SBJ/Sept. 30-Oct. 7, 2013/NFL Stadium Experience

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  • On Any Given Sunday: About the project

  • Quest to connect

  • Testimonials highlight league’s annual drive

    Editor's note: This story is revised from the print edition.

    The NFL is marking the fifth anniversary of its “A Crucial Catch” breast cancer awareness campaign this week with the debut of a series of two-minute videos featuring survivors who in part credit the league’s efforts for saving their lives.

    Elements of NFL’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month activation

    The NFL is again thinking pink for breast cancer research.
    Photo by: CARLO ALLEGRI / AP IMAGES
    Six to eight video vignettes featuring testimonials from survivors who ascribe the NFL campaign with alerting them to the need to get screened
    Game balls with pink ribbon decals used for every down, and pink kicking tees
    Pink equipment for players, including cleats, wristbands, gloves, sideline caps, helmet decals, captains’ patches, chin straps, shoelaces, skullcaps, sideline towels, eye shield decals and quarterback towels
    Pink coins for the coin toss
    Pink caps for coaches and sideline personnel, and pink ribbon pins for coaches and team executives
    Pink caps, wristbands, whistles and pins for game officials
    On-field pink ribbon stencils and “A Crucial Catch” wall banners
    Pink goal-post padding in end zones

    Source: NFL

    The videos, produced by NFL Films, will be made available via NFL.com/pink. They’ll also be shown starting this Thursday on NFL Network broadcasts in October and in select stadiums. Airings during other network game broadcasts could follow.

    Throughout the month, the by-now traditional fare of the NFL’s past breast cancer awareness efforts will be showcased as well, including pink cleats, pink gloves and pink on the field.

    The league this year is increasing the number of community centers from 17 to 24 that will receive $50,000 annual grants to provide breast cancer detection services. That money is raised through auctions of the pink merchandise, through retail sales and through fundraising by high schools, one of which will be featured in the videos (Walled Lake Western, outside Detroit).

    Those six to eight videos are the big addition for the NFL to this year’s campaign. One video features Tina, a New York Jets fan, who says she did her first self-exam after asking her husband why there was so much pink on the field during a game.

    “She credits the NFL campaign with saving her life,” said Anna Isaacson, NFL vice president of community affairs.

    Some NFL sponsors are tying into the campaign, as well. Ticketmaster, for example, will donate to the league’s fundraising efforts a percentage of revenue from tickets sold through its secondary ticket market, TicketExchange, in October, said Peter O’Reilly, NFL vice president of fan strategy and marketing.

    Diet Pepsi plans to feature actress and spokesperson Sofia Vergara in its support of the NFL’s efforts. The brand will donate items and experiences that will be available for fans to bid on via NFL.com/auction, with those offers ranging from a Vergara-signed jersey to a tailgate experience with the “Modern Family” star.

    — Daniel Kaplan

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  • More stats and information, please

    It’s amazing that the worst place for NFL fantasy updates often is inside an NFL stadium. During the Falcons’ home opener, it was frustratingly difficult to find any information on player performances beyond the Falcons and Rams.

    The Georgia Dome offered no fantasy updates either on the video board or the LED ribbon around the seating bowl. My only other ability to track fantasy updates was via a smartphone, but the Wi-Fi slowed to a crawl once the stadium was full. By the time I exited the Georgia Dome after an otherwise thrilling win by the Falcons, I had no idea what was going on with my fantasy team.

    Fans seeking fantasy and score updates went to their phones.
    Photo by: MICHAEL SMITH / STAFF
    That really was the only significant disappointment of the day — the lack of information coming from other games. Scores were shown around the LED ribbon, but they disappeared from time to time for other displays. The scores also were hard to find because they were spaced all around the stadium, as opposed to being in one place.

    In the entirety of the game, the Georgia Dome showed just two meager highlights, both at halftime. One play from Green Bay and one from Minnesota. Mostly, the highlights were just an excuse to put NFL Mobile and Verizon branding on the big screen. The branding took up half the screen, making the two highlights small and hard to see.

    Fans had to go to their phones to get scores and fantasy updates. Speaking of which, Steven Jackson was injured in the first quarter and didn’t return. The only way fans knew that he had an injured thigh was from their phones and by word of mouth. You literally could hear people passing the word the old-fashioned way through the stands.

    — Michael Smith

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  • Ravens roll out small-town feel

    The Ravens’ first home game this season seemed a celebration of all things Baltimore as much as anything else. The team’s first home game since winning Super Bowl XLVII had the appearance of a local festival at times. Less than two hours before the game, the outside of M&T Bank Stadium was a sea of purple, visiting sponsor tents, listening to an outdoor concert and generally milling around.

