The NFL ended its 2013 season -- and started the postseason -- with a pretty clear in-stadium challenge. Documenting empty seats at kickoff had became a side sport, and three franchises struggled to sell out their wild-card playoff games. So with the preseason opener just 24 days away, it's worth taking stock of several offseason measures designed to make game attendance more enticing to fans.
We've already noted that owners have quashed a controversial postseason ticket policy that required advance payment to secure a seat. In addition, nine stadium renovation projects of varying scope are underway at a projected total cost of more than $1 billion. They range from a $7 million concession update in Tampa Bay to a $350 million facility overhaul in Miami, but in each case, the bulk of the work is targeted toward amenities that improve the fan experience.
Viewed independently, the measures could be viewed as regular maintenance. It's true in most cases that project planning took place long before the 2013 season. But the common threads -- better food, more efficient lines, connectivity, massive HD scoreboards and more televisions -- all impact ways the NFL stadium experience has fallen behind alternative viewing options in recent years.
Let's take a closer look at each project. The list below doesn't include the construction of new stadiums for the San Francisco 49ers, Minnesota Vikings and Atlanta Falcons. Note the similarity of the explanatory quotes culled from press releases and news conferences.
Team: Buffalo Bills
Stadium: Ralph Wilson Stadium
Cost: $130 million
Highlights: An extended stadium perimeter will allow more room for game-day events, as well as six "SuperGates" that provide easier and quicker progression through turnstiles. The Bills will have a new team store, and they have overhauled their scoreboards to provide clearer and bigger images from more sightlines. One is 163 feet wide and the other is 60 feet wide. When construction is complete, the stadium also will boast 1,000 toilet fixtures open to the public (up 8.7 percent). Halftime should be more convenient with five new "snack stands" and 55 beer-only points of sale. New wiring for wireless connectivity is in place.
Quote: "This renovation is geared toward the fan. It significantly enhances the fans' game-day experience." -- Bills president and CEO Russ Brandon
Team: Carolina Panthers
Stadium: Bank of America Stadium
Cost: $65 million
Highlights: This renovation phase includes a new audio system and two new HD/LED video boards, measuring 63 feet by 212 feet, above each end zone. They're more than twice the size of the previous scoreboards. Two new ribbon boards will feature statistics and scores from around the NFL, a presumed aid to fantasy players. Four new extra-wide escalators also have been added at the three entry gates to bring fans to the upper levels. Additional construction is envisioned for the next two offseasons.
Quote: "The project has three directives: impact all fans in attendance, maintain the classic design of the stadium and improve the fan experience." -- Panthers press release
Team: Cleveland Browns
Stadium: FirstEnergy Stadium
Cost: $120 million
Highlights: Phase I of the project has installed new video scoreboards in each end zone that triple the size of the previous boards. LED screens featuring statistics, scores and information have been placed around the stadium. In conjunction, a new audio system will be ready for the season. A total of 12 escalators have been added to increase access, and seating will be reconfigured to increase the capacity of the lower bowl by a still-to-be-determined number. Phase II, ready for the 2015 season, will upgrade concession areas, modernize premium seats and improve connectivity.
Quote: "We have consistently communicated that two of the primary areas of focus for us are creating a winning team and creating the best fan experience in the NFL." -- Browns owner Jimmy Haslam
Team: Green Bay Packers
Stadium: Lambeau Field
Cost: $140.5 million
Highlights: The Packers recently completed a separate, $146 million renovation that added a new video board, sound system and 6,600 new seats in the south end zone in time for the 2013 season. Now, the team is working to double the size of its Pro Shop to 20,000 square feet. Curly's Pub and the Packers Hall of Fame are changing locations within an expanded Atrium to make them more convenient. The entrance gate on the east side of the stadium also is being expanded. During the past 11 years, the Packers have commissioned or completed about $582 million in improvements to Lambeau Field over three major projects.
Quote: "We're renovating to provide a better experience for all of our fans. The Pro Shop will have a much better design, and the new layout for the Atrium will benefit all our visitors." -- Packers president/CEO Mark Murphy
Team: Jacksonville Jaguars
Stadium: EverBank Field
Cost: $63 million
Highlights: The Jaguars struggled for years to fill their end zone and upper deck inventory. This offseason, they removed 9,500 seats in the north end zone and constructed a 42,000-square foot party deck with two pools and 16 cabanas. A total of eight new video boards have been added, including two primary boards that measure 60 by 362 feet. They're billed as the world's largest HD/LED video screens. All told, the stadium will house 55,000 square feet of video display. Previously, it had 7,200 square feet. Also, 182 prime field seats have been added.
Quote: "Our goal is to offer best-in-class amenities and the best in-stadium experience for our fans and for everyone who visits Jacksonville and EverBank Field." -- Jaguars owner Shahid Khan
Team: Miami Dolphins
Stadium: Sun Life Stadium
Cost: $350 million
Highlights: This project, recently approved and not expected to be completed until 2016, will include an open-air canopy to protect fans from the sun. Each seat will be replaced, all concessions and concourses will be renovated and four new HD video boards will be installed in each corner of the stadium.
Quote: "I'm just excited that we can break ground and get started on creating a world-class facility for a world-class community." -- Dolphins president/CEO Tom Garfinkel
Team: Philadelphia Eagles
Stadium: Lincoln Financial Field
Cost: $125 million
Highlights: The Eagles added a new pro shop and improved wireless connectivity in the first of a two-year project. This year, the stadium will feature two new LED scoreboards that nearly double the size of the previous ones. All told, the stadium will have four times the amount of display square footage when adding in marquees and ribbon boards. A total of 1,600 seats have been added, along with bridges to connect the sections of the upper concourse, and there are 1,185 new HD televisions throughout.
Quote: "Our main goal when we began this project was to dramatically enhance the game day experience for our fans." -- Eagles president Don Smolenski
Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
Stadium: Heinz Field
Cost: $38 million
Highlights: A second scoreboard, measuring about 2,500 square feet and located in the northwest corner of the stadium, will be ready in time for the season. It will help round out sightlines throughout the facility. The south plaza of the stadium has been approved for up to 3,000 club/reserve seats with backs, as opposed to bleachers. The new seats should be ready for 2015 and will help cut into the Steelers' wait list for season tickets.
Quote: "This will help a lot of people in the stadium to see the replays in a more convenient way." -- Steelers president Art Rooney II
Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Stadium: Raymond James Stadium
Cost: $7 million
Highlights: The Bucs and their food service partner are rebuilding 14 main concourse concessions and adding four new beverage stands. New and refreshed menus are part of the project.
Quote: "These concessions and new beverage locations will allow us to offer fresh, new food offerings as well as improve the overall fan experience." -- Bucs chief operating officer Brian Ford