If the NFL is going to put state-of-the-art Wi-Fi in its stadiums, the league will need to prepare for the next step—providing All-22 player footage for networks and fans.
Along with new rules, new safety equipment and some inadvertent collusion evidence, the NFL owners meetings let us in on the NFL's plan to provide high-speed Wi-Fi for NFL fans in every NFL stadium. Stated commissioner Roger Goodell:
We believe that it is important to get technology into our stadiums. We have made the point repeatedly that the experience at home is outstanding, and we have to compete with that in some fashion by making sure that we create the same kind of environment in our stadiums and create the same kind of technology.
This is great news for NFL fans, many of whom already enjoy a multimedia experience at home—utilizing computers, laptops and tablets to interact with the game and other viewers as they watch it.
Of course, this has great implications for the league as well as fans who will no longer have to leave their devices at home or in their pockets as they shell out more and more money to attend games. On top of that, team media, public relations and stadium entertainment departments will have more and more ways to do their jobs.
From interactive highlights to games and social media, teams will be able to create a digital atmosphere around the live-game experience.
Picture yourself immersed in your favorite team's home game. First, you get to check in on Foursquare or Facebook and take advantage of a daily concessions deal. Then, you can order your beer and pizza from your seat. You talk to other fans on Twitter and get to set your fantasy lineup—all this before kickoff.
Not excited yet? In Goodell's own words:
We want them to have access to the same information, have access to our Red Zone. Have access to highlights. Be able to engage in social media, including fantasy football. When you come to our stadium we want to make it a great experience.
Hear that? Red Zone! Spend TV timeouts, quarter breaks and halftime watching Red Zone on the NFL Network! It's literally everything a hardcore fan dreams of.
Wait, there's one more thing that true hardcore football fanatics want: All-22 NFL footage. True students of the game know that network angles don't show the whole picture. Tools like DVR, NFL Rewind and YouTube make studying the NFL easier than ever for the everyday fan. Yet, there's so much missing when you can't see the off-receiver, the movement of the coverage, or the play-action carried out to its completion.
These are things you can see live, but can never get on TV networks, as they are trained to watch the ball and train fans to do the same. Live (or with All-22 footage), fans see more of the game and get a much different picture of what goes on.
So, if the NFL is going to invite and encourage more and more mobile and tablet devices into its stadiums, it has to be ready for the inevitable—intrepid fans will start taping the games. Maybe they won't get the whole game, but over time, they will get a lot of footage onto the Internet that the teams do not want in the hands of their fans.
The NFL has plenty of excuses for not releasing the All-22. Football is a nepotistic old-boys club, and letting the general public behind Oz's curtain could change that. Former NFL GM Charlie Casserly even worries that it would open players up to more criticism. (Casserly apparently has never been on Twitter.)
So, even though the NFL took a survey to see if fans would be interested in All-22, and the results came back overwhelmingly positive, league spokesman Greg Aiello says, "There's not a product in development. This is a long way from becoming a reality, if ever."
As Terrell Owens would say, "get yo popcorn ready."
Once All-22 NFL footage starts leaking to the public from the fanbase, the NFL will need to start cracking down on the offenders. However, as any Internet pirate knows, "the Man" can never stop what he let get started. So, the league will be forced to do the only shrewd business move: monetize.
NFL footage is already a billion-dollar business. ESPN, CBS and Fox (among many others) pay a ridiculous amount of money to air replays of NFL broadcasts. The NFL, with that footage already compiled, allows companies (like Bleacher Report) to access that footage and fans to get it directly through NFL.com. The pre-chopped-up version of those games is available in a service called NFL Rewind.
All-22 footage can be the same exact scenario, but with more added value and more premium pricing.
NFL Films already has all of this footage, and if it will be getting out anyway (and it will), the NFL will find a way to make money on it.
Michael Schottey is an NFL Associate Editor for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He has professionally covered both the Minnesota Vikings and the Detroit Lions, as well as NFL events like the scouting combine and the Senior Bowl.