    Inside a stadium named for a bank based in Baltimore, there was a distinct Charm City feel to the game. An Under Armour ad played on the big video board several times during the game. (“Will you protect this house?” “I will! I will!”) Under Armour, of course, is based in Baltimore. The Maryland Lottery bought a 30-second commercial that ran during the third quarter. And Baltimore-based McCormick bought a sponsorship on the video board in the fourth quarter.

    Granted, plenty of national brands aired their messages in the stadium (the Gatorade game highlights, Verizon presents NFL RedZone, Ruth’s Chris Steak House’s Sizzling Scenes). But it was the local brands that really seemed to stand out among the sponsor clutter. It all added to a small-town feel around a game from one of the world’s biggest leagues.

    Throw in the Baltimore Marching Ravens band, on top of the T. Rowe Price QB challenge with local prep football stars, and the scene evoked certain Norman Rockwell images. It’s not easy for teams to foster that type of community around NFL games, especially given the amount of alcohol consumed and the number of boys behaving badly in the stands, and there certainly was some of that at M&T Bank Stadium.

    But the Ravens were able to tap into a small-town feel throughout.

    — John Ourand

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  • Rockin’ out in Charlotte

    There must be some hard-rock fans in the Panthers’ game-day presentation booth, because much of the afternoon’s “mood music” rang out like MTV circa 1991.

    At different times throughout the afternoon, the driving guitars of Led Zeppelin and AC/DC pelted Bank of America Stadium, as well as the drumbeat to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” This coming from a team that historically has used “Welcome to the Jungle” (Guns N’ Roses) and “Cat Scratch Fever” (Ted Nugent) to fire up the crowd. Not a lot of pop or hip-hop getting played in this stadium.

    At one point early in the game, in the southwest corner of the lower bowl, it was difficult to hear the PA announcer make a first-down call over Jimmy Page’s grinding axe. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. On third down, it was Angus Young’s turn as AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” rattled through the speakers. Even a rocked-up cover of the John Lee Hooker classic “Boom Boom” rang through the bowl after the Panthers’ lone touchdown.
    I like it.

    — Don Muret

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  • What’s that noise at the Georgia Dome?

    After a big play by the Falcons, the PA played what was supposed to be the sound a real falcon makes. Maybe, if it was a constipated falcon. The high-pitched screech sounded like the noise a bad sound system makes. Fans were caught off guard and annoyed. One fan said, “Oh, my God, never do that again.” Another simply said, “Horrible.”

    The mantra at the Georgia Dome must be the same as Brick Tamland’s in “Anchorman” when he screams, “Loud noises!”

    Maybe it’s just the nature of audio in a dome, but the Georgia Dome definitely prefers loud noises over any kind of clarity. I probably understood about a quarter of what was being said over the PA, the audio being a screeching, noisy mess, and the music played at concert levels. Not good.

    — Michael Smith


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  • Angry sky and quiet boards

    NFL executives undoubtedly hoped for an electrifying start to the season, but this probably wasn’t what they had in mind.

    Minutes before kickoff to the season-opening Broncos-Ravens game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, storm clouds gathered overhead. Soon after pregame festivities, lightning crashed in the distance. The Broncos’ PA announcer quickly told the 77,000-strong crowd that they would be advised to seek shelter inside the concourses.

    A storm’s approach didn’t budge many Denver fans from their seats.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    The kickoff, the announcer said, would be pushed back 15 minutes. The delay then grew to half an hour. Typical of a late-summer storm in Colorado, it hit with intensity for 30 minutes, then surrendered to clear skies. Maybe it’s a Western mentality, but the majority of fans stayed in their seats the entire time.

    The moment seemed perfect for some sort of branding — if not advertising, then at least information or additional content for the fans stuck out in the rain.

    But during the break the Broncos’ enormous video boards ran minimal advertising — and no content whatsoever in terms of entertainment or even updates related to the storm. The team has a local television partner, NBC affiliate KUSA, and The Weather Channel is owned by NBC, which was broadcasting the game; could there have been an opportunity to show radar of the storm?

    Instead, a simple lightning warning flashed across the main LED board. Branding for Buick and Bud Light scrolled on the top parts of the adjacent boards, along with the Broncos’ “United in Orange” branding. “United in Orange” also scrolled along the fascia boards for 30 minutes. On TV, NBC’s broadcast cut to an on-field discussion with the umbrella-wielding Tony Dungy, Dan Patrick and Rodney Harrison, and at one point even showed footage of Broncos coach John Fox trying to keep the mood light with his team underneath the stadium.

    But none of it was shown on the video board, though NBC was shown on the monitors in the concourses. The Broncos did not respond for comment, and I’m sure the safety of the fans was their primary concern.

