They'd better or they're simply going to stay home. That's the reality NFL teams face as high-definition plasma TVs with stereo surround sound inside home theaters make the sweat under the facemask as visible – and the impact of a big hit as audible – as ever.
Stadiums won't keep refreshments as cheap as those in the fridge, but if fans feel like they're missing out on too much of what they like about football, they aren't going to keep paying premium prices for tickets, or the concessions.
The popularity of the NFL as a whole demands that scores and highlights of other games be part of the stadium experience, and not just every so often, but regularly. An NFL Sunday isn't just about the one game of a favorite team for a lot of fans. It's about all the games, especially for fantasy football players, who want to see up-to-the-minute stats at all times and in all places. A stadium that doesn't provide that via jumbo-trons and other auxiliary scoreboards is simply disappointing a significant portion of its potential visitors. The quality of those visuals had best be top-notch, too.
Look, I'm not saying every stadium seat should have its own monitor with television and internet access, but there needs to be as much worthwhile technology as possible in the stadium without distracting the fans' view of the live action. Remember, the idea is to add to the fans' experience, not detract from it.
Sure, maybe the purists don't need all of that technology when they walk through the turnstiles. The weather, the atmosphere and the opportunity to say they were there can be enough for them. The Packers have had no trouble filling their stadium despite not updating their video boards for nearly a decade – the new ones for 2012 will be the first major upgrade since the original 2003 Lambeau Field renovation – but purists shouldn't be expected to buy the more than 1 million tickets for sale every week in the NFL.
This year, with the new video boards, fans at Lambeau Field will get to see the very same replays the referee will be looking at under the hood during a review. That's a nice technological perk to being there, and the league had best be working on more.
Please, commissioner, owners, anybody who might be involved in making this decision, don't do it. Don't turn football into a studio game.
That's exactly what would happen if the stadium experience is made to mimic the living room experience. NFL stadiums will turn into studios. They'll become places where fans go to watch the game on TV.
I can see it now. Cheerleaders will hold up "applause" cards. Instead of watching the live action, fans will have their eyes glued to their hand-held televisions, for fear of missing something, such as a meaningful explanation of "Cover Two." Oh, my, we don't ever want to miss meaningful explanation of "Cover Two."
Spontaneity? Bye, bye.
What's next, chair backs on all of the seats at Lambeau Field? How about a pillow and a coffee table, too?
Here's something else I fear: Those hand-held televisions will come at a cost. Ask Redskins fans.
It's real simple: The fans in the stands are part of the show. Their energy gives the TV production its energy. You might say the TV viewer lives vicariously through the fans at the game. Take the fans' energy out of the game and the game won't be the same.
Don't find ways to turn the fans in the stands into couch potatoes. Find ways to incentivize their attendance and participation in the event of real, live football. Here's an idea: Make a ticket to the game more affordable, and pass some of the cost off onto the couch potatoes. The fan adds to the game and should be rewarded.
We must not lose more real football. We're losing a major hunk of real football in the way of game-softening, player-safety measures. To soften the game in the stands, too, would be to sterilize the whole experience.
A cold, snowy day at Lambeau Field is a visual that depends on a stadium packed with fans that are shoulder to shoulder on bench seats, their collective breath frozen on TV screens across America, causing everyone watching from the comfort of their homes to wonder in amazement: Why would they do that, and pay to do it, too?
They love it; that's why they do it. They live to tailgate and join with other Packers fans that dig deep for a ticket and commit to an afternoon of cold feet and frozen fingers. They do it because they don't want to sit at home and watch the game on TV, because that's too far away from where the game is and from where they want to be. They want the real experience, not the made-for-TV stuff, and if we lose those fans, we lose the game.
Don't do it; don't turn NFL stadiums into studios, which is exactly what will happen if you shift the fans' attention from the field to the game on the TV. Real fans don't need high definition. They have real definition. It's right out in front of them and they see it as it's happening, not after it's happened.
It's the real game and it's the link between today's fans and those in their families that sat in the same stadium on Dec. 31, 1967, and watched a game that was blacked out to the folks at home.
Cast your vote in the poll on the right, and if you leave a comment below, it might be used in an "After Further Review" video segment later this week.