John Steigerwald's Sports Column

No-shows – even in Pittsburgh – more than blip on NFL’s radar

No-shows, even in Pittsburgh, more than blip on NFL’s radar

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So, how many no-shows will there be in Green Bay?


Almost 20,000 Steelers ticket holders chose not to show up at Heinz Field for last Sunday’s win over the Bengals in weather that was not as bad as what is predicted today for Green Bay.


The high temperature for the Packers and Steelers is expected to be 25, and it should be 16 or 17 by the fourth quarter. There’s also a chance, depending on what happens earlier in the day, that one or both teams will be eliminated before kickoff. There also could be an all-day snowstorm to deal with.


Packers fans tend to show up no matter what. This season, Lambeau Field has overflowed at 106 percent capacity. Heinz Field has been 88 percent filled for Steelers games this year. The Steelers, who play in a relatively small stadium, are 30th in the NFL in attendance.


Chances are, next week’s game against the Browns at Heinz Field will be meaningless. Will more than 39,429 show up? That’s how many showed up at Three Rivers Stadium Dec. 26, 1999 to see the 5-9 Steelers play the Carolina Panthers.


That small crowd added fuel to the speculation about coach Bill Cowher’s job security. To the surprise of just about everybody, Cowher survived, and director of football operations Tom Donahoe was fired.


That was the last time the Steelers had back-to-back nonwinning seasons. Next week, they’ll finish up their second consecutive nonwinning season under coach Mike Tomlin.


Not showing up to see a losing team in hideous weather does not make you a bad Steelers fan. It makes you a discerning customer.


• The Buffalo Bills, who haven’t been to the playoffs since 1999, have played to 93 percent capacity this season and are ranked 18th in total attendance. Ralph Wilson Stadium seats a little over 73,000, which is 5,000 more than Heinz Field. Today’s Buffalo game against the Miami Dolphins will be the second blackout in the NFL this year and it comes a few days after the FCC announced that it was revisiting the rule that allows NFL teams to prohibit home games from being televised when they are not sold out 72 hours in advance.


In a free county, you might wonder how it is that the government can force a business to share its product with nonpaying customers, but it’s also hard to dredge up any sympathy for an enterprise that asks the government to take money from you and me to build their place of business.


• No-shows are very much on the NFL’s radar these days, and you might be surprised to see what the league is doing and planning to do to help the in-stadium experience compete with the experience of sitting on your couch like a schlub watching the game on a 60-inch high-definition television screen.


Without the drunks.


Or, at least, only with the drunks you know and love.


According to Albert Breer, NFL.com’s media writer, the league has come up with six ways to cut down on the no-shows and most of them are directed at people who can’t go eight minutes without scrolling on their smart phone. It also includes more information on the scoreboard, directed at the people for whom the game on the field just isn’t enough. That will include lots of fantasy stats and the RedZone Channel, because, as you know, in 2013, football is only about the touchdowns and the highlights.


Connectivity also will be enhanced. That means lots of exciting programming on your smartphone within the walls of the stadium.


Alternative programming for the scoreboard also will be included. Concerts during dead time are being discussed. Unfortunately, Breer didn’t mention anything about any plans to reduce the dead time. There was a time, for you youngsters out there, when NFL games were over in two hours and 20 minutes.


• Heinz Field is only 12 years old but it might already be approaching dinosaur status. The new stadiums – taxpayer funded, of course – will have more standing room, apparently because people are finding it harder and harder to sit still. And they want to recreate a sports bar atmosphere. You know, for people who are actually at the game but wish they were in a sports bar.


Call me crazy, but I’d save the $75 and go to the sports bar. The Vikings’ new taxpayer-funded stadium will include a fantasy football lounge. That’ll be really nice for the people who are at the game but care more about what’s happening in every other game, but weren’t smart enough to stay home and watch it on TV.


• For more and more fans, the game is incidental to the tailgaiting. There are plans to put video screens outside the stadium. Those will be for the people who paid for tickets and drove through the traffic, but really never had any desire to actually see the game in person.


Do you think it ever occurs to the people running the NFL that they have a problem when they have to spend so much time figuring out ways for ticket buyers to avoid just watching the game?



John Steigerward writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.


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