    I appreciate the need for safety, but having the same messages on the boards stagnant for 33 minutes seemed like a missed opportunity for the team and the league.
    — Fred Dreier


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  • No longer biggest, but still good

    Even as the Steelers’ play did little to excite the home crowd, the Heinz Field scoreboard was steadily working throughout the afternoon to keep fans up to date with everything happening in the stadium and around the league. The 28-by-96-foot board at the stadium’s south end was the largest in the NFL when Heinz Field opened in 2001, but since has been dwarfed by those of other facilities. It remains clear and visible, though, as the stadium itself feels quite intimate and ranks among the NFL’s smallest in seating capacity. Each play was shown live, and then replayed, ensuring there was no way to miss the action.

    Split-screen was particularly welcome at the beginning of the game when Titans kick returner Darius Reynaud mistakenly brought the opening kickoff from the 1-yard line back into the end zone for a safety. As officials reviewed the play, tagged on the board as “NFL Under The Hood,” the replay was also shown to fans on the other half of the board.

    Down periods and commercial breaks for TV presented a variety of video content. Pictures and messages posted to the Steelers’ Twitter handle, @steelers, were shown frequently during pregame, a straightforward social media integration now seen in many facilities. Fan birthday wishes and community service messages also received repeated mentions, particularly those for designated drivers (presented by stadium concessionaire Aramark). And some of the club’s own promotions, such as an offseason fan cruise, were frequently touted.

    — Eric Fisher

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  • Working up the crowd in St. Louis

    Edward Jones Dome, which opened in 1995, is lacking some of the amenities of the newer NFL stadiums. It does have a video board in each end zone — one of them wide enough for video and constant updates of scores and fantasy stats. The other, smaller one just shows video.

    That means the fans in about 20 percent of the building are deprived of the wider board with all of the NFL stats and scores. This is a shame, because the Rams’ vice president of broadcasting and creative, Scott Brooks, director Kent Samuel and their staff do an excellent job of informing the fans who are able to see the larger board.

    The Rams’ big end zone video board kept fans plugged in, thanks to Scott Brooks (below) and staff.
    Photos by: CHRISTOPHER BOTTA / STAFF
    In the 90 minutes before the game, the board was filled with RedZone coverage and up-to-the-minute stats. During the game, as soon as the second quarter ended, Samuel said to his staff on the headset, “Let’s go right to the RedZone Channel.” Highlights from earlier games were shown, as were parts of the final minutes of the first half of the Packers-49ers game.

    The Rams also did a good job of replaying all important plays, whether they were good or bad for the home team. In most cases, multiple angles were provided.

    Fans were able to see that a late hit by a Rams
    cornerback with 6:35 left in the second quarter was justly penalized. Booing of the officials ceased. With 13:01 left in the game, St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher threw the challenge flag because he thought his receiver had scored. But fans watching the video board had already seen on the replay that the receiver’s knee touched the ground a yard from the end zone and that Fisher had wasted his challenge.

    Later, with 9:04 left in the game and the Rams having tied the score at 24, the St. Louis game presentation crew went to its version of a classic bit. You got it: They queued up a video mash-up of inspirational clips from “Gladiator,” “Hoosiers” and “Remember the Titans” — with snippets of “Animal House” and “Slap Shot” thrown in for laughs — to fire up the crowd. It’s an old bit seen in virtually every stadium, for every sport.

    But you know what? It worked. Final score: Rams 27, Cardinals 24.

    Of course, maybe the pumped-up crowd helped, maybe it didn’t. How do you gauge something like that? But facts are facts. The fans grew louder from the start of the video to the end of it, and stayed that way until the game ended, loving every second of it.

    So whether real or not, the crowd walked away feeling like they were a part of the victory. That makes people want to come back, and that’s a good thing.

    — Christopher Botta

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  • Don’t make stadiums a sports information vacuum

    Washington sports history was about to be made Sept. 9, the first Monday night NFL game of the season. While Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III was returning to the field from offseason knee surgery, another D.C.-based athlete, Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez, flirted with the franchise’s first no-hitter.

    More than 80,000 Washington-area sports fans — the 82,743 fans attending the Redskins’ game that night — had no idea what was happening with their hometown MLB team, even as Gonzalez took his no-hit bid into the seventh inning. Though the Redskins kept a running loop of NFL scores from the day before next to a sideline scoreboard, the team did not update fans on the Nationals’ victory, a one-hit shutout for Gonzalez. Nor was any FedEx Field mention given to another pennant race game just 30 miles up the road in Baltimore, where Orioles manager Buck Showalter nearly fought with Yankees manager Joe Girardi.

    It was the same situation in the Ravens’ M&T Bank Stadium six days later. Trying to crawl back into the pennant race, the Orioles were playing a close game in Toronto. But the 71,098 fans attending the game would have little clue that their hometown Orioles were working toward a 3-1 win.

    “We don’t usually provide scores of other sports,” a Ravens spokesman emailed days later.

    The Ravens kept an updated running scroll of all NFL games that day, complete with statistics. But they ignored their neighbor.

