A few months after the 2011 lockout ended, the NFL unlocked a new slate of billion-dollar long-term TV contracts. As those deals progress through their expiration date in 2022, the league could be cracking the code on a new way of delivering games to its customers.
Patriots president Jonathan Kraft, who co-chairs the NