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As in no other time in American sports history, fans are set up pretty well at home.
|The Bears are one of 12 NFL teams offering FanVision at their home stadiums, Devin Hester not included.|
High-definition TV-- with 3-D coming on strong -- has allowed for unprecedented viewing quality from your couch.
And in a U.S. economy in which some fans have curtailed their spending, and ticket prices are often rising, teams are now finding themselves in direct competition with TV.
It's the stadium seat versus the couch.
Earlier this month, CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell wrote about the idea of the death of the season ticket, noting that TV, as well as the secondary ticket market, has hurt NFL season-ticket sales.
"What is certain is that the depletion of the season ticket base is a reality and teams -- especially NFL teams who rely on season ticket sales more than any other league -- who are slow to evolve will pay for it later," he wrote.
The NFL is aware.
In August, shortly before the start of the 2010 NFL season, commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged the challenge of keeping fans in the seats while also giving them an exciting experience in the age of technology.
"Kids are consuming three or four different media at once," Goodell said, according to the Tampa Tribune. "That is the future. We can't ignore technology and we can't ignore innovations. We've got to lead. That's what the NFL is doing, leading.''
So what's being done?
Well, one of the most forward-thinking initiatives new to the NFL this season is FanVision, which has been previously used by the PGA and NASCAR.
Developed by Kangaroo TV, FanVision is a wireless handheld device that streams live events on digital channels. With a 4.3-inch screen, it's a pocket-sized TV.
The device offers instant replay from multiple angles during the game to those in-stadium, as well as from out-of-town games and the NFL RedZone Channel -- options similar to those a fan could choose from on a Sunday afternoon on the couch in front of the TV.
FanVision also gives fantasy football stats and updates, as well as an in-depth analysis tool that provides information such as strategies and trends of the game.
Essentially, it blends the benefits of watching the game on the couch with the thrill of being at the stadium in a live setting.
Cell service is often spotty and slow inside a stadium full of cell-phone toting fans. But FanVision works off a private network inside the stadium for each team, which negates this common nuisance.
Nilay Patel, the managing editor of the popular tech blog engadget, reviewed the device at Solider Field during the Monday night Bears-Packers tilt.
"We've also found that cell service in a stadium is usually atrocious, so being able to check on other scores, other games, and even load up fantasy stats on the FanVision is incredibly useful," he wrote. "All of these features work flawlessly in practice -- the handheld is smooth and responsive, and tuning between channels and calling up data is as fast as we've ever seen on a mobile video device."
Twelve NFL teams -- including the Bears, Redskins and Jets, as well as one collegiate team, Michigan -- have introduced FanVision at their home stadiums this fall.
MLB's At Bat application added a function this season dubbed "At the Ballpark," which ties into the game you're attending. Using geolocation, a fan attending a game can check in at the stadium, get a seating chart and converse with other fans who have checked in via social media.
But as has been previously noted, a check-in at a stadium can offer several possibilities for the team to connect with the fan beyond these.
A check-in could provide fans at the game with discounts on tickets, concession items or team merchandise. It could also provide free items via team sponsors. All incentives the fan at home wouldn't be able to receive.
Video streaming and highlight features are also offered via At Bat's app for those with an MLB.tv account, not that dissimilar from FanVision.
Social gaming, touched on in my previous column, could also become more prevalent in-stadium, providing an extra perk for going to the game.
"I think live events are going to be very interesting," said AJ Vaynerchuck, co-founder of VaynerMedia, a brand-consulting company that works with the New York Jets and New Jersey Nets, among other sports properties. "At a sporting event, there [could be] game mechanics involved in the stadium."
Going forward, it seems to be about offering a blend of what fans are enjoying at home in front of the TV with incentives that only those in attendance receive.
And with mobile devices in fans' pockets, teams may start making more of a commitment to reliable wireless Internet connections for fans, so anything they choose to provide to a fan is received without issues.
Ryan Corazza is a freelance writer and Web designer based in Chicago.