OK, I’ll confess it up front: I’m a very late convert to being a pro football fan. As a lifelong girly girl, I only started paying serious attention to the sport a few years ago. According to ESPN, about half of all Americans currently describe themselves as football fans. It’s the most popular sport in the country. Like the 17 million Americans who watch a game during an average fall weekend, I’m kind of hooked (compare that to only 11 million who watched the Emmys this year).
And of course, like any recent convert to a new religion, I can’t stop proselytizing.
The start of the season (and my incessant chattering) led to a conversation here at Dandelion Chandelier about whether wealthy people have more luxurious ways to experience pro football than the hoi polloi. So we talked to a few of our friends, and here’s what we can report back about the football viewing habits of the well-to-do:
–A luxury box is not as great as you might imagine. They cost a small fortune, and they may not be worth the price. A friend has one, and he regrets having made the investment. “It’s nice to have the food and drink and some privacy, but you end up watching the game on the monitors in the box, because the field is so far away.” He said the same thing about the Super Bowl, by the way: he’s been in person, many times, and said it’s actually more fun to watch it from the comfort of your sofa. His advice: buy seats on the 50-yard line for a couple of games every season, and watch the rest at home.
–Being in the owners’ box can be pretty sweet. On the other hand, if you happen to know one of the NFL team owners, you’re in luck. Sitting in their box is as much about who else they’ve invited as it is about the actual game. Recent notable guests include Bryan Cranston, Ariana Grande, Pharrell Williams, Jon Bon Jovi and Denzel Washington (!!!)
–Owning a luxury box can grant you a way-cool experience on the road. Another friend told me about an amazing perk that owners of luxury boxes are sometimes privy to: a trip with the team to an away game. You get to fly out with the team, see the walk-through the day before, sit with the owner during the game, and fly back with the team the next day. “If the team won, the players will actually talk to you on the flight back, because everyone’s in a good mood. On the way down, they’re concentrating on the game. And if they lost, they don’t want to talk about it. But if they won, the trip back is pretty cool.”
–The right television at home is probably the best way to actually see the game. The consensus is that a large-screen flat panel television is the preferred method of viewing a big game. As plasma TVs are being phased out, the best television technology available is organic light-emitting diode (OLED). The top-of-the-line is not cheap: CNET’s 2016 top pick for a 65-inch television is LG’s OLED E6P, which will run you a cool $4,500. A few esoteric OLED models start at $20,000. But that kind of investment really pays for itself: all your friends will want to come to your house if you have one. And you can make them bring the beer.
–You have to watch NFL RedZone. Satellite and cable providers have all kinds of sports packages, but a friend who is a true aficionado is adamant that the best one is the NFL Sunday Ticket on DirecTV, with the NFL Network and the NFL RedZone channel. For those not in the know, the RedZone channel runs only on Sundays, from 1:00 to 8:00P Eastern, and it covers only the touchdowns and key statistics from every game in the NFL that day. It’s the ultimate highlight reel, and if you can’t — or don’t want to — sit through six hours of football on a Sunday afternoon, this is the way to go. You can stream it on your desktop, tablet, or game console, and Verizon subscribers can watch it on their smartphones. Whatever device you’re using, it’s pure adrenaline. My friend describes it as “football crack.”
You already know what a huge business professional football has become: the current television contracts are worth between $8.5 and $15 billion each. Last year, the NFL accounted for 63% of the top 100 shows on television. A tremor of fear has recently rippled through the football world, as TV ratings for the first four weeks declined 11% from the prior year. Some might say this is cosmic payback for Tom Brady’s 4-week suspension. The league blames the viewership fall-off on the Presidential election, which they claim is sucking all of the oxygen out of the room. Other possible culprits? Compelling baseball playoffs, streaming services that are not measured by Nielsen, too many rookie quarterbacks, too few great match-ups, and legal troubles for the daily fantasy sports companies. No one is panicking just yet. Time will tell if this is a blip or a secular trend.
Meanwhile, we have a friendly football pool at the office, and I have been struck by how much you can learn about a person when you’re in a sports pool with them: who’s a gracious winner, who’s a good coach for a novice, who’s a great strategist, and how each person thinks about risk (the daredevil is not always who you think it is). For the first time this year, we’re doing a “survivor pool” in addition to the weekly games – I’m still alive as of this post!
No sport is without its issues, and the NFL has its share: concussions and other head injuries to the players; a severe lack of diversity in the ranks of coaches and owners; the Kaepernick controversy, about which the league seems stymied. Those are conversations for another day.
In the end, what I have loved most about my late introduction to being a football fan is how it allows me to connect with strangers I have just met.
I was recently on a road trip in New England, and I stopped for coffee at a gas station. The woman at the cash register greeted me cheerfully, and I noticed that she was wearing a Miami Dolphins jersey. I teased her about sporting that in the heart of Patriots Nation. Her quick rejoinder? “Yeah, they may have great quarterbacks, but they’ve gotta have someone who can actually catch the ball.” I said, hello, what about Gronk? What followed was a brief but highly entertaining conversation about the Pats, the Fins, my beloved hometown Lions, and the weekend’s upcoming games. Then I was back on the road again.
It’s cool that some things transcend all barriers — even the love-the-Pats-hate-the-Pats divide. In a season of fierce political rivalries, it’s a blessed relief to set them aside and root for our teams. Are you ready for some football? Oh, yeah.