    It’s no surprise that these games cater to the NFL — the football teams’ popularity is the only reason so many people attend these games. But most of the attendees are sports fans — or, more specifically, Baltimore sports fans and Washington sports fans. They are there to focus on the Ravens and Redskins. But many would appreciate knowing what’s happening with the other sports franchises in their town. Cell coverage in both stadiums is not good enough to stay updated on other scores. It’s hard to see how quick updates during breaks in play — the same updates fans at home could get — would harm the NFL’s at-game experience.

    — John Ourand

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  • Nothing like a good tailgate

    For some fans, it’s just not a football game without tailgating beforehand.

    In markets such as Kansas City, Green Bay and Philadelphia, tailgating is simply ingrained as part of the game experience — if not the most important part for some fans. As our reporter in Philly put it, “It’s an absolutely vibrant tailgating scene, filled with colorful characters in the parking lots. … With such a vibrant fan base and tailgate scene, the Eagles don’t need to do much.”

    It wasn’t always that way, but the Eagles eventually succumbed to the inevitable.

    The Eagles have expanded their game-day events into the parking lots.
    Photo by: TERRY LEFTON / STAFF
    “We tried to bring people into our facility early,” acknowledged Ari Roitman, the Eagles’ senior vice president of business. “But the tailgating is such a strong tradition, we learned we are not going to change that behavior. … We decided to embrace it and enhance it and connect better with those fans.”

    That has caused the Eagles to expand their game-day offerings into the parking lots, trying to give fans something they can’t get at home.

    “We’re focused on enhancing our tailgating experience,” Roitman said. “So we are taking stuff like our cheerleaders, our drum line, our pep band, some alumni players and putting them out in the parking lots as early as 10:30 a.m. for a 1 o’clock game. It is about offering additional touch points for fans.”

    While some franchises embrace tailgating, others continue to try new ways to attract fans away from the parking lots to get them into their stadiums and engaged sooner.

    One of the most interesting things during the Jets’ game-day experience actually comes before the game. At 10 a.m., the Jets had four yellow school buses take the team around the parking lot before disembarking at the MetLife gate at 10:30. The players then handed out coins with their name and number on them — the team hopes fans will seek to collect all 53 — before being led into the stadium by the Aviators, the team’s new marching band.

    This kind of scene is common in the college ranks, but this is thought to be the first time an NFL team has done it.

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  • Flyovers: Feel the power

    It’s not uncommon to see flyovers as part of the pregame ceremonies in NFL stadiums. They score high marks for patriotism — flyovers are either provided by or done as a salute to the military — but they also provide one of those moments the NFL hungers for: an experience that can’t be adequately viewed — or, in this case, felt — on a big-screen, high-definition TV.

    Our reporter noted the Bears’ strong pregame programming fired up fans, anchored by a stirring rendition of the national anthem complete with the deafening roar of jets. In Denver, fan Linda Meyer talked about what makes coming to the stadium fun: “You see more activities at the game, like guys parachuting into the stadium and a flyover.”

    Teams looking to give their fans a thrill may be wise to call in air cover. But sorry, domes — for this piece of game programming, you’re grounded.

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  • In-game locker room video still rare around NFL

    Editor’s note: This story is revised from the print edition.

    Thirty of the NFL’s 32 teams are not showing in their stadiums footage from the league-mandated locker room cameras during halftime or at any other points during the game, according to a SportsBusiness Journal survey of the clubs.

    The league this year for the first time required the cameras’ installation to improve the stadium experience for fans. Except for the Seattle Seahawks and St. Louis Rams, the teams are roughly split between using the footage during pregame, or not at all. And only the Rams’ locker room images show players huddling around the head coach at halftime, one of the seminal scenes from the inner sanctum the cameras could make available.

    “We don’t believe in using our best content at halftime,” Seth Rabinowitz, the New York Jets’ senior vice president, marketing and fan engagement, said before a recent home game.

    NFL TEAM USE OF LOCKER ROOM CAMERAS

    Showing footage in-stadium at halftime and other times (2 teams):
    St. Louis Rams — Showing halftime images from locker room of head coach huddling the team and players putting on pads and jerseys
    Seattle Seahawks — Camera in locker room directed at door shows players coming in and leaving

    Pregame, in-stadium use only (15 teams):
    Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Not using the cameras but have not ruled them out (5 teams):
    Miami Dolphins, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers*, San Francisco 49ers, Tennessee Titans

    Have ruled out using the cameras (10 teams):
    Baltimore Ravens, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, New York Giants, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, Washington Redskins
     
    * Has yet to install locker room cameras
    Source: SportsBusiness Journal


    The New England Patriots’ Jen Ferron, senior vice president of marketing and brand development, offered a similar rationale for the team’s decision not to show locker room footage at halftime, saying fans needed a break at that time.

