In the days leading up to wild card weekend, the NFL found itself in an awkward position: Three of the four playoff games were in danger of failing to sell out, and therefore getting blacked out on local television. As it turned out, all of the games did sell out. But good teams struggling to fill their stadiums reflected badly on the league.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged at his State of the League address that he was concerned about the sluggish ticket sales. Goodell, however, said that the NFL’s own mistakes — and not dwindling fan interest — were to blame for problems selling tickets.
“I don’t take the challenges that we had on Wild Card Weekend as any reflection of our fans’ passion,” Goodell said. “Those were mistakes that were made by us, the NFL, and our clubs. What we have to do is recognize that technology has changed and that we have to use technology more efficiently and more intelligently to make sure we don’t put our fans in that kind of position. Green Bay, as an example, sold close to 50,000 tickets over a five-day period, including New Year’s Day. We shouldn’t be in that position, and that’s on us, and we have to fix it, and we will. But that is not an indication in any way of the fans’ passion.”
Goodell didn’t say exactly what those mistakes were, but he seemed to be suggesting that the league needs to do a better job of making it simpler for fans to order playoff tickets in advance.
For the league, a larger issue than those three games is that many fans think it’s more fun to watch from the comfort of home than from the stadium. Goodell acknowledged that, but he also said the stadium experience remains the best way to see a game.
“With the experiences at home through our broadcast partners and all the other media alternatives that we have, it’s an incredible experience and it will continue to get better as technology advances,” Goodell said. “What we have to do is say, ‘That’s a great experience, but let’s make the most important experience and the best experience, which is our stadium experience, better.’ Technology into the stadiums is a big part of it. Making people feel safe when they’re in our facilities is a critical component. But there is nothing like being in the stadium for an NFL game. I was up in Seattle for the NFC Championship Game, and, if you want to feel energy, you go up to Seattle. That’s around our league in various stadiums, and we will continue to make this a major focus and make sure that experience is a great one.”
The stadium experience can be great, but the experience of watching football at home, on your own TV, sitting on your own couch, is great too — and it’s free. Perhaps the biggest mistake teams have made is pricing tickets at a level that many fans can’t afford.