SBJ/Aug. 26-Sept. 1, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Listen up: NFL moving to mike players

The NFL is moving to put microphones on players and coaches as another step in the league’s ongoing push to improve fans’ in-stadium experience. A timetable on introducing such enhancements has not been determined, but it’s an effort that seemingly has become more a matter of when and not if.

Cowboys COO Stephen Jones said miking players needs to happen “sooner rather than later.”
Photo by: AP IMAGES
The NFL has talked in the past about miking players for in-game use, but the league’s fan experience club working group now is working closely with the league on the concept.

“We don’t need to take five years; it needs to be sooner rather than later,” said Stephen Jones, the Dallas Cowboys chief operating officer who is on the eight-member working group.

Jones did not place a timetable on the initiative but emphasized that there is urgency on all projects designed to get fans into stadiums. Other than player health and safety, the league’s top priority is ensuring that its stadiums are full.

Mark Lamping, president of the Jacksonville Jaguars, identified miking players as the No. 1 new development he would like to see the league allow.

“NASCAR’s never hesitated to let fans hear the conversation between the spotters and the drivers,” Lamping said. “I would love for fans to get to know our players better, a lot better. They know them a little bit, but they don’t get to see a lot of them when they are actually competing because they have pads and helmets on.”

Other teams are equally enthused by the idea. Jason Dial, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ chief marketing officer, also made the NASCAR comparison. Dial said that assuming competitive issues are addressed, he would embrace being able to use mikes on players and coaches in the game-day presentation. Competitive issues were among the concerns in 2011, when a previous miking attempt by the league found resistance from players.

The miking idea also could involve discussions with the NFL Players Association regarding player participation down the line.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy, via email, said about having microphones on players: “Not exactly a pressing matter or anything that will need to be discussed for awhile.”

Audio currently obtained from players and coaches in games is used by NFL Films, but those uses are after the fact, not during games.

Jones said his group is still looking at whether the audio from players should be used exclusively in-stadium, as an added benefit to fans who attend games, or shared with broadcasters. A related discussion would be whether the audio is made available broadly, such as over the stadium’s public-address system, or if it would be made available on an individual basis — such as via an online app. The NFL this year, for the first time, is making NFL RedZone available via smartphones to individual season-ticket holders as a way to help fill stadiums while also rewarding teams’ best customers.

Among the NFL’s network partners, CBS for one has had discussion with the league about the potential use of audio content.

“Some of the best NFL programming that there is occurs when … there is a coach or a player miked,” said Sean McManus, CBS Sports chairman. “We have discussed it with them, we have given them some recommendations on how it might work, so we are ready when they are if they want to take that leap.”

McManus is cognizant, though, that the league could choose to make the material available only in-stadium and not for TV viewers.

“We have the same goal, which is a full stadium,” he said. “No one likes a half-full stadium. The in-game experience is still terrific; the at-home experience gets better all the time.”

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