For its part, the NFL recognizes how high the stakes are, and how tight family budgets remain. Through a combination of modest cosmetic flourishes and larger, more substantive changes, the league is engaging in an all-out marketing blitz.
The rise of social networking has made certain teams – like the beleaguered Miami Dolphins, which hasn’t made the playoffs since a Wild Card appearance in 2008 – resort to outfitting their stadium with Wi-fi and trying to lure in fans with rock-bottom ticket prices.
In the pursuit of filling seats, league officials and owners have taken to using buzzwords like “enhancing the fan experience” to encourage potential ticket-buyers to open their wallets.
In a CNBC interview Wednesday, Mark Waller, the NFL’s chief marketing officer, said that football officials were trying “very hard” to make its brand more accessible to fans, with an eye toward a mix of cheap and free events that struggling consumers could appreciate. That includes a concert in Rockefeller Center that precedes Wednesday night’s opener, which features defending champions New York Giants taking on their division rivals, the Dallas Cowboys.
“The beauty of our sport is that the passion of the fans is unbelievable. We try to constantly look at new ways to engage them. we're looking for ways to take our product and engage it with different communities.” (Watch: How the NFL Plans to Bring Fans Back to Football)
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell joined a cavalcade of team owners who described the lengths to which the league is making strides to bring the fans closer to the game.
“We're encouraging all of our teams to get focused on what they do to make the stadium experience a better experience,” Goodell told CNBC in an interview last month.
As for the challenge posed by flat screen and high-definition TVs at home, Goodell said that the league has to “counter that by making the experience in the stadiums terrific, and we have. New technology is a part of that,” he added.
Still, the NFL is offering a few sops to die-hard football fans still reluctant to leave the security of their homes.
The league-run NFL Network is expanding Thursday night games – which normally don’t take place until the second half of the season – to 13 games. The first will kick off Sept. 13 between the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers. (Read More:Thursday Night Football Schedule Kicks Off with Bears-Packers)
Several years ago, the NFL started playing games at London’s Wembley Stadium. This year, the St. Louis Rams will face off there against the New England Patriots. Those games will be broadcast over U.K.-based British Sky Broadcasting’s Sky Sports.