SBJ/20100329/This Week's News

League: Make some noise!

The NFL last week dropped its 21-year-old prohibition against home teams using video boards to encourage fans to make noise, the latest development in the league’s initiative to improve the in-stadium fan experience.

Teams were prohibited from flashing on video boards phrases like “Noise,” “Raise the Roof,” “Pump It Up,” “Let’s Hear It!” and “12th Man,” or from creating visual noise meters. Teams are no longer so constrained but must cease these messages 15 seconds before the ball is snapped.

“We probably would have wanted to be more aggressive, but it is a step,” said Stephen Jones, the Dallas Cowboys’ chief operating officer. “We want to make it a fun place for the fans to be, and [Commissioner] Roger [Goodell] pushed this, and we will see how it works.”

Jones said he would have preferred the video messages be allowed to run up to the snap.

Teams will have more options to encourage their
fans to pump up the volume.

The new rules, which the eight-member competition committee unanimously approved, did not affect the league’s noise prohibitions. Teams still cannot pipe in artificial noise.

The video restrictions were designed to prevent home teams from gaining an unfair competitive advantage. High-decibel crowds make it difficult for a visiting team’s offense to hear the calls at the line of scrimmage. But Mark Waller, the NFL’s chief marketing officer, said coach-to-quarterback electronic communications, in place since 1994, have largely negated that issue.

“Some of the noise rules we have had kind of stopped the crowd getting as energetically engaged as we want them to be,” Waller said.

The new rules do include some prohibitions, including videos showing opposing team huddles, opponent conferences in the bench area, or the opposing quarterback at the line of scrimmage. Previously, teams could show this footage. Also, public address announcements must now stop when the opposing team breaks its huddle, or if it’s a no-huddle offense, when the team approaches the line of scrimmage.

Goodell identified improving the in-stadium experience as one of three league priorities last week during the league’s annual meeting, the other two being player safety and the ongoing labor talks. With advanced in-home entertainment systems keeping more fans in the comfort of their homes, the NFL is creating incentives for consumers to come to stadiums.

In 2007, the league instituted a fan code of conduct, which led to teams implementing in-stadium text-messaging systems allowing spectators to alert stadium authorities about misbehavior. Research the league conducted demonstrates that over the last few years there has been a low double-digit percentage increase in fan comfort in this regard, Waller said.

This year, the league will encourage teams to offer more stats, replays and highlights of other games in the stadium, Waller said. An effort being led by the Miami Dolphins involves promoting handheld mobile devices that let fans watch highlights and other games.

But the most immediate change is the lifting of the ban on video-board messages promoting noise.

“I am sure it will create a little more in-stadium excitement,” said Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank.

The change did not require an owners vote because it did not change in the rules of the game. It puts the NFL more in line with how the other three top sports leagues — MLB, NHL and the NBA — allow video boards to be used for fan prompts.

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