Is That a Tablet in Your Pocket? The NFL Wants to Know

The NFL's new deal with Verizon draws a bright line between phones and tablets

Is That a Tablet in Your Pocket? The NFL Wants to Know
A volunteer posts updates on social media for fans from Monument Circle during NFL football's Super Bowl XLVI events in Indianapolis
Photograph by Darron Cummings/AP Photo

Yesterday the NFL announced that it has extended its deal with Verizon Wireless for the right to carry games and highlights over mobile phones. Verizon, according to Sports Business Daily, will pay the NFL $1 billion over four years. And for the first time, the carrier will offer live access to CBS and Fox Sunday afternoon games. The agreement raises the ceiling for mobile video rights, reaffirms the supremacy of the NFL in U.S. sports, and, as SBD notes, “obliterate[s] the distinction between sponsor and media-rights deals.” It also seeks to draw a bright line between mobile phones and tablets.

The league, in a bid to protect its broadcast and cable partners, will limit Verizon Wireless to mobile phones and not allow it to stream games to tablets. This puts the NFL in the unenviable position of deciding which is which as wireless devices proliferate in every size, from Biblical scroll to a pack of cigarettes. What about the iPad mini? Or Samsung Electronics’ 5-inch Galaxy? Or its forthcoming Galaxy Mega 6.3? Or Note 8.0? Or the PadFone from Asustek Computer? Is a fone a phone?

“If a device is primarily intended as something you carry with you and regularly use to make calls, it’s a phone,” writes NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy in an e-mail. So that settles that. Except no, it doesn’t. The league will still have to decide, either case by case or by some rule, what’s intended to carry about for making calls. And some folks do odd things with tablets.

“You could argue that anything with a cellular radio in it is a phone,” says Ross Rubin, principal analyst at Reticle Research, “or anything with [a] dialer app that uses the cellular network.” No matter how the league tries to slice it, there will be questions. “It’s different for men and women, of course,” says Rubin. “A lot of women have handbags and carry [tablets] basically every day.” The simplest way to decide, he adds, is probably size. “Below seven inches is sort of the arbitrary line that we’ve drawn today. It tends to get tied into that does-it-fit-into-a-pocket rule,” Rubin says, “But again, if you are wearing cargo pants, you can fit an iPad mini in there.”

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