It may not be apparent to fans watching the NFL season opener between the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers at home, but there will be a big difference for fans attending games this year.
And we aren’t just talking about the new kickoff rule.
The NFL has directed all teams to display real-time fantasy football stats at all home games this season, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told USA Today. Previously, it had been up to each team.
And that, coupled with moving kickoffs to the 35, might be enough to make a football purist break out in hives.
"We know we have to continue to do more to keep fans coming to our games.," McCarthy says. "We're looking at ways to further replicate the at-home experience in the stadium."
The fantasy football industry is thriving with almost 26 million fans taking part in the U.S. and Canada, and it’s a growing demographic that the NFL — which is eager to raise attendance — will not ignore.
“This is a dramatic change from where the NFL was even 5-6 years ago,” said Fantasy Sports Trade Association president Paul Charchian. ”The NFL has come to realize fantasy is not gambling, its not tainting the game. Its creating millions of super fans with allegiances that extend beyond their geographic favorite team.”
In an e-mail to NFL fans on Thursday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stressed the importance of the stadium experience, and this new fantasy policy seems to address that aim.
“We want you most of all to sit back and enjoy it – in our stadiums, on television, and wherever else you connect with the NFL. Football fans enjoying football is what we love.”
So now, when you hear a spontaneous cheer from the crowd at your team’s stadium or a smattering of boos, good luck guessing if there’s a cute kid on big screen or if Adrian Peterson just fumbled away a goal-line carry.
Just remember, despite the bubbling popularity of fantasy sports, there will always be some purists who would rather the fantasy community just “shut up about it.”