Year after year, the NFL rakes in billions. It is the most successful sports league in North America by leaps, bounds and 100 yards and continues to grow.
Still, there are plenty of areas in which the league needs to improve. The NFL’s safety issue, in which the concussion crisis is at the forefront, continues to loom as a major roadblock for sustained success. Second among the league’s top issues may be a threat posed by the very thing that made the league so popular in the first place – television.
The advantages of staying at home to watch football these days typically far outweigh the benefits of the in-stadium experience.
“The NFL told us that their biggest competition is the couch, and the beer in the fridge. They’re really fighting with that,” said Alan Amron, founder and chairman of First Down Laser. “They won’t admit it outright but people aren’t going to the stadium like they used to.”
The Bengals, Colts and Packers barely sold out playoff games earlier this month and Amron believes that part of what is keeping fans at home is poor sightlines at the stadium. Fans at home get the benefit of changing camera angles and the all-important “yellow line” that shows where the first down marker is. Depending on where a fan is sitting in the stadium, identifying a first down marker can become a twisting and annoying chore.
Amron and his former partner in this endeavor, late football broadcaster Pat Summerall, pitched the idea of a laser as a first down marker to members of the league office and the competition committee eight years ago. The idea is that a four-inch wide laser, projected from sideline to sideline, would give everyone in the stadium - players, coaches and referees included - a much better idea of what is and what is not a first down.
“Pat and I got great, positive feedback from the league,” Amron said. “Pat really wanted to see the game evolve. He had a passion for the game. Anything to make things more accurate on the field, he was in favor of.”
According to Amron, the NFL wants to see the laser implemented in another league or at a lower level first before it makes a full push.
“The Canadian Football League called us and we’ve been in dialogue with them,” Amron said. “We tentatively have a presentation to make to them in March in Toronto and for us to bring our equipment there to demonstrate it for their executives. There is a possibility that it could be allowed to be used for their season opener in July.
“It took the NFL eight years to install instant replay and seven years to install an overhead cam. They want to see it work somewhere else first.”
Not only does Amron believe his product will help fans see the game better, he believes it would also help the NFL in terms of player safety.
“Right now players try to contort themselves after catching the ball to take a look to the sidelines to see where the marker is,” Amron said. “Now players could just look forward, tuck the ball in their chest, see the laser and plunge towards it.”
With the Super Bowl outdoors in New Jersey this weekend, the fan inside the stadium will once again get the short end of the visual stick. It remains to be seen if the NFL is ready for this particular overhaul.
“[Cowboys owner] Jerry Jones put this gigantic TV screen in his stadium and one of the reasons he did it, I was told, was so people in the stadium could see the yellow line,” Amron said. “How ridiculous is that?”
Follow Metro Boston sports editor Matt Burke on Twitter @BurkeMetroBOS