5 Must-Have NFL Apps for 2014

PORTLAND, Ore.(TheStreet) – The NFL doesn't hide the fact that mobile technology is a huge part of its future.

It's a big part of the reason Atlanta is paying $200 million in tax dollars to replace a Georgia Dome that's little more than 20 years old. It's a huge part of why Minnesota is on the hook for nearly $500 million of the cost of a $1 billion stadium for the Vikings that's set to host the Super Bowl in 2018. It's playing a big role in the opening of the San Francisco 49ers new stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., right in the middle of Silicon Valley.

The NFL needs technology on its side largely because technology has become its biggest threat. NFL game attendance jumped from a post-recession low of 17.14 million in 2010 to 17.3 million last year, but was still well short of the record 17.6 million that came out in 2006 and 2007. There were nearly 1 million empty seats at regular season games in 2012, up 50% from just four years earlier. Meanwhile ticket revenue has stagnated from increases of 7.2% annually from 2004 through 2008 to just 2.1% from 2008 through 2012, according to Team Marketing Report.

Why attend games when high-definition broadcasts look great from the warm, cozy, inexpensive confines of your own home? There's a reason why 34 out 35 of the most-watched TV broadcasts last fall and more than 205 million U.S. viewers total watched games on television last year. Collectively, 21st Century Fox, CBS and Comcast's NBC agreed to pay the NFL $28 billion for broadcast rights through 2022. Walt Disney's EPSN has a separate $1.9 billion annual deal for Monday Night Football, while DirecTV has a $1 billion per season agreement for the NFL Sunday Ticket package that is set to become even more lucrative once the current contract expires in 2015. Even Thursday Night Football draws TV money, as CBS paid $275 million for the rights to it for 2014.

Little more than a year ago, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted that high-definition television was one of the league's greatest strengths. He noted, however, that it isn't exactly doing wonders for attendance.

“One of our biggest challenges in the league is the experience at home,” Goodell said. “HD is only going to get better.”

That's especially true in the cold-weather markets, where no amount of technology can take the bitter chill off late season games and where the Buffalo Bills last season continued their tradition of blacking out late-season games. The NFL and its partners have started gearing their apps toward enhancing the live game experience, but also seem to hope that people will use them even as they're watching another game at home. We took some time to go app shopping and found five that will help you brave the elements at the stadium, but also make life a little easier if you're juggling games and managing a fantasy football roster at home:

NFL Sunday Ticket
Available for: Apple iPhone, iPod, iPad, Google Android, Android Tablet
Price: Free to download, $55 monthly or $330 six-month subscription required

Nobody has any idea where the NFL Sunday Ticket package will end up next year, so jump on it while DirecTV still has exclusive rights.

DirecTV still offers a package that features every NFL game every Sunday in HD, a player stat tracker and up to eight games at once on the Mix channel and dropped to $240, but the more flush Max package untouched is what you need to go mobile. The good news is that the Red Zone channel, the new Fantasy Zone fantasy football channel, the Short Cuts channel of condensed 30-minute games and connection to NFL.com's fantasy football leagues are all included. You can even watch two games playing at the same time. The bad news? There's a not-so-slim chance that this all changes dramatically next year.

SlingPlayer Mobile
Available for: iPhone, iPod, iPad, Android, Android Tablet, Amazon Kindle Fire, Microsoft Windows Phone, Blackberry
Price: $14.99

You don't have to pay Sunday Ticket prices just to watch games on your phone. NBC and CBS apps will give you in-market games for free, while Fox and Watch ESPN apps offer their games only to cable subscribers. If you just want to watch the home team while you're away, connect a SlingBox to your cable, satellite or DVR, let this app bring you live games you're already paying for. You can even watch and control games you've recorded if you don't feel like wasting data on commercials. Users can change channels, schedule game recordings and pause or skip through those games all from their mobile devices. Also, unlike paid football apps that lose their usefulness once the season ends, you only pay for this once. If you have a Roku or Apple TV and are looking to watch games streaming on your phone or tablet, SlingPlayer offers free apps just for that purpose.

NFL Mobile
Available for: iPhone, iPod, iPad, Android, Android Tablet
Price: Free

The NFL continues to keep all of its holdings nice and tidy by dumping all of its features onto one app and setting paywalls where necessary. Fans get live stats, scores, video highlights and news for free and can tailor it all to their favorite team. The NFL also continues to push its in-house fantasy football league by integrating it into this app. Verizon Wireless customers, however, get to upgrade to premium features including live streams of NFL RedZone, live NFL games on Thursday, Sunday and Monday Nights, live game audio, live NFL.com webcasts and NFL Network 24/7 for $5 a month. Remember that SlingPlayer option we just mentioned? This is basically the reason it exists.

Fantasy Alarm
Available for: iPhone, iPod, iPad, Android devices
Price: Free

We don't recommend one fantasy football league app over another because it's futile. NFL.com, ESPN, Yahoo and CBS Sports all have their strengths and weaknesses and all have their loyalties among league managers. Besides, if you're the typical fantasy player who isn't running a league, you have no say in it anyway. What you do have is a week full of injury and transaction reports to sift through and agonizing decisions over which players to start and which to bench. If you're a player who doesn't stop fiddling with a lineup until kickoff, this app just might save your season. Up-to-the-second lineup changes, breaking news and an incredibly up-to-date active/inactive list are huge failsafes for any fantasy team owner. Seriously, the app sends out an alert whenever a player on your roster appears on an active-inactive list released an hour before each game. Oh, and that bye week you forgot about? The app will tell you when your stud quarterback's team is taking the week off so you can troll the waiver wire for scrubs.

Available for: iPhone, iPod, iPad
Price: $3

There are just a lot of football podcasts out there. If you can record a sound file and have an opinion about football, you can likely just throw your own voice into the ether. If you just want to hear some decent banter about the NFL and not spend months figuring out who has the best take, you just might have to cough up the three bills for this app. Downcast offers a whole lot of football-themed podcasts and will download, store and sync episodes across various devices. In the car, in the office or in the living room while updating your fantasy roster, Downcast can help you find the soundtrack to your NFL season.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

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Jason Notte is a writer for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.

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