How Will Pro Teams Keep Filling Stadiums?

Darren Rovell on the Patriots installing Wi-Fi in their stadium:

Although the league sells 96 percent of the tickets it has available, the NFL is losing ground because of fans who feel they are out of the loop on other games and fantasy stats while sitting in the stands cheering for their teams.

In 1998, 54 percent of fans said they would rather be at an NFL game than watching it at home, according to an ESPN Sports Poll. Last year, only 29 percent of fans said they would rather be at the game, the worst drop of any major sport tracked over that time period.

This is becoming more and more of a trend apparently. And it makes complete sense, if nothing else because cellular service in sports stadiums/arenas is generally awful. This is understandable since such a large concentration of people in one place is going to overwhelm most cell towers. In the NFL especially, where fantasy football is more important to some than the team they are watching, it seems like these stadiums would benefit most from Wi-Fi. Since NFL games only happen a couple of days per week, and all at the same time, fans are in a tougher position than at basketball and baseball games.

Rovell’s stat about the number of people who prefer to be at the game (29%) rather than at home is astounding. Bill Simmons has been banging this drum for a couple of years now. The assumption is that most everyone has a relatively large HD television at home, no bathroom lines, and an entire case of beer for the cost of just a couple at a stadium and it begins to be a tough decision. Plus parking is free and it doesn’t take at least an hour each way to get there.

If the number is that low for football, American’s most popular sport, and one that has just eight or so home games per year, how much lower must it be for basketball and baseball? Baseball at least at the benefit of being in the summer, and generally outdoors. But with 81 home games teams are trying to find better ways to fill the stands.

The White Sox, who haven’t drawn fans all the well in my entire adult life with the exception of the 2006-post World Series bump, have started offering tons of deals to get fans to the park. These deals include not only free tickets but vouchers for food and drinks. I have often complained on Twitter about how these deals kill the secondary market for season tickets, causing most holders to take a loss on games they don’t go to. Season tickets themselves are another conversation altogether.

I expect in the coming years these kind of deals will become much more prevalent. Small market teams, and teams without current or recent success, will be a tough position down the road. They will need to find new creative ways to draw fans, and free Wi-Fi won’t be enough.