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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

NFL to offer controversial service allowing fans to order cheerleader visits to their seats

The+Tampa+Bay+Bucs+were+among+the+first+teams+to+offer+the+service
The Tampa Bay Bucs were among the first teams to offer the service

The NFL is indisputably the king of American sports organizations. The league’s annual revenues and year-round relevance are unparalleled, and it seem to have just about as much power as any private organization on earth. By threatening to move the Super Bowl out of Arizona, the league was pivotal in getting Jan Brewer to veto a controversial bill that many felt would result in anti-gay fervor in the state.
Even with this golden-age of success that the league is experiencing, they are having a bit of a problem; fans just aren’t going to as many games as they used to. In recent polling, less than 20 percent of people who described themselves as NFL fans actually go to games.
The league has tried to combat this issue in many ways, including adding Wi-Fi in the stadiums, but their most recent ploy may be their most “out there” idea yet.
According to a Sports Business Journal (SBJ) report last month that was later confirmed by FOX and CBS, the Falcons, Buccaneers, and Seahawks have been trying out an app that will allow fans to request visits from cheerleaders to their seats during games. Brian Lafemina, the NFL’s senior VP of club business development, told SBJ that he believed “up to half the league will be deployed for the 2014 season.”
In addition to getting visits from the squads during the games, fans can order mascot visits, a Jumbotron message, and a pregame visit to the field.
The new app makes sense from a business perspective. Dr. Jurui Zhang, an Assistant Professor of Marketing, explained why the program may turn out to be effective.
“This is a good example of an online to offline (O2O) business model. Given the rise of mobile technology and social media, every business — including sports business in this context — is wondering how to connect to consumers in a faster and effective way,” Zhang said.
“O2O basically means that attracting consumers online and drawing them to offline stores. It is a new advertising method given the emergence of mobile devices. Before the internet, consumers spend a lot of time on TV and newspapers, so advertisers put a lot of effort on these mediums; consumers now spend most of their time on PCs, tablets, and smart phones. Thus advertisers need to think of new models of advertising that fits this new consumer behavior and attracts consumers’ attention.”
Obviously, an app that involves ordering someone’s presence will result in controversy. Some feel as though the service is sexist, and some other fans feel like it will take away from the game.
Michaela Ironuma, head of the UMass Boston Women’s Center, was very critical of the nature of the service.
“The service is based on objectification… The fact of the matter is women are being ‘ordered’ at the will of the fans like any other stadium commodity” said Ironuma. “Having only women cheerleaders engage in this automatically genders the service.”
In addition to concerns about objectification, there are also growing concerns about the safety of the cheerleaders, who will be going to seats on the whim of a stranger. Ironuma shares that concern.
“There will undoubtedly be men who abuse the service, which brings up the question of safety. Who is to say a cheerleader won’t be physically or verbally assaulted by a fan? I am concerned as to what steps are being taken, if any, to ensure the safety of these women.”

In addition to concerns about the message the app sends to the public, fans are concerned about how it will affect their experience at the games. Football should continue to be the main focus at an NFL stadium and if someone is really that interested in having a scantily-clad woman visit them, there are many other options that don’t involve distracting other groups of people who are trying to take in a game that they paid a fortune to see.

Jim Rome said it best on his Showtime show last week.

“I’m already creeped out. ‘Yeah, I think I’ll have two beers, two churros, and a couple of brunettes…’ We are now one step away from every stadium turning into a Spearmint Rhino.” 

Rome added, “NFL stadiums will not allow laptops, but they are now this close to allowing lap dances.”
Ironuma voiced her concerns on the feminist side of the argument clearly. “It’s unsettling that a woman would have to make her way through a crowd of potentially rowdy fans to visit a fan whom she knows nothing about and entertain that person possibly without extra compensation,” she said.
Zhang was cautious when asked about whether or not she sees success in the program’s future.
“Since mobile is a relatively new platform and everyone is trying to figure out what is effective, it takes time to see whether this specific app will pay off in the long term.”