Saturday, September 20, 2008

Up Close & Personal at NFL Games

You can get basketball seats on the court. And baseball seats above or right next to the dugout. Football fans have been shut out of the same kind of up-close-and-personal experience. They have traditionally been separated from their grid-iron heroes. Maybe it was because of ridiculous number of people and amount of gear on the sidelines. Maybe it was because of the danger of being so close to the play.

Sky Boxes were supposed to pamper fans so they would forget about the distance between them and the game. Stadiums across the country have spent (and are still spending) hundreds of millions of dollars building them. But Sky Boxes are far from the field. The times we have sat in a sky box, we ended up watching the game on TV! Or just enjoying the cocktail party, and skipping the game entirely.

Are Sky Boxes becoming passé? Earlier this month, the Jets announced their plan to make football available up close and personal for big-spending fans at their new Meadowlands stadium, scheduled to open in 2010. They’re creating a railed-off section of the field called the Coaches Club - complete with its own security personnel - and a bar and lounge area directly behind it.

"It's really about getting their feet on the field," said Thad Sheely, the Jets' executive vice president of stadium development and finance. "To be on the field, it's the kind of access only coaches and players get." To further that “Insider Feeling,” members will receive free VIP parking next to the stadium and can buy tickets to other events. These fans will also be able to stand in the tunnel before games and listen in to the coach's postgame press conference from a few feet away.

Congratulations to the Jets for figuring out a way to enhance the experience for a lucky few fans, and monetize this previously underemployed real estate. If this experiment goes well, look for copycat plays across the country.

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