With the new football season comes the very latest in fan gadgetry at the new Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ. The New York teams have to keep the new stadium filled and to do that they have plans to make the video there better than what fans can get at home.
Fans attending games at the stadium — and only in the stadium — can use free smart phone applications to see video replays, updated statistics and live video from other games. In time, the apps will provide fans with statistics on the speed of players and the ball, and fantasy games that will allow them to pick players and compete against other fans.
With home television coverage of the National Football League becoming so complex, teams have no choice but to respond with their own technology plays. To keep fans buying tickets, Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, urged that the experience in stadiums be elevated to compete with television broadcasts.
The Meadowlands stadium is going where few have gone before. About $100 million has been spent on the new stadium's technology, and a former television production executive was hired to oversee the enhanced fan experience. His challenge is to offer more than fans can get sitting at home on their couches in front of their high-definition television sets.
"It's become an arms race," Peter Brickman, the former television production executive, told the "New York Times." Brickman was hired as the chief technology officer for the New Meadowlands Stadium last year to channel his knowledge about television into the experience in the stadium.
Brickman pioneered the popular "Red Zone" alerts that tell fans watching games on NFL Sunday Ticket on DirecTV about other games in which a team is about to score.
The New Meadowlands Stadium has four large mounted video screens. For those fans that do not have smart phones, 2200 televisions with 48,000sq ft of screens have been installed in and around the stadium, the most of any NFL stadium.
The applications and stadium video screens will access video feeds that can be used only in the stadium because of the NFL's television agreements. If the fan leaves, the application will no longer work and will direct fans to the teams' websites, which will offer less.
Brickman said he thought 7000 to 10,000 fans would use the application in the first season at the stadium. To accommodate them, 500 wireless antennas have been installed throughout the stadium.
"We want to keep things leading edge but not bleeding edge," Brickman said, adding that different parts of the application would be slowly rolled out during the stadium's first season. A few other NFL stadiums hope to introduce some of the technology this season as well.
The technology behind the applications, which is powered by Cisco and Verizon, has other benefits. The applications will alert fans to which concession stands have the shortest lines and provide traffic updates.
Security officials will have special bracelets that parents can have placed on their children. In the event that a child is lost, the stadium's video security system can immediately locate the child on a television screen.
The introduction of the smart phone applications comes as teams confront an increasingly difficult environment to attract fans to stadiums. The images of NFL players blocking and tackling on HD television have become increasingly life-like at the same time that the price of attending a game in person is higher than ever.
Across the NFL, attendance is down a little more than three percent from its height in 2007, but television ratings have continued to climb. The average regular-season NFL game was seen by 16.6 million viewers last season, the most since 1990, and by 2 million more viewers than in the 2008 season, according to figures from Nielsen.