FanVision: Fine idea, wrong device

FanVision deviceFootball season is upon us and with come the NFL’s scramble to reach deeper into fans’ wallets. Apparently $200 tickets and $10 beers aren’t enough to keep the lights on at the stadium, so about half the NFL teams have signed up to sell FanVision mobile devices to stadium fans. FanVision (MSRP $259, street price $199) has a 4″ HD-resolution screen and receives video feeds within the stadium confines. Fans can watch the network feed to the game they paid to see live, or out of town games and highlights. From a technology perspective, there’s nothing exciting about FanVision — it’s a mini UHF TV. It receives dedicated low-power channels.

Football is the rare sport that’s more enjoyable to watch live. Seeing the whole field of play allows the spectator to understand precisely how plays unfold — who was open, who missed a block, who was out of position. TV is a closeup medium that follows the ball. Fans have no idea why the play evolved as it did, and it turns out fewer and fewer of the analysts do as well. It’s clear to even the casual fan that the television announcers are watching the line feed in the booth — just like you! That’s why they rarely add any insight.

I digress. Fact is that the average fan prefers the TV experience. It’s easier to have Phil Simms tell you what you just saw than to actually understand what you just saw. Add 50,000 drunks and 30-degree temperatures to a sport that is played rain, snow, or shine, and the owners have a problem filling the $200 seats. For the past two decades they’ve done their best to make football stadiums into giant living rooms with climate control, big screens, and incredible Surround Sound. It works. .500 teams continue to sell out. I have seats to the New England Patriots 10 rows from the field of play, and I never cease to be amazed by the number of people watching the game live on the big screen displays. (The luxury box crowd is a better example of the domestication of the NFL. It appears many of them are completely unaware that the game on the TV is happening just out the window.)

Didn’t I just make the case for FanVision? No, I didn’t. I made the case for in-stadium personal video displays. People already own decent video players — iPhones and iPod Touches, Droid phones, even BlackBerry’s in the game. Who wants yet another device to juggle? A better investment would be to upgrade the WiFi networks (currently only available in the $600 seat sections of Gillette Stadium) and let fans watch on the devices they already own – devices far more sophisticated than a tiny TV, devices with interactive capabilities.  Engadget notes the Seattle Mariners (MLB) took a step in that direction by allowing fans to view replays on a Nintendo DS. Note to owners: Mariners fans can order beer from the DS — a far quicker path to higher margins than FanVision.

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