It's impossible — at least at this point — for one to experience the unique feeling of being at a live NFL game without…you know…being at a live NFL game. But it's becoming obvious that fewer people every year are willing to sacrifice their couches for stadium seats.
“One of our biggest challenges in the league is the experience at home,” commissioner Roger Goodell told a group of fans in Atlanta last week, according to Michael Shain of the New York Post. “HD is only going to get better."
Shain summarized Goodell's position by stating that "football on TV…may be the biggest problem the game has right now." I didn't get a chance to catch Goodell's full speech, but that's probably hyperbolic at best, completely erroneous at worst. The reality is that the NFL is — as a league spokesman told Shain — "starting to compete with [itself]." But this is a good problem to have.
Shrinking attendance numbers — prior to this season, the league-wide average had been consistently dropping since 2007, according to Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio — might not create the best image for the league. But Goodell notes that stadiums are still 97 percent full, so there's nothing to be embarrassed about and viewers aren't exposed to batches of empty seats very often.
When Shain — or one of his editors — asks in his headline if TV is "killing the NFL," he's failing to consider that the lion's share of the league's revenue is television-based, not ticket-based. This is a $10-billion-a-year business that, with its new TV rights deals with CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN, will make close to $6 billion per year from annual rights fees alone.
We live in a world where it's now easier to conveniently have experiences that used to force us outside. And with HD "getting better" and 3-D likely on the pro football world's horizon, that isn't likely to change. For now, the attendance figures are still very strong in comparison to competing pro sports leagues, so this phenomenon might only mean that organizations consider doing two things in the future that would actually benefit fans. With supply and demand in mind, they'll either have to counter by dropping ticket prices (giving a wider base of potential fans a chance to attend games and get sold on the game of football) or by building smaller stadiums (which likely means less taxpayer money for funding, less traffic and maybe even a better overall atmosphere at games).
And so no, I don't believe TV — which feeds the NFL like no other sugar daddy — will threaten the future of the league whatsoever. They'll have to adapt slightly, but that'll likely only benefit us as fans.