For the first time ever, an NFL game that otherwise would have been nationally televised won’t be. Instead, the early-morning game (American time) from London between the Bills and Jaguars will stream over the Internet.
Previously, the NFL hadn’t decided which Internet company would show the game. The choice has been made; the game will be streamed globally by Yahoo.
“The NFL has always been committed to being at the forefront of media innovation,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a news release. “Through this partnership with Yahoo — one of the world’s most recognizable digital brands — we are taking another important step in that direction as we continue to closely monitor the rapidly evolving digital media landscape.”
“We’re thrilled that the NFL has chosen Yahoo for this historic opportunity,” Yahoo president and CEO Marissa Mayer said. “It marks a significant change in the way users can access this amazing content. The NFL and Yahoo have both long engaged football fans around the world. Our partnership provides the ultimate football experience — with digital availability, designed for the modern fan.”
According to John Ourand of SportsBusiness Daily, Yahoo will be paying “fair market value” for the October 25 game. It will be available on Yahoo and various related properties for free.
Some think this is an experiment aimed at determining whether games routinely could be streamed online to large audiences, with the goal of carving off a piece of the broadcast package for an Internet deal when the current broadcast contracts expire after the 2022 season. But here’s where the NFL knows that it needs to tread lightly. With free TV still generating the biggest audiences (since millions still get their TV via rabbit ears, not cable) and with Congress surely poised to rip up the NFL’s broadcast antitrust exemption if the NFL begins restricting access to games, it’s highly unlikely that the NFL’s tent-pole events will migrate to the Internet.
It’s no accident that the press release concludes with this: “In keeping with the NFL’s long-standing commitment to make its games available on free, over-the-air television, the game will also be televised in the both the Buffalo (WIVB-TV) and Jacksonville (WTEV-TV) markets at 9:30 a.m. ET.”
Still, Yahoo or Google/YouTube give the NFL a viable alternative to DirecTV for the out-of-market Sunday Ticket package, or for the popular RedZone feature currently available via satellite and cable.
Ultimately, the expansion of live NFL content to the Internet adds a leaf to the table for the next round of broadcast negotiations, which means that the NFL will find a way to squeeze even more money out of the rights to televise games, even if some of the games no longer will be televised on, you know, televisions.