NFL?s attendance decline comes as no surprise

Whenever I have the urge to attend a pro baseball or football game, I wish Hillsboro was closer to Kansas City. But after thinking about all the pros and cons, I decided life is pretty good for sports fans right here.

The undeniably successful National Football League may have reached a saturation point. After years of growth on TV, the combined effect of the recession and the comfort of watching games from home may be taking a toll on America?s most popular sport.

Advertisers love NFL football, because audience ratings are consistently good. They?re especially good for the Super Bowl.

So why is there concern? Well, recently I read that up to four times the number of NFL teams are at risk of having at least one of their games blacked out locally this season, compared with last year.

A game that is not sold out within 72 hours of kickoff cannot be broadcast locally. The blackout rules were created primarily to get fans in the seats. The principle is that fans attending the game are the primary focus. Well, that sounds good in principle, but is that really the case?

The NFL had become so popular that most fans, even those with bad football teams, still wanted tickets. It appears that trend and gravy train are about to max out.

Tickets are still in demand in many NFL cities, but rising ticket prices and losing teams are taking its toll.

Consider Exhibit A, the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs have a deep fan base, but they have not fully sold out all their games in advance this year.

Last year, only three teams?Oakland, Detroit and St. Louis?suffered blackouts. The NFL last year saw 96 percent of its games broadcast locally, with only nine of 257 regular-season games being blacked out. That number is likely to climb this season.

There?s something about attending a game in person that can?t be matched at home. There?s the atmosphere surrounding the game, the opportunity to cheer for your team with 80,000 or so of your closest friends.

Of course, there?s also parking hassles, high ticket prices, uncertain weather, expensive concessions, not to mention pat downs. That?s right. To further increase security, fans will be patted down before entering stadiums for all pro football games this season. Fans are separated by sex at entry gates and screened by hired security officers of the same sex. Everyone entering the stadium will be screened.

When you watch a game on TV at home, you don?t have parking issues, except choosing which comfortable chair or sofa to park in. You?re also close to food, beverages and bathrooms.

Say what you want about TV timeouts, but you?ll find the long timeouts particularly irksome, particularly when you?re attending a game in person.

There?s some thought that teams like the Cleveland Browns, or the Bills can sell tickets despite a poor economy because they have the lowest ticket prices in football. If the demand for tickets has dropped, and the value of the product has declined, you could make an argument that the cost for that product should also decline.

Comparing the NFL to local football is like comparing an ant to an 800-pound gorilla. Never?the?less, there?s something to be said for small town football.

Attending high school and Tabor College football games in Marion County are great. You don?t have delays for TV timeouts, there?s free and nearby parking, and affordable ticket and concession prices. Plus, you don?t have to bring binoculars to see the action, and you may personally know some of the players on the field.

Of course, you still have to be prepared for Mother Nature.

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