One reason fantasy football is so popular is it turns the NFL into something more than a spectator sport. You scout players, draft them, pick your lineup – while you have practically no control over your favorite NFL team winning or losing, your fantasy team’s fortunes are entirely in your hands.
That’s what makes the Salt Lake Screaming Eagles of the Indoor Football League an interesting experiment. The New York Times wrote a feature on the team, which has given a lot of control to the fans.
According to The Times, fans helped pick the coach using the team’s mobile app after interviews were taped or streamed online. Fans pick the uniforms, an extra concession item and warm-up music. Fans helped decide who would make the roster. And fans pick the plays during the game, voting on the mobile app.
The coaches get the play, voted on by fans on their phones (though they were picking from plays designed by the offensive coordinator, which the team practiced during the week), and relay them to the quarterback. That’s pretty fun.
“I was always on my couch, playing ‘Madden,’ making calls and wondering why I was spending money on beer and tickets to games,” Sohrob Farudi, the chief executive of Project Fanchise, which is the Screaming Eagles’ ownership group, told The Times. “Being so close to tech and mobile, I wondered, ‘Why can’t a fan be involved?’”
Could any of these ideas ever be implemented in the NFL? It’s really hard to see teams ever giving up any control over plays or the roster, because the NFL is A Very Serious Endeavor. And that makes sense of course; no coach is going to want to get fired after fans pick that flea flicker on the mobile app and it fails miserably. But, couldn’t some of those ideas help the Pro Bowl, for example? Could some interactive decisions on things like uniforms or music be handed over to the fans at some point?
The NFL is still a runaway train when it comes to popularity; the “ratings crisis” of last season was overblown because it failed to recognize that the NFL runs circles around every other sport. But the NFL will have to figure out a way to navigate a landscape that is interactive and changing rapidly. The days of people sitting and watching any one thing for three hours at a time are dwindling (which is another reason the NFL maintaining the ratings it has is remarkable). The league has to figure out a way to stay relevant in that landscape. That doesn’t mean it has to have fans vote on plays via mobile app, but some creativity will be needed along the line.
Until then, we can marvel at the Salt Lake Screaming Eagles’ approach. They appear to understand that football is supposed to be entertainment.
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