Photo: Robert Stolarik for The New York Times
What’s your dream project? I asked this question to a former employer of mine and was told the following, “I’d love to do something with hockey… Some sort of augmented reality that compliments the at-game experience.” This wasn’t so surprising considering that his firm is always at the cutting edge of design, technology and creativity – and he’s a hockey nut. Funny enough though, this exact project was happening at the time for the NFL and the New York Giants – must be something in the air.
This article touches on how the NFL is rolling out some new weapons in the arms race between the at-home and at-game experiences. The NFL (rightly) feels that being at the game, while more expensive and ostensibly preferable, actually offers the consumer less than the alternative of watching the game at home. Reason being that Hi-def TVs have crisper pictures than watching live, instant replays slow down the action and provide a blow-by blow visual of what happened, announcers provide contextual analysis of key situations, your laptop or iPad are with you to accommodate any social communication (read: venting) during the game. Not to mention if you have DirectTV, their RedZone updates allow you to see “all the action from around the league.”
When I go to the game, I’m frequently left up in the nosebleeds wondering “what happened?” when action abruptly stops – or “how close was he to catching that?” It looks like someone heard me.
It’s a great sign to see that the NFL recognizes the need to suppliment the stadium experience with some of the info-comforts of home – and they’re being proactive about it. One of the major criticisms going around the MLB this year is that the newer stadiums offer too many distractions from the game. That they’ve become a theme park of sorts where you and your family can do everything but watch the game. At CitiField alone I can go get food from around the world, see the Mets Hall of Fame, take my kid to hit a wiffle ball (and potentially win prizes). At other ballparks there are water slides and carnival games. Sometime during the course of a baseball game Astroland broke out.
This would be my only statement of caution, keep the focus on the game. And it seems the NFL understands this. According to the article they’re working on a smartphone app that will offer secondary views of action, deeper on-field analysis, stats, social games based around fantasy football and so on. Old-timers at MLB games may take a moment away from their scorekeeping to shake their head at the new generation’s focus on everything but the game. I don’t think the same will happen for the NFL.
Lastly there’s the (possibly unintended) future benefits of all this serving to further entrench fans into the league. The more investment individual fans make in the sport now, the harder it will be for them in the future to break away. This “funnel” argument was the basis for my work with a major fantasy sports project I worked on in 2009. You’re never going to lose the attention of stat-heads and die-hards. But like anything addictive, if you can deliver it to the casual fan in a way they find palatable (the wide-mouth of the funnel) and slowly intensify the offering as they get deeper (moving down the funnel) – offering deeper levels to drill down into – you’ll make lasting relationships and habits that are hard to break. The type and kinds of ancillary coverage and information on offer at the new Meadowlands leads me to believe the NFL understands this as well.