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NFL.com kicking off some site upgrades

The NFL has revamped several key pieces of its official Web site, its mobile offerings and portions of its overall digital strategy in preparation for the 2009 season.

This is the third full season of the NFL running its digital operations in-house. Many of the moves being implemented were not originally contemplated when team owners voted unanimously in October 2006 to pursue the internally run digital plan.

Among the new elements on NFL.com:

• Redesigned Game Center pages featuring an animated drive chart with 3D-type depth and perspective. The Game Center pages, showing live statistics for games in progress along with previews beforehand and recaps afterward, are some of the most highly trafficked pages on NFL.com. The new graphical renderings will distinguish day and night games and perhaps include weather animations later in the season.

NFL.com’s Game Center has a new look.

• A sharply expanded social media and community section at NFL.com/fans, including fan postings, live chats with players and coaches, fan-edited video highlight reels, aggregated Twitter and Facebook feeds, quizzes, polls and other similar material.

• A bulked-up content subscription area, led by Game Rewind, which offers full-length online game replays; Field Pass, a live audio product; and Game Pass, which allows most fans outside of the United States to see live games online. Each of the products existed last year, but Game Rewind did not debut until late in the season, and the video and audio technologies powering the offerings have been rebuilt in conjunction with league technology partner NeuLion Inc.

• Reworked wireless sites that will convey most of the new NFL.com functionalities to mobile devices.

“We think this combines to show a real evolution of the site,” said Laura Goldberg, NFL Online general manager. “We’ve developed the whole platform in a way that’s really now gone beyond the first articulation of the [in-house] plan.”

The video elements take advantage of a reconstructed video player, based on Adobe Flash software, that debuted in the spring with a much higher rate of resolution and expanded functionality for embedding social media, advertising and other content.

The league also amended portions of its digital policies during the offseason to allow clubs to engage more freely in external social media hubs such as Facebook and Twitter and use the sites to help drive ticket and merchandise sales and other commerce. Several clubs have quickly assembled large fan followings over the summer on Facebook and Twitter.

Recently struck rules with regard to game-day social media conduct, in which players and team personnel are prohibited from posting items from 90 minutes before kickoff to the end of postgame interviews, still apply, but local-level NFL content on external social media will be aggregated to NFL.com.

Clubs additionally are not allowed to post game-highlight clips on external social media sites, as the league’s policy of restricting all online highlight video to NFL.com and the 32 club sites remains in effect. Goldberg, as she did earlier in the year, suggested there may be a change in that stance to allow outside outlets access to that high-demand content, but she offered no further details or possible timetables.

Corporate sponsors for the new Game Center pages will rotate in and out frequently, with Sprint, Campbell’s, Lexus, FedEx and Ticketmaster on deck for September. Samsung is slated to begin in October, with others expected to follow as well.

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