In the last two weeks we have had the release of the 2013 National Football League schedule and the completion of the player draft, but both events providing ample proof of how thoroughly the sports watching landscape has evolved.
Evolution is not just a part of ancient history, but continues daily in every aspect of life and society. There is always the new and better light bulb.
First to the schedule.
The Denver Broncos will host the opening Thursday night game for the first time in franchise history, and in fact this will be the first time the season kickoff game will take place west of the Mississippi.
That is a really big deal, as for the first hundred years of pro sports in America (roughly 1860 until about 1950) pro sports ended in St. Louis, right on the banks of the Mississippi. That river has played as big a role in American sport as in the westward expansion of the entire nation.
The Thursday night game is one of our newest holidays, opening night for the most popular spectator sport in American history. A great moment for this franchise, one of the NFL’s crown jewels, and a fitting kickoff tribute to the 30th year of ownership by Broncos owner Pat Bowlen.
The game will be played in Sports Authority Field at Mile High, a true world class venue.
But what provides the magnitude, scope and holiday atmosphere is television.
In each of the last two years this opening night game averaged 27 million viewers, an astonishing total which remains incomplete because people watching in sports bars are not literally counted one by one, making the real total higher by substantial millions.
This is indicative once again of how far the Denver Broncos franchise has traveled, and should be a source of pride to everyone in Broncos Country.
The second big pro football event of the last two weeks was the NFL draft.
This has been the cornerstone of team building as long as the draft has existed, but it is once again the marriage of sport to television that has evolved the draft into a three day affair, with the first two nights of coverage in prime time.
More than 20 million people watched the Thursday night coverage on the NFL Network and ESPN.
Essentially, watching the games and related events of professional sports on television has created a new social experience in America.
This is the biggest change in the sports landscape of the last 20 years, and not only is there no sign of let up, but networks and leagues are working together in new partnerships to forge that bond even stronger.
Never before has partnership media been so big or important, both to networks hungry for content and to teams and leagues eager to continue driving revenue upward.
Think not only of the great behemoth that is the National Football League, but also of the college conferences and their network partnerships, as well as to team oriented networks like YES in New York, NESN in New England, and FOX in several markets.
Not only is more sports product being provided than ever, at a higher level than ever, but it has impacted the fan experience in every way.
More than 50 percent of all sports fans now say they would rather watch on television, according to an August 2012 ESPN Sports poll.
This is great for the fan at home, but it also has provided impetus to the concept of actually being present at the event, and teams around the country, certainly including the Broncos, have dramatically improved elements of the stadium game day experience, including larger and more stats-oriented scoreboards, as well as the opportunity for fans to get increased live info by electronic devices at their seats.
The marriage of sport and television has truly just begun, and much of the future of fan involvement will focus on the increases in remote experiences via all forms of media.
This is a challenge for all teams and leagues, but also a great opportunity, as interest has never been higher with more possible growth than right now.
As an example right here in Denver, we not only had a huge increase in local television ratings in 2013, but the Broncos at the same time set a new record for in person attendance at our home games.
Growth is something that should be and must be embraced, by leagues, teams and their television partners in a new multimedia world.
With that in mind, the Broncos will be completely sold out again in 2013, the 44th consecutive sellout season at home—Denver entered the NFL in 1970 as part of the American Football League merger, and hence has been sold out for the entirety of membership in the NFL.
And at the same time, the Broncos come into the new season with five national TV games in the regular season, one more in preseason, and the extreme likelihood of being watched nationally by more fans than at any other time in Denver’s illustrious pro football history.
Embrace in, develop it and move on to a bright future for all.