Source: USA TODAY
BOSTON — NFL owners will meet Tuesday to discuss issues involving the league, including player safety.
Stephen Jones says there will be another pressing issue on the agenda: the increasing problem of getting NFL fans off the couch, away from their high-definition TVs and back into stadium seats.
“Everybody always says we have to watch concussions and all of that, and that’s at the forefront. But I’d say 1-A is this,” the Dallas Cowboys’ executive vice president and chief operating officer told USA TODAY Sports on Monday.
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“We don’t ever want to take for granted our fans, and with the technology out there … the flat screens, the laptops, the iPhones. I’ve got young kids, and they’ve got a lot of options. If we’re not innovative, we’re going to have issues.”
The league is expected to award Super Bowl L to the Bay Area, and with that announcement there will be plenty of discussion about the innovations the San Francisco 49ers will roll out at Levi’s Stadium, which opens in Santa Clara in 2014: Wi-Fi, tablet holders on seats, Internet Protocol television (IPTV), with in-house video and easy access via public transportation.
These innovations also will be presented to owners who built new stadiums at the turn of the millennium. Those facilities were constructed to move away from the multipurpose stadiums to football-only stadiums with luxury suites. Now, the challenge is adapting to reach the new breed of stay-at-home fan. Wi-Fi will be a major topic, according to several owners who have begun to explore the possibility.
“That’s a technological challenge, to get that many people streaming video in a stadium,” said New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, who has shared MetLife Stadium with the New York Giants since it opened in 2010 and knows it already will need tinkering. “I’ve heard you could have a little transmitter at each seat, but that wouldn’t work, either. It’s not a question of money. It’s a question of know-how.”
Do experts truly know how?
“They say they can do it, but let’s see them do it,” Johnson said.
Baltimore Ravens President Dick Cass said soon 85% of the fans at M&T Bank Stadium will have full 4G capability. Wi-Fi, though, is at least a year away in Baltimore.
“It’s what our fans want,” said Cass, who, like Jones, is a member of a league committee called the Fan Experience Working Club group. “They want the ability to take out their tablet, send a Facebook picture and check the fantasy football scores, so we have to provide that.”
To keep selling tickets, the NFL has mandated changes that include:
– Cameras in the locker room to show edited content to fans inside the stadium.
– Replays after all scoring plays, turnovers, fumbles, challenged plays, first downs and receptions when the receiver ends up out of bounds, with the best camera angles available.
– More audio before each play (than rules previously allowed) and unlimited video to stir the crowd.
Jones, whose Cowboys already show locker-room footage in Cowboys Stadium, said further advancements are being explored, such as microphones on the players and officials to provide audio exclusively to in-stadium fans.
“You’ve got to be careful, because you want them to be football players and play how they play,” Jones said. “But if fans want to watch Ray Lewis and what he’s saying and doing, they don’t need it all, but they could use some fun stuff.”
No one is mocking the Cowboys’ decision to put 160-foot-wide, 72-foot-tall, punt-blocking video boards above the field anymore. And the idea of vibrating “rumble seats” in the Atlanta Falcons’ stadium proposals doesn’t seem so far-fetched.
Meanwhile, the Houston Texans, hoping to be awarded Super Bowl LI, will boast video screens roughly 30% larger than the Cowboys’, currently the largest in the NFL.
“Everything’s bigger in Texas,” Jones said. “You always want people aiming to do better.”
Contributing: Jarrett Bell