parking, food, N/A drinks – lower the prices.

  39. tdstevie says: Jan 28, 2012 2:44 PM

    As lucky as I am to have Packer season tickets, spending $1300.00 for tickets every year is a little ridiculous…but I won’t stop going #titletown

  40. devikesfan says: Jan 28, 2012 2:48 PM

    In addition to the blackouts continuing, this is the same league that is putting more and more games on it’s own network (which oh BTW requires one to purchase an NFLN subscription via the cable companies that carry it).
    Not to mention they keep playing the “rape the taxpayer” game when it comes to funding stadiums.
    I’m guessing these tough economic times don’t actually apply to the NFL, eh Roger?

  41. delpiero1980 says: Jan 28, 2012 3:00 PM

    I think Goodell has done a good job commisioner
    especially protecting the player’s health. Is a very dangerous game and we as fans like it when our teams remain healthy throughout the year. There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing your best players on injured reserve.
    One game a year in London is ok but a team in London is ridiculous because this league belongs in the US.
    In the economic topic, games are super expensive to go especially if one wants to take his family.
    TV rights now make most of the revenues so going to the stadium should be more affordable. After all, the public pays for half the construction of the venue, so is only fair to make it affordable.
    There certain adjustments that have to be make.
    1)Ticket prices: $75 in the roof? Are you kidding me? A family of 4 would have to pay $300 + 4 binoculars to watch a game?
    2)Parking prices: Not all parkers are created equal. I think $40 parking should be charged for tailgaters. I mean in Qualcomm, I have seen tailgaters take up to 4 spaces to accommodate their tents and grills etc. But many fans don’t tailgate and just need one parking space. These fans should be charged 1/3 of the price.
    2)Beer price: Beer price should remain high because most fans can’t handle their alcohol consumption and become very aggressive thus preventing a man to take his family to a game.
    3)Concessions: These products should go down dramatically as they are hyper expensive. $5 cokes, $10 burgers, $4 lemonades…I mean really?

    For the price of one family game with good tickets plus food and drinks, you can buy a nice 42 to 47″ LED TV and watch the game at home in HD with $1 two liter sodas and $5 six pack of beer, $3 family size chips and $5 pizzas……do we need to say more?

  42. brownbuddha says: Jan 28, 2012 3:11 PM

    If by tough economic times you mean that people would rather spend $400 to watch any game they want instead of $500 to take 2 people to watch a game in person, yeah I can see that. Or, that it cost thousands of dollars to buy season tickets because you take maximum advantage of having a captive audience in a stadium, yeah I can see that too. No football fan that watches the game on TV cares if the stands are full. Don’t piss on my back and tell me its raining. Owners care that the stands are empty. And, they are the only ones that actually have an impact on whether or not the stands are full. Good team, good stadium experience, APPROPRIATE PRICING = Butts in (or out) of seats. Thats arithmetic, not calculus.

  43. deadeye says: Jan 28, 2012 3:29 PM

    The NFL is missing the boat here. Watching at home is CHEAPER and a far better experience.

    1) The NFL Ticket costs as much as attending a single game for a family of four. And as many people can watch as you can fit into the man-cave.

    2) No drunk, loud, cussing fans at home.

    3) No dirty bathrooms to deal with.

    4) No long commute to or from the game.

    5) Good home-cooked food instead of all the crappy garbage served at football stadiums.

    6) Instant access to the internet while I watch at home. Easier to follow my fantasy team at home.

    7) The NFL has a bad habit of not showing replays at stadiums, especially on what are clearly going to be controversial outcomes. You get better replays at home.

    If the NFL truly wants butts in the seats, drop ticket prices to $10, and place lots of security in the stadium and arrest the drunks and all others who harass fans. As things stand now, I don’t even consider going to the stadium unless the tickets are free. And even then I prefer to watch at home.

  44. tommytd says: Jan 28, 2012 3:39 PM

    Yikes, if I go to the stadium I miss Joe Buck and 50,000 Ford commercials! Wouldn’t want to do that!

