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Is It Better to Buy a Ticket or Watch Football on TV?

A Husker Gameday in Nebraska. There's no place I'd rather be on a fall Saturday. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
A Husker Gameday in Nebraska. There's no place I'd rather be on a fall Saturday. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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Is it better to watch football games on television or in person? For many fans, distance and money make it a no-brainer. But for many Husker fans, attending a Nebraska football game is a no-brainer. In November, Nebraska will mark the 50th anniversary of the start of the sellout streak. But is the demand for tickets going to be perpetual?

I became a season ticketholder 20 years ago; students hadn't been buying all of their allotment for years, so the University sold some of those seats to the general public. And I got in: row 98. But hey, I'm in the stadium. And I'm NOT in the last row, though there's only one more row behind me telling me to sit down.

Those $20 tickets were a great investment; I got to see this amazing freshman quarterback named Frazier. Experienced the glory of three national championships and the lows of the Bill Callahan era. My seats improved a little over the years; now I'm in row 86. (Whoo hoo!) And ticket prices have nearly tripled to $56 a game.

Back when I got tickets, most games weren't televised. The Oklahoma and Colorado games, of course, and usually a couple of others. Now, thanks to BTN, every Husker game is on television. Nebraska doesn't even have a "normal" kickoff time anymore; it's always TBA based on what fits television best. You don't have to buy a ticket to watch every Nebraska football game anymore, you just need a decent cable or satellite television package. So with the prices increasing and the games on television, is it better to stay home or go to the game in person?

Pro Football Weekly surveyed fans on this same topic, albeit with an NFL slant. (Only to be expected from a magazine focused on the NFL.) NFL attendance is down 5% since 2007, which is raising concerns in the pro football world. Sure, it's mitigated by the increased revenues from television, but the NFL doesn't want to play their games in a glorified studio. What are the factors that drive fans to stay home?

The biggest seems to be connectivity. First it was text messages, but now it's smartphones with Twitter, Facebook, and blogs like CornNation. It's a great way to find out what others are thinking about the game and to share your interactions. But have you ever tried to get a text message out of Memorial Stadium or get your iPhone to connect? Sometimes you get lucky, but usually...nothing. 85,000 fans create incredible bandwidth requirements...that really is needed for only 35 hours a year. So while you probably can make a phone call, the other stuff may not work. And it's generally true at most stadiums. The last couple of seasons, only a handful of my in-game Tweets have actually made it through. But really, is that enough to keep people home?

Is the actual television experience better? I used to think so, especially with the advent of high definition. But over the last couple of years, I've realized that HuskerVision generally does a better job than the television networks of covering the game itself. It never was so apparent as during ESPN's Capital One Bowl telecast, where it seemed that only a handful of plays were worthy of a replay. HuskerVision replays EVERY play - some big plays twice, if time permits. Except if the play is controversial; seems the powers that be shut down the big screens when a play is under review. And best of all, there's no Ed Cunningham or Sean McDonough to torture your ear drums with.

Many people surveyed by PFW report issues with security. Nebraska is generally pretty good about getting fans into the game with a minimal amount of hassle. My worst experience was standing in line for well over an hour to get into the 2002 Rose Bowl (what a dump), but that was by far the exception rather than the rule. In stadium issues don't seem to be an issue in Lincoln either; the lack of alcohol sales probably has a lot to do with that. I was surprised by the number of people who claimed to have reported disruptive fans to stadium security. Apparently this is one of those things that some may ridicule, but most fans actually appreciate.

Cost is, of course, the biggest reason to stay home. At $56 a seat, $15 to park, and goodness knows how much for concessions, it's not cheap to attend a Nebraska football game. Especially if you have to make a donation on top of your ticket price. And if you don't have season tickets, the price on the open market can get downright ridiculous. (I imagine the ticket prices for the Idaho State should be a little more reasonable, though.)

Convenience can also be an issue. From Omaha, I probably spend more time getting from home to the stadium and back than I actually spend at the game. If the game is at 2:30 in the afternoon, I usually miss the early kickoffs and most of the evening games. Again, for me, it's a no-brainer tradeoff...but for the casual fan, they might prefer to see more games that day.

But the biggest advantage of buying a ticket is the experience. College football reigns supreme here; the pagentry and tradition of football Saturdays is impossible to top at home. And it's something the NFL struggles with, for the most part. But college football has atmosphere nailed. Nebraska's atmosphere is pretty good, thanks to a good (but not great) band and a pretty well run HuskerVision outfit to accent. The HuskerVision folks still trample on things at times, but make up for it by trying to keep folks entertained during those increasingly long television timeouts. (I still don't understand how the director hasn't figured out how to shut the Tunnel Walk music off as the team runs onto the field after all these years.)

And frankly, that's the key for me. Watching a Nebraska game on television doesn't compare with experiencing it in person. I used to attend more games on the road, but issues with getting tickets and having two small kids have squashed that for now. It's not even a question about buying tickets; it's more of an assumption. But that's my experience...what's your experience?