Lentis/The Impact of Fans on Technological Innovation in the NFL

The driving force behind the entertainment industry is the audience. The desires of the fans and viewers propel technological advancements. This chapter will show the impact of fans on technological innovation in the National Football League.

Eagles vs. Packers at Lincoln Financial Field - 1/9/2011

Early History of Technology in NFLEdit

When the National Football League was founded in 1920, television was in its infancy. People had to go to the games and view them in person for entertainment. The first NFL game to be televised was a match between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Brooklyn Dodgers on October 22, 1939. But it was not until after World War II that games started to be broadcast regularly. By 1959, big-market teams had all of their games televised, but the small-market teams did not. In 1970, the American Football League merged with the National Football League (AFL-NFL Merger). In doing so, they split into two divisions: the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC). [1] It was decided that all NFC games (including playoffs) would be televised CBS and that all AFC games would be televised by NBC. [2] The popularity of the NFL would only grow from here.

New TechnologiesEdit

Even with many of the games being televised, the fans crave more and more football. The following are a few statistics to show the current enormity of the NFL industry and how much business truly relies on it.

  • Operating Income by Dallas Cowboys in 2012: $227 million [3]
  • Estimated NFL Income in 2011: $12 billion [4]
  • Number of people playing fantasy sports in 2012: ~34 million [5]

As displayed by the numbers listed above, the NFL is a huge corporation. The exponentially growing popularity has created a demand for more access to content. New technologies have been created to satisfy this demand.

Fantasy FootballEdit

"Hey, great game last week."
"Yeah, but we lost."

"But you threw five touchdowns, and that's all I need from you."

—A typical conversation with a fantasy fan, according to Peyton Manning[6]

Fans have found a way to take the game into their own hands. With fantasy football, fans everywhere can act as the general manager of a fake team in which they draft players, make trades, add and drop players, and set rosters to compete in weekly head-to-head match-ups against one another. Because of fantasy football, fans create a broader range of players to root for. Instead of just rooting for the players on their hometown team, football fans now naturally cheer for the guys on their fantasy roster as well. These players may even be members of their hometown's rival team.

In many of these leagues, it is not just bragging rights on the line. Players are betting money on these leagues, and to the victor go the spoils. With fans investing more time and money into the sport, they are demanding new and different ways to access NFL content. This creates a growing popularity in different leagues, blogs, television programs, and radio shows strictly dedicated to fantasy. It is no longer just about watching the games on Sunday. Throughout the week, fans are checking for updates on players to try to get the edge. 55% of fantasy sports players report watching more sports on television since they started playing fantasy sports. [7]

NFL MobileEdit

NFL Mobile is an application for wireless devices that allows users to obtain NFL coverage on the go. This is the epitome of fans demanding access to content. They can no longer wait until they are home to watch sports coverage on TV; they can no longer wait until the scores and statistics come out in the newspaper the next day. Fans need their sports at all times. The invention of the smartphone has had a big impact on the direction some of the technological advancements have gone in. Since so many people carry their cell phones with them, programmers have developed applications that allow users to get every piece of information they need about the NFL right on their phone. The amount of content available on these apps continues to grow. It is even possible to watch play-by-play with a Gamecast of exactly what is going on in the game. A true sports fan is not confined to obtaining content through only television and the internet. A true fan needs all sports, all the time.

NFL Sunday TicketEdit

For someone with traditional cable, a maximum of two NFL games are aired at a time. As of current, FOX is responsible for televising NFC games while CBS is responsible for televising AFC games. The two games that are aired at a time are determined by location. The home team is aired on one network while the other game is chosen through some other formula that gauges potential interest. The rest of the games going on across of the league are not accessible on cable television.

NFL Sunday Ticket is an out-of-market sports package that broadcasts National Football League regular season games unavailable on local affiliates. [8] This package is available exclusively on DirectTV in the United States. Now, fans can watch any game, regardless of their location. A Philadelphia Eagles fan may be living and working in Washington, DC. When the Redskins and Eagles play at the same time, the Redskins game will get priority on FOX in DC because they are the local team; therefore, the Eagles fan will not be able to view the game. With NFL Sunday Ticket, the Eagles fan can watch his home team on TV from the comfort of his DC penthouse, even when the Redskins are playing at the same time. Fans have grown so attached to their hometown sports teams, they cannot live without being able to watch the games when they move or relocate to a different area. It's desires like these that fuel innovations such as NFL Sunday Ticket.

NFL RedZoneEdit

NFL RedZone is a fantasy guru's dream. What matters most to a fantasy owner? Touchdowns. NFL RedZone shows every scoring play of every game across the league. This allows a viewer to get a sense of what players are doing well in fantasy for that week. If a fantasy player's quarterback is playing for a team that is not being televised, how will he know how well he is performing? With RedZone, you can basically watch every game at one time with no commercials and no down time in the game. If exciting things are happening in multiple games, Scott Hanson will split the screen into a double-box, quad-box, or even a six-pack. For a full range of coverage on Sunday, RedZone is a great choice.

