Patriots Not Taking Fans for Granted in Down Economy

NECN: Peter Howe, Foxborough, Mass.) Even with a years-long waiting list for season tickets, the New England Patriots aren't taking their popularity for granted -- especially not in this tough economy.

For people attending in person at Gillette Stadium, something new took the field ths season: What has to be the biggest, most beautiful T.V. screen in all of New England. At the south end zone, it's three stories tall, 164 feet wide -- the biggest outdoor high-definition replay screen in the league.

Meanwhile, the Patriots have also moved onto the small screen too, offering this season a new smartphone "app" that lets fans in the Fidelity Clubhouse use WiFi connections to punch up replays and special camera angles of the game on their phone.

"Each year a season would end since we owned the team, and we'd say, 'How can you improve?' '' said Jonathan Kraft, Patriots president. "In any business, if you're a responsible business manager or owner, you're always thinking about: How can I get better?''

Patriots mania aside, Dave Czesniuk (CHEZZ-nick) of Northeastern University's Sport In Society Center says in this economy, keeping customers happy is crucial.

"Fans in the National Football League these days are making an unbelievable investment,'' Czesniuk said.

According to Team Marketing Report, the Pats have, at $118, the highest average ticket price in the league, and are third highest in the "fan cost index" (which totals the cost of four tickets, drinks, parking, and souvenirs). Only the Jets and Cowboys cost more (although Kraft notes that those teams play in publicly-funded stadiums, unlike the Patriots, and also charge "personal seat licenses" as well as tickets.) Overall, a Sunday visit to the Pats at Gillette is 40 percent over the NFL average, and double the cost of the cheapest, the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"In order to keep that demand justified, you know, teams are having to do more and more, and the league is having to do more and more,'' Czesniuk said.

Of course, it's not like selling tickets is a big problem for the Patriots. They have 50,000 people on their season ticket waiting list, and their last 174 home games -- every one since 1994 -- have been sold out.

But with big screens and high definition, watching from home's looking better and better. "For the price of a season ticket, I can go out and get myself a nice 36-inch high-def TV,'' pay for a cable or satellite subscription to "watch every single game, and I can probably get myself steaks for the season, too. I think that's a big concern for the NFL.''

Kraft doesn't dismiss that -- but he feels confident that keeping Gillette jumping is the way to go.

"No matter how good it is on TV at home, there's something about being in the building and witnessing it live, smelling and hearing and feeling the energy,'' Kraft said. "You feel a higher high, or you feel a lower low -- and that's part of the thrill of living, without getting too corny. We think the in-stadium experience can't be replaced by high-definition television.''

With videographer John J. Hammann

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