  45. footballprophet says: Jan 28, 2012 4:05 PM

    The NFL is not a greedy bunch of profiteers as so many of you have implied! Granted they would charge you a fee for saying the words “Super Bowl” but your free to say “Big Game” as often as you like. Also the blackout rules are for your benefit. They want you to go to the games and get fresh air even though you’ll miss a mortgage payment. So please leave the NFL alone

  46. purpwalk says: Jan 28, 2012 4:39 PM

    greed kills

    as long as they get cash, these rich pigs don’t care one iota about us, so don’t feed ‘em, stay at home. just use their teams for entertainment on tv and don’t buy their crap

    you can only get screwed if ya let yourself get screwed

  47. tuckergrass says: Jan 28, 2012 4:48 PM

    The owners need to find other uses for their stadiums when they are not in use (concerts, college games, etc) and drastically lower prices for tickets, parking, and food. 10 bucks for a beer? Really?

  48. bischof21 says: Jan 28, 2012 5:14 PM

    Wants more people to watch during economic hardships yet the NFL ticket is only available on direct tv and is outrageously priced on top of that.

  49. n0hopeleft says: Jan 28, 2012 5:54 PM

    rap49er says: Jan 28, 2012 12:40 PM

    $8 beer?? Try $9.50 at the Stick.
    _____________________________________

    That’s because you guys are morons.

    Reference all the BS you talked leading up to the NFC Champ game..

  50. fmwarner says: Jan 28, 2012 6:14 PM

    I’ve been saying this for years. The NFL is basically a TV show. More revenue comes from TV than tickets. And despite what some people say, a half empty stadium does affect the tone of the broadcast and the quality of the experience on TV. Otherwise, talk shows wouldn’t go to the expense and hassle of providing a studio audience.

    Once the NFL realizes that the product is a TV show first, they can start treating it like one. TV shows give away tickets. The league doesn’t need to go that far, but they can sure re-evaluate their price structure. Charge what you want for the suites. But lower prices in the main bowl. Get people in the door. Then if you want to gouge them on the concessions, be my guest. Sure, probably half the teams in the league have no trouble selling tickets. But all the teams will benefit from the goodwill.

  51. bobnelsonjr says: Jan 28, 2012 6:29 PM

    Some teams have no problem selling seats. Lambeau Field sells out on a season ticket basis and there are more people on the waiting list than have season tickets. They are the haves.

    Some teams get bailouts to avoid blackouts and can’t sell 50K of season tickets like the vikings. They are free agents looking for a better fan base and economic venue. They are the have-nots.

    The simple answer is contraction. Get rid of the 4 worst performing teams. vikings, Jaguars, Buccaneers, and one of the Ohio teams. Or take your pick of the 4.

    28 teams would be a lot better and you can get rid of low quality players (4×53=212 so you get rid of the worst 212 players) improving the quality of the on field performance.

    It would also reduce the NFL welfare program (supplemental revenue sharing) . Teams like the vikings and Raiders suck up too much money while not contributing their fair share.

  52. FinFan68 says: Jan 28, 2012 7:09 PM

    “… they can turn on free television and watch the greatest entertainment that’s out there…”
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    This is one of the most disconcerting things this guy has said. Have any of you referred to it as “free TV”? The fact that he did shows that he is at least thinking about how to make another buck off of TV. That is one of the main issues I have with the NFL. They make changes to the game solely based on revenue and then they try to claim “safety” or some other BS reason that is hard to argue against without looking like an uncaring prick. The NFL is beholden to the almighty profit at the expense of the product. That philosophy always ends in failure. Maybe not in the near future, but down the line it will certainly be an issue that winds up collapsing the league.

  53. rcali says: Jan 28, 2012 8:19 PM

    Future will be all games pay per view, whether it’s on NFL Network or some random channel. It’s only a matter of time.

  54. devikesfan says: Jan 28, 2012 11:14 PM

    bobnelsonjr, wrote:
    It would also reduce the NFL welfare program (supplemental revenue sharing) . Teams like the vikings and Raiders suck up too much money while not contributing their fair share.
    ________________________________

    How about reducing the NFL Welfare program for the owners, by making the NFL pay for it’s own stadiums?
    Jerry Jones likes to harp about how the Cowboys have to kick into the kitty to support the lower revenue teams, yet that d-bag took taxpayer money to get his show palace built.
    JJ and the other hypocrite NFL owners can’t have it both ways…

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