The Power of FansEdit

Even with the development of numerous new technologies, fans are still not fully satisfied. Fans desire more involvement in the NFL because they feel entitled. They want to see every play and evaluate the calls made by the referees. Two of the prominent technologies that help to engage fans are Instant Replay and the Jumbotron.

Instant Replay TechnologyEdit

The head referee (left) talking with replay official (right)

Instant Replay technology gives fans as well as officials the ability to review plays on the field. In the case of a play that was unclear at first sight, the referee has the ability to go back and review the play to make a more accurate judgment. These challenges are initiated by head coaches or by the referees themselves on a scoring play. The instant replay was first created in 1978 and implemented in the first NFL regular season game on Sept 7, 1986 when the Chicago Bears defeated the Cleveland Browns 41-31. [9] All replays were initiated by NFL replay officials and coaches. This system lasted until 1992 when NFL owners voted to discontinue the use of instant replay. But after 7 seasons without it, replay returned to the NFL in 1999 when the system was created as it is known today. [10]


Jumbotron at Cowboys Stadium - largest television in an NFL stadium

One other significant technological advancement that engages more fans into sport events is the development of the Jumbotron. A Jumbotron is a large-screen television typically used in sports stadiums and concerts to illustrate close-up shots of the event or replays of dubious plays. [11] This innovation gives fans and viewers the ability to participate in sports because plays can be seen over and over in slow-motion. Fans are entitled to observe the Jumbotron to scrutinize plays and evaluate calls made by referees and officials on the field, even from seats high-up in the stadium.

Packers vs. Seahawks: Controversial Hail Mary TouchdownEdit

The creation of instant replay gives fans more power over the calls made by referees on the field. This power is shown after a very controversial call made by replacement referees in a game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks on September 24, 2012. Replacement referees were used in the first three weeks of the season as a result of the ongoing 2012 NFL referee lockout between NFL affiliates and the experienced referees. [12] The footage of what is sometimes called "The Worst Call in NFL History" can be seen in this clip.

As the video illustrates, the ball was clearly in the hands of Packers' Safety M.D. Jennings, but the replacement referees awarded Seahawks receiver Golden Tate the touchdown on the final play [13]. This horrendous call made by the replacement referees on the last play of the game gave the Seattle Seahawks the game-winning "interception" as it is so called now. [14] Because fans have access to technologies like instant replay, they were able to observe the final catch over and over again in slow-motion and determine that this was truly an awful call by the replacement referees. The controversial ending followed weeks of criticism regarding the quality of officiating by replacement officials employed by the NFL during the 2012 NFL referee lockout. Mike McCarthy, the Green Bay Packers Head Coach, was surprised by the call and televised his opinions to the disgruntled fans, "Very hard to swallow. I have never seen anything like that in my time in football."

Fans from across the world were disgusted. The Social media exploded for 56,000 comments made per minute.[15] Fans were infuriated by the horrible call made by the unofficial referees. The officiating controversy caused a social media uproar around the NFL. Fans were persistently pushing for the old referees to come back. Their raging attitudes continued to flood the news because the games were getting out of control. The product on the field was not being complemented by an appropriate set of officials. [16] Eventually, the criticism from fans, players, and coaches around the league became too much for the NFL to handle. As a result, the National Football League responded to the enraged media, "The NFL players' union called on the 32 team owners to end the lockout because it is compromising the integrity of the game. The game was being ridiculed as the 'substitute-teacher syndrome: see how much you can get away with before the real thing returns." [17] Two days after this controversial call, Roger Goodell, the NFL Commissioner, decided to terminate the 2012 NFL referee lockout and bring the experienced referees back. [18] This prominent example stands to show how the use of instant replay gave fans the power to review and validate calls on the field. Their increasing involvement and pressure resulted in the end of the 2012 NFL referee lockout. The fans' opinions matter, and they have the power to drive change.

The technological development of instant replay has not only resulted in more involvement from football fans across the world, but also engaged viewers who are interested in evaluating calls made in other sports such as Basketball, Field Hockey, Baseball, Tennis, Rugby Football, Motor Sports, Race-walking and even Cricket.

The Role of Fans and Technology on 2011 NFL LockoutEdit

The media has always been the link between the entertainment industry and the fans. They have a certain power that can be used in both positive and negative ways. The media has control over what information is leaked to the public and what is kept from them. With this power, they can maintain control over the viewers. With new technologies that have been emerging, this control is slowly diminishing, as viewers have access to more information directly from the source. They are given outlets to communicate directly with these sources through new social media technology. The effect of this new connection between the fans and the entertainers was seen in the 2011 NFL lockout.

NFL LockoutEdit

The 2011 NFL Lockout consisted of two opposing sides; the National Football League and the National Football League Players Association. The lockout began on March 11, 2011 with a complete work stoppage enforced by all 32 NFL team owners. The NFL players were locked out of their facilities and all team operations were halted.[19] The lockout was intended to address the growing issues between the NFL and the NFL Players Association regarding salary caps, player safety, player benefits, television contracts, and shared revenue.[20] The fans would not normally have any say in these negotiations but due to new forms of social media that have emerged with new technology, they were able to play an integral role in the process. Immediately after the lockout was enforced, the players reached out to the fans to support them in the fight against the National Football League. The players knew how much power the fans have over the entertainment industry and wanted them in their corner during negotiations.