    Other clubs cited the logistical difficulty of editing anything usable while the game was still live. Some clubs tape footage in the morning and then show it hours later during pregame. It’s no secret that many players and head coaches are not thrilled with the cameras, which is the principal reason the NFL competition committee voted not to mandate the cameras’ use. Even the Rams said the decision to show halftime images is a game-to-game decision.

    A league spokesman said that the NFL mandated only the installation of the cameras, not how or if they would be used.

    So far, most teams are taking advantage of the absence of any formal instructions on how to use the footage. Fifteen teams incorporate the film into pregame footage shown in-stadium, while the remaining 15 do not use it at all. Five of those indicated they might use the footage in the future (see chart).

    “We are using live video in stadium without audio and repurposing some edited locker room footage with audio on KCChiefs.com,” wrote Chiefs President Mark Donovan in an email, outlining one of the more common pregame uses of the content. “Fan response has been positive, especially in stadium as we have incorporated the live camera into our player entrance.”

    For several years the NFL has been striving to liven up the in-game experience for fans to counter the appeal of staying at home and watching on advanced home entertainment systems. Replays are now mandated in-stadium this season, and many teams simply show the game continuously on the video boards.

    The league, though, wants to add in-stadium features, unlike replay, that are not available at home. Some of the mobile team apps offer replay angles and video available only in-stadium, and the locker room cameras were expected to give fans another reason to buy a ticket.

    So far, at least, teams are not wildly embracing the opportunity. None of them use audio from the locker room, and there is even one team, the San Diego Chargers, that has yet to install the cameras. Many clubs’ pregame use is simply limited to tunnel shots, showing the players heading up a tunnel to the field, a feature that several teams have used for years, including the Dallas Cowboys.

    Part of the explanation for the apparent baby steps is the hesitation surrounding a new initiative. Sources close to the league note, though, that teams have long been wary of league business initiatives intruding into anything touching the game, and that could explain some of the reluctance to fully utilize the cameras.

    For the Patriots, the club uses live pregame locker room footage about 20 minutes before kickoff. The thinking in New England, Ferron said, is to use only live footage, so that rules out other times other than halftime, which the club already has decided should be downtime for the fans.

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  • Assessment of NFL video boards

    Seahawks at Panthers, Sept. 8
    Bank of America Stadium

    Carolina’s video boards fail to measure up to newer, bigger boards elsewhere
    Photo by: AP IMAGES
    The video quality is fine, but Bank of America Stadium has two of the NFL’s smallest video boards compared with much larger screens at other stadiums. As a result, the two end-zone screens devoted to live action and replays are a downgrade for fans accustomed to watching the NFL at home on large, HD televisions. As a Panther fan, I would feel cheated considering the monster boards installed over the past five years at the Georgia Dome and FedEx Field, the two NFL markets closest to Charlotte, as well as at Williams-Brice Stadium in nearby Columbia, S.C.
    — Don Muret

    Buccaneers at Jets, Sept. 8
    MetLife Stadium
    Big boards populate corners at MetLife Stadium.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    The visual quality is excellent. They show largely fans, some player stuff. A couple of first-down clips — one showing fans in Manhattan doing first-down gestures, another showing jets flying in. Some sponsor stuff. There was a tribute to James Gandolfini. The content did get repetitive. For example, they have the two first-down spots. Why not more, why not mix it up? I also had a hard time understanding the audio. I could make out some of it but didn’t really hear a lot, especially some of the player stuff. All in all, I felt like it was a big miss.
    — Daniel Kaplan

    Bengals at Bears, Sept. 8
    Soldier Field
    They have good video quality on both boards in each end zone, with heavy use of replays. Video programming began 50 minutes before game time with player warmups. Limited but effective use of fan cams, blended with statistics. Balanced audio. Most video content was sponsored, but it was not a distraction in the presentation. Replays were shown after almost every play, with a crawl explaining the action, who carried the ball, made the tackle, etc. This was a good add-on and helped fans follow the action. Overall, the video board is not overwhelming in the game presentation. The overall content is as much informative as entertaining, with a good variety ranging from statistics to fan cams.
    — John Lombardo

    Eagles at Redskins, Sept. 9
    FedEx Field
    Video quality was fine. No noticeable hiccups from the main video boards behind each end zone. The LED boards that ringed the stadium appeared to be extremely high quality. There were some highlight packages, all involving the Redskins. Some commercials. Some crowd shots. The content did not get repetitive. There didn’t seem to be too much of it to start with, and no spots were particularly memorable. This appears to be a missed opportunity to me.
    — John Ourand

    Jets at Patriots, Sept. 12
    Gillette Stadium
    The quality of the board is very good. It generally shows continuous game action, with cheerleaders and crowd shots during breaks. It was a bit too much on the crowd and could use some original content.
    — Daniel Kaplan

