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Volume 21 No. 2
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NFL plans to ease restrictions on mobile apps

The NFL is planning to loosen most of its market restrictions for mobile apps, beginning with tablet apps, becoming the first sports league to do so. The league will begin bringing its app policy more in line with its Internet policy, which allows clubs to offer a wide array of content.

NFL teams currently offer apps on mobile phones and tablets, but what they can offer is significantly limited. For example, under current rules, teams aren’t allowed to use highlights, but that will change when the league’s tablet guidelines are revised.

Mobile applications are defined as national, but team content and marketing had been restricted geographically.
Because apps are by definition national, managing team offerings against the geographic restrictions, generally 75 miles, that the league places on club marketing has limited the content. But the NFL, which already has a more decentralized system for the Web than other leagues, will now allow the team apps to offer a broad range of content that they normally would have been denied.

Like other leagues, the NFL allows apps on mobile phones, though what those applications can offer is restricted, in part by the league’s deal with Verizon. But on tablets, once the model is refined in coming months, the league will loosen the restrictions, which, for example, did not allow teams to show other clubs’ marks. That prohibition ruled out apps that offered highlights.

The NFL expects that, once the Verizon deal expires in 2014, the new model will translate to mobile phones.

Owners were briefed on the plan last week in Irving, Texas, by Brian Rolapp, the chief operating officer of NFL Media.
An NFL spokesman said, “Tablet apps will largely mirror their club websites as far as model.”

Sports leagues have long struggled to balance their pre-Internet model of limiting team marketing territories to the realities of the quicker pace and reach of technology and globalization. The NFL has gone further than most in ceding rights to clubs to bring their content to a national audience through team websites, and now apps.

Tom Richardson, president and founder of Convergence Sports & Media, said the default for most leagues has been to define tablets as mobile devices, which commonly are restricted by telecommunications sponsorship deals.

The NFL’s move is a natural evolution, he said, and a necessary one, because “if fans don’t get satisfaction directly from their favorite teams, they will find and sometimes embrace alternatives.”