The Social Media PlatformEdit

There were several different social media sites that allowed the fans to play a role in the lockout. Viewers took to Reddit to comment on forums. There were rants and videos posted on YouTube. Facebook was a popular site for people to post status updates and comment on breaking news. The fans had the most success using Twitter. Through Twitter, the fans could communicate directly with the players. Of course, this technology was not always available and the fans did not have access to negotiations between players and officials. There have been several other lockouts and strikes in North American professional sports, but without the social media platform available to fans, they often resulted in much longer work stoppages. The 1994-1995 MLB Strike lasted more than seven months and led to the cancellation of the entire postseason as well as the World Series.[21] The 2004-2005 NHL Lockout was the longest work stoppage in the history of professional sports. This was the first and only time a lockout has led to cancellation of an entire season.[22] The factors behind these lockouts and the one experienced by NFL players in 2011 differ in many ways, but one key factor is the role that fans played in the negotiations.


Roger Goodell, NFL Commissioner

When the players and the officials began negotiating and working towards an agreement, the true power of the fans was very apparent. Players would immediately update the fans via their personal Twitter accounts.[23] Fans had instant access to the discussions happening behind closed doors and they could respond directly to the players and voice their opinions. They could tweet at the officials directly as well and ask questions or demand answers. They were no longer left waiting on the media to decide what information to share and what information to keep private. Reporters were not the only means of information and the viewers did not have to wait around for news conferences. The National Football League knew there was no denying that the fans had the most power. They run the industry and without them the NFL would not be what it is today. Negotiations were wrapped up as quickly as possible and agreements were reached in order to get players back on the field. Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, was quoted saying "There are obviously issues that we disagree on, but there are certainly solutions to those disagreements. I think it's going to come down to everyone realizing we're better off working together to find solutions than fighting."[24]


The entertainment industry is a constantly evolving aspect of our society that is driven by the demand of its viewers. Without the fans, the industry would not thrive like it does. The National Football League has grown to be so much more than just a couple Sunday football games. It has become an empire. Fans constantly want more from the NFL and without this demand it would not be what it is today. Daniel Roberts of CNN said "indeed, as the biggest fans know, watching a game is just half of the experience. Then there are columns to read the next day, videos to watch, and highlights to email, Facebook share, and tweet about."[25] The new emerging technologies have taken the fans' experience to a different level. These developments have allowed fans to get exactly what they want, whenever they want it; more football.


  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Football_Conference
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NFL_on_television
  3. http://www.forbes.com/sites/mikeozanian/2012/09/05/dallas-cowboys-lead-nfl-with-2-1-billion-valuation/
  4. http://adage.com/article/news/12b-stake-nfl-lockout-prevents-2011-season/148093/
  5. http://www2.wsls.com/news/2012/aug/27/fantasy-football-craze-growing-local-businesses-ca-ar-2153331/
  6. http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/columns/story?columnist=garber_greg&id=2684942
  7. "CDM Appeals Court Victory Ensures Continued Fantasy Sports Growth". Fantasy Sports Trade Association. http://fsta.org/news/pressreleases/CBCvsMLBAM.doc?PHPSESSID=glao8etoobku1pu8q98hln9262. 
  8. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NFL_Sunday_Ticket
  9. http://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/198609070chi.htm
  10. http://www.nfl.com/videos/chicago-bears/0ap2000000059196/This-Day-in-Football-First-instant-replay
  11. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jumbotron
  12. http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/8266445/nfl-executives-foresee-opening-2012-regular-season-replacement-refs
  13. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_Packers%E2%80%93Seahawks_officiating_controversy
  14. http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-videos/0ap1000000069418/Replacement-referees-admit-making-wrong-call
  15. http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/blog/eye-on-football/20360611/twitter-explodes-for-56k-tweetsminute-during-packersseahawks-finale
  16. http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap1000000066795/article/nfl-referee-lockout-could-lead-to-asterisk-on-2012-season
  17. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/sep/25/bizarre-ending-overshadows-seahawks-win-over-packe/print/
  18. http://espn.go.com/nfl/topics/_/page/nfl-labor-negotiations
  19. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_NFL_lockout
  20. http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/8429885/nfl-reaches-agreement-officials-end-lockout
  21. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1994%E2%80%9395_Major_League_Baseball_strike
  22. http://www.cbssports.com/nhl/blog/eye-on-hockey/20174255/nhl-lockout-history-by-the-numbers
  23. http://www.bazaarvoice.com/blog/2011/12/01/let-them-play-how-twitter-saved-the-nfl-season-2/
  24. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/26/roger-goodell-warned-nfl-fans-lockout_n_867698.html
  25. http://money.cnn.com/2011/03/03/news/companies/nfl_lockout_losers_labor.fortune/index.htm