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NFL attendance is down, but can they fix the problem?

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Teams are faced with the challenge of offering fans a better experience than watching the game from the comfort of their own home

Miami Dolphins v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

It used to be said there was nothing like experiencing an NFL game in the stadium, particularly when it came to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Heinz Field. Since most fans cannot make an NFL game even once every few years, let alone every week, expanding the home viewing experience has become a priority. Through HDTVs and NFL Sunday Ticket, Steelers’ fans can catch all the action for the black and gold in the comforts of their own home. But has the home experience uprooted the desire to watch players in person? If the attendance numbers are any indicator, than, yes, it has.

In an article by Mike Florio on profootballtalk.com, he stated some specifics of the 15 year low the NFL experienced in game attendance.

More people are watching the NFL on TV. Fewer people are watching the NFL in person.

According to David Broughton and Andrew Levin of Sports Business Daily, the NFL averaged 66,648 attendees at home games in 2019. That’s the lowest average since 2004.

Although the TV numbers have risen 5% since the 2018 season, fans are not flocking to the stadium in order to see their favorite teams. In fact, there has been an increase in the number of visiting fans who are filing into stadiums. I experienced this first hand in Week 15 at Heinz Field during the Steelers home finale on Sunday Night Football against the Buffalo Bills. In my five seasons as a season ticket holder, it was, by far, the most visiting fans I have ever seen in Pittsburgh.

With NFL teams worrying fans are choosing alternative methods for watching games other than in stadiums, some are doing all they can to expand the fan experience. In the new stadium which will be shared by both the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers, a 120-yard long 4K HDR video system is being installed. The purpose of the video system is to enhance the viewer experience. Personally, if I’m spending the money to come to the stadium, my eyes will be on the players on the field more than a video board.

So is the problem with fan attendance having a better viewing experience at home, or do other factors come into play as to why fans are staying away from the stadium?

For me, there are several factors in going to Heinz Field for a game. I stated before, I am currently a season ticket holder. My reasoning behind going to games may be different from other fans since I have access to go to any home game I choose. But knowing I will not be able to attend all the games, I end up strategically choosing games in which selling the tickets will not be too difficult.

One issue for many Steelers fans going to Heinz Field is the high amount of night games the Steelers end up playing. Of the four games (including preseason) I attended in 2019, three of them were in prime time. Having to travel more than three hours to Pittsburgh, it is highly inconvenient to arrive home in the middle of the night.

What the NFL may not want to deal with is the harsh reality that it’s not having a better experience at home when watching a game, but a less expensive experience. Between travel, tickets, parking, concessions, merchandise, and any other amenities fans wish to enjoy, the cost of attending a game is in the hundreds of dollars. Even if stadiums offer more experiences, it ultimately would not affect fan attendance as much as reducing the overwhelming costs. Even if tickets did not change in price, the other expenses being reduced could help fans return to the stadium.

So is adding a cool video board or other fan experiences going to help attendance? Or does the NFL need to face the harsh reality that the price of their product outweighs the in personal experience? Is there anything the Steelers could add to their games to make you more likely to attend in person? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.