FOXBOROUGH — It’s hard to imagine a day when the New England Patriots, who have sold out every home game since 1994 and have 60,000 fans on a paid waiting list for season tickets, would have trouble filling Gillette Stadium. But team executives are spending a lot of time thinking about that possibility, even as the clock ticks down to Sunday’s AFC Championship game.
“If we want people to still come to our stadium and find it worth the money, we have to figure out how we give an experience that’s different than the experience at home and give you all the comforts of home,” Patriots president Jonathan Kraft said this week during a technology summit at Gillette, where he was the keynote speaker.
Though the Patriots stand one win away from their seventh Super Bowl berth under his family’s ownership, Kraft said a winning history isn’t enough to guarantee future profits. Without ever-better stadium technology, he said, “Live venue viewing at this scale is really going to be put at risk.”
Possible coming attractions at Gillette include streaming audio of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels relaying play calls to quarterback Tom Brady, and locker room video at halftime that ticket holders can view on their smartphones. New apps could soon direct fans to ideal parking spots and allow them to buy food and drink from mobile devices so they can pick up their orders without waiting in line.
Patriots spokesman Stacey James said the NFL would have to approve the streaming of locker room video and on-field audio, and the media would be edited or delayed — by 15 to 20 seconds, Kraft suggested. If the league introduced such features, James stressed, it would be sure to do it in a way that protects information Bill Belichick and other coaches closely guard.
A former Patriots player, who requested anonymity to speak about the team’s internal workings, said play calls are so complex and varied that opponents likely wouldn’t gain an advantage by hearing them, anyway — especially after the play has happened.
All of the planned stadium extras could be available as early as next season, thanks to a high-capacity Wi-Fi system installed during the summer by Enterasys Networks Inc., a Salem, N.H., company.
Some tech enhancements have already been made at Gillette. Three seasons ago, the Patriots started using Wi-Fi to offer exclusive camera angles and statistics to fans in luxury suites. This season, the expanded network has given all stadium-goers free mobile access to the popular NFL RedZone channel, which jumps from game to game when teams appear poised to score. During the team’s playoff win over the Houston Texans last Sunday, a quarter of the fans at Gillette used the Wi-Fi network — an all-time high.
The Patriots franchise is at the vanguard of enhanced live sports viewing, which analysts say is increasingly necessary to compete with the cost, convenience, and comfort of watching games from home. Only seven of the NFL’s 30 other stadiums — including recently opened MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, shared by the New York Giants and Jets, and the Indianapolis Colts’ Lucas Oil Stadium — have comparable Wi-Fi networks.
Kraft said the technology resources of his family’s company, the Kraft Group, give the Patriots an uncommon ability to develop and test mobile apps in-house. That edge puts the club “head and shoulders above anything else going on anywhere else,” he said.
Kraft, who cochairs the NFL’s digital media committee, said the club began to seriously consider upgrades in 2009, as high-definition television became ubiquitous in homes. HDTV, in many cases, offers a better view of the field than a seat at the stadium. Plus, there is no line at the bathroom or refrigerator, and it’s never 15 degrees and snowing on a sofa.
Then there’s the expense: This season, a family of four could expect to pay about $607 in tickets, parking fees, and concessions to see the Patriots play, according to Team Marketing Report, a sports industry tracking firm in Wilmette, Ill.
“One of the advantages of being at home is that second screen experience you get with your smartphone or tablet, which gives you some of the interaction you can get at the stadium without dealing with the weather, other fans, and exorbitant prices,” said Jeff Joseph, a spokesman for the Consumer Electronics Association, an industry trade group. “For a lot of people, that’s a compelling reason to stay home.”
In ESPN’s latest annual fan poll, 41 percent of fans said they would rather watch a game on television than in the stands.Continued...