    Chargers at Eagles, Sept. 15
    Lincoln Financial Field
    The Eagles offered a clear look at the scores.
    Photo by: TERRY LEFTON / STAFF
    Good to excellent video quality. The next generation of boards next year will undoubtedly be better. But the ones now are good, easily visible and large. The audio also is clear. They primarily show replays with some crowd shots. All in all, it was fine — just enough, not too much.
    — Terry Lefton

    Browns at Ravens, Sept. 15
    M&T Bank Stadium
    The quality of the video was good, except during booth reviews and NFL RedZone highlights, when sponsor messages would appear on screen, thereby shrinking the picture. I didn’t find any of the content to be too repetitive. Some, like spots for Under Armour and Ford, were meant to be repetitive. But overall, the board was complementary to the game. It showed live video of plays, and sometimes I watched the board instead of the on-field action.
    — John Ourand

    Rams at Falcons, Sept. 15
    Georgia Dome
    The video boards are huge and easy to see, especially since there’s no glare from the sun. The content was mostly predictable and not unlike what I had seen the week before at the Panthers’ opener. Lots of random fan shots, players walking through the tunnel and onto the field, as well as the occasional promotion. During the early pregame, the video board urged fans to tag their photos from Instagram with #STLatATL. The hashtag flashed on and off the video board so fast, I bet it was hard for most people to memorize it. Photos with that hashtag designation were put on the board, but they typically ran eight to 10 photos at a time, making them hard to see.

    The one video that got the crowd fired up the most came just before kickoff. The Falcons’ motto is “Rise Up” and just before the game starts, Samuel L. Jackson stars in a video short as a preacher in front of a large choir. With Jackson preaching and the choir singing, the crowd reaches a crescendo just as the kicker’s foot connects with the ball. Once the game started, the huge video boards were a great place to follow the action. Each play was followed by at least one replay, and often more. Nearly all of the replays were from multiple field levels.
    — Michael Smith

    Broncos at Giants, Sept. 15
    MetLife Stadium
    The board quality is excellent, though the audio wasn’t that clear. The content was fairly tame — the game, some prompts, some players, fan shots and that’s about it. The Giants are about the game, little else. They will use replay and show the game on video boards, but that’s about it. I was happy they did not bombard me with ads.
    — Daniel Kaplan


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  • Wi-Fi networks fall short without help for users

    Wiring stadiums for Wi-Fi is a big NFL priority as the league seeks to lure fans to games away from their deluxe in-home entertainment systems. Offering fans in-stadium-only apps that offer five camera angles on every play, RedZone and instant replays within seconds is increasingly a must-have for teams.

    As I learned after attending three games in eight days, however, it’s not enough to just provide the Wi-Fi; teams need tech support, too. Without it, fans may leave mistakenly thinking the Wi-Fi is shoddy.

    My first trip was the New York Jets’ home opener at gleaming MetLife Stadium, which opened in 2010 already wired for Wi-Fi. Team President Neil Glat told me before the game that MetLife, owned jointly by the Jets and New York Giants, had upgraded Wi-Fi in the offseason. He even slipped me a ticket so I could see for myself and wander between the press box, with its own Wi-Fi, and the stadium bowl.

    Sorry, Neil, my phone, a Droid 4, never connected in the bowl. I stayed for three quarters, with no connectivity on my phone. When I arrived at the press box in the fourth quarter, I felt like a desert traveler stumbling upon an oasis. My Wi-Fi worked, and I greedily lapped up the network games on television and the robust signal on my phone. I had my connectivity fix. And so I reported back the next day to my editors that the Jets, like so many teams, had terrible Wi-Fi.

    Ironically, the Jets can thank their archnemesis, the New England Patriots, for disabusing me of that misconception.

    The Wi-Fi network at MetLife Stadium was something to celebrate, once our reporter got a tip on how to access it.
    Photo by: ICON SMI
    Four days after the Jets game, I drove up I-95 for the Pats-Jets Thursday night tilt at Gillette Stadium. The Pats are considered at the forefront of the Wi-Fi push in the NFL, working with Enterasys Networks. Before the game, the team’s director of digital media, Jana Gauthier, walked me through their app, which now even includes restroom waiting times. She assured me I would not have the trouble I did at MetLife.

    Just before kickoff I wandered down to the spacious communal plaza underneath the south end zone’s giant video board, a fine place to test out what is often billed as the NFL’s best team app. My Droid 4 again did not connect.

    I texted Jana.

    Here is where NFL teams should pay attention. She arrived with one of 14 Wi-Fi specialists who roam the stadium, all employees of Enterasys. The tech specialist told me some newer Droids, and Samsungs, search out the strongest Wi-Fi signals and can bounce between them, never finding a home. He searched my phone’s preferences, hoping to instruct it which signal to choose, but found no way to do that. He left to get an answer.

    Soon, another Enterasys employee, Michael Lytle, director of global technology and services and operations, walked up to me and said he had the solution: download an app called Wi-Fi Roaming Fix. Dubious this would work, I switched off Wi-Fi and used my weak 4G signal to go to the Google Play Store and downloaded the app I had no idea existed until seconds earlier. The app quickly downloaded into my phone. I then turned on the Wi-Fi and, wouldn’t you know it, presto, I had Wi-Fi access. Within minutes replays raced across my screen and different camera angles beckoned.

    Four days later I arrived back at MetLife Stadium for the Manning Bowl. But I was far more interested in Wi-Fi than the Mannings (what can I say?). Would my phone’s new app now allow me Wi-Fi access at MetLife?

    I waited until midway through the first quarter, wandered from the press box into a concourse area and perched near a back row of seats. I opened my Wi-Fi. Bingo. No issues. I downloaded the Giants’ in-stadium-only app and had no problems watching replays, different camera angles or RedZone. I did lose service a few times during the game, but encountered no resistance getting back on. My only problem standing there was at least half a dozen fans, seeing me in slacks and a polo shirt, asked me how to find their seats. So perhaps MetLife does have a wayfinding issue!

    Many of my peers came back from their games complaining about inferior or nonexistent Wi-Fi signals. I don’t know whether the Wi-Fi Roaming Fix would’ve helped them as it did me. I do know I never would have heard of the app without the Enterasys team at the Patriots game.

    It’s true I may have received special attention as a reporter, but other Enterasys employees approached me, handing out literature promoting the app and asking whether I needed help.

    Expanding Wi-Fi to NFL stadiums is sure to come with the tech hiccups that I experienced at the Jets game. It’s not enough to offer the service; NFL teams also have to make sure they help fans connect. There are so many devices, so many different operating systems; it would be close to a miracle for 100 percent connectivity satisfaction.

    My unsolicited advice: Along with Wi-Fi, teams should offer assistance personnel, messages about the help on the video boards, or even tips and a number to call for assistance. If in-stadium connectivity is as crucial as the NFL believes, then teams must work, pardon the pun, overtime to ensure fans don’t go home disappointed when the solution may be only a download away.

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  • Around the league, other interests

    Buccaneers at Jets, Sept. 8
    MetLife Stadium
    RedZone coverage was almost nonexistent. The only time I saw it was late in the third quarter when something branded as RedZone came on, but it was nothing more than a single highlight from the Bills game. In terms of scores, they were shown just occasionally. On the ribbon board a couple of scores would go up, then be replaced by two more. In terms of fantasy stats, very little. I saw them only occasionally. It was easy to miss.

    — Daniel Kaplan

    Bengals at Bears, Sept. 8
    Soldier Field
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    The Bears showed RedZone highlights at the end of each quarter and at halftime. They had steady updates on league scores and fantasy stats beginning in the first quarter on small LED boards in each corner of the bowl … but the boards showed just one player at a time, making viewership a bit difficult. On the big video board, they had updates only at the end of each quarter with scores and fantasy stats, as well as during halftime.
    — John Lombardo

    Titans at Steelers, Sept. 8
    Photo by: AP IMAGES
    Heinz Field

    Out-of-town scores became a focal point beginning in the second quarter, and continued for the rest of the afternoon. During several breaks, the video board was split to show scores from around the league and an AT&T-sponsored fantasy update with player statistics. Smaller fascia boards at the north, closed end of the stadium also presented both out-of-town scores and fantasy information continually during the afternoon. RedZone video highlights were more of a scattershot
    Photo by: AP IMAGES
    affair, depending on how the Steelers game was progressing and the time available. Breaks to show RedZone Channel highlights ranged from just one game to highlights from as many as four games.
    — Eric Fisher

    Seahawks at Panthers, Sept. 8
    Bank of America Stadium
    Out-of-town scores were flashed consistently at the bottom of the two end-zone boards, but the tiny space reserved for that information
    Photo by: ICON SMI
    made it easy to miss. The ribbon boards along the sidelines provided larger images but were shown less frequently. The Panthers packaged brief highlights across the league in two-game, one-play-each snippets. At halftime, there was one random RedZone Channel clip from the Vikings-Lions game shown revolving around a “live look-in” over a challenge call. Otherwise, fans who wanted to view more highlights had to pull out their phones and search for the appropriate mobile app. Fans who play fantasy football were forced to rely on their
    Photo by: ICON SMI
    smartphones to get updates on individual players. Leaguewide stats were flashed once at halftime on the sideline ribbon boards.
    — Don Muret

    Eagles at Redskins, Sept. 9
    FedEx Field
    The game was on a Monday night, so there was no opportunity to show NFL RedZone. The Texans-Chargers game kicked off in the fourth quarter of the Eagles-Redskins game, and no mention was made of that. I did not see a highlight from another team. I saw stats produced only once during the game. In the third quarter, when the Redskins were losing 33-7, the Skins’ defensive leaders were shown. It was not on the main video board but on an auxiliary one.
    — John Ourand

    Broncos at Giants, Sept. 15
    MetLife Stadium
    What they bill as RedZone are highlights during breaks in play, shown just occasionally and usually just one highlight. The Giants do a nice job with fantasy stats; at times the stats took up all four video boards for several minutes. In terms of scores from around the league, they have a dedicated space on the ribbon board.
    — Daniel Kaplan

    Chargers at Eagles, Sept. 15
    Lincoln Financial Field
    The Eagles officially showed RedZone four times, once each quarter during breaks in play, though there was more of it during the fourth quarter. In terms of fantasy, these showed up on the main board infrequently, again more during the fourth quarter. They have an auxiliary board dedicated to scores around the league, and they scroll scores throughout the game on the matrix boards.
    — Terry Lefton

    Browns at Ravens, Sept. 15
    M&T Bank Stadium
    About once a quarter and during halftime, the Ravens showed one to three highlights of a game before going to all of the NFL scores. These came during a commercial break. The frustrating part was that the team shrank the video highlights to show the NFL RedZone branding, so it was difficult to tell what was happening. With eight other games going on, the board showed highlights from only one game at a time. The team offered stats from other games throughout — the top passer, runner and receiver from each team playing at that time. I didn’t notice Browns-Ravens stats as often. They also updated NFL scores continuously on a scroll under the big video board.
    — John Ourand

    Giants at Panthers, Sept. 22
    Bank of America Stadium
    Between the third and fourth quarter, they showed highlights from around the league. The Bengals-Packers score was shown as 30-14, but I had 30-21 on my phone.
    — Tripp Mickle


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  • Final thoughts on game days

    FINAL THOUGHTS

    What’s your overall assessment of the game presentation?

    The Bears have a very strong pregame followed by a good, clean game presentation. It’s an excellent blend of old, classic Bears tradition with today’s team.

    — John Lombardo

    The Giants’ game presentation was fairly tame. This is an old-school team; they’re not going to push the envelope. … They are about the game and little else. They will use replay and show the game on video boards, but not much else. I like that they did not bombard me with ads.
    — Daniel Kaplan

    There are certain obvious benefits to being in a dome. After sitting in Bank of America Stadium in 96-degree heat the previous week, it was nice to have climate control in the Georgia Dome. In Charlotte, the glare from the sun made it almost impossible to use my phone. In Atlanta, no such problem. The fan experience for me in the Georgia Dome was superior for the connections, the facility and the home team. Otherwise, much of the pregame and in-game programming was very similar. It made me think that the producers from Atlanta and Carolina must talk a lot.
    — Michael Smith

    The Ravens’ game presentation worked well. The fans stayed involved in the game.
    — John Ourand

    Solid, nothing revolutionary. The Eagles did the job, filled the time and space allotted without being intrusive. … With such a vibrant fan base and tailgate scene, the Eagles don’t need to do much.
    — Terry Lefton

    With a league-best six Super Bowl titles, a home sellout streak now in its 42nd season and a less transient population than most U.S. cities, the Steelers arguably are not in the crosshairs of the NFL’s at-home vs. in-stadium debate. But the Heinz Field game experience still showed an eye toward giving fans more of what they have come to expect in today’s information age.
    — Eric Fisher


    What would keep you in your seat, or make you want to come back?

    The electricity in the stadium cannot be replicated at home. The excitement the stadium showed the first time Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III stepped onto the field, when 82,743 fans stood and roared as one, is unmatched outside of live sports.
    — John Ourand

    This was a Thursday night game (for the Patriots), so it was very festive to begin with, and the Jets are a big rivalry. The ability to stand outside with the crowd behind the end zone is a big allure. The game is played continuously on the big video board behind you and across the field in front of you. … I liked the experience. It was very heavy on the game, with very energetic music.
    — Daniel Kaplan

    To be perfectly honest, nothing really stands out in terms of the Panthers’ game presentation. To me, it’s about the game itself and decent concessions. … Fans often complain about overpriced food, but I’m willing to pay for quality, and items like local microbrews and the pulled-pork sandwiches stand out at Panthers games.
    — Don Muret

    Of the 15 fans I spoke with, all of them listed atmosphere or excitement as the primary reason they would still come to a Broncos game rather than watch it on TV. None of them said that access to highlights or video boards or content from other games factored into the decision to come to the stadium. Fans overwhelmingly said they did not matter.
    — Fred Dreier

    I enjoyed the entire experience of the Rams’ home opener. Although there wasn’t anything revolutionary, the presentation was sharp and never distracted the fan from the game. The Rams’ fans were focused on the game and supporting the team until the final second.
    I’d give the Rams’ home opener an A-.
    — Christopher Botta

    Nothing I saw (from the Jets).
    — Daniel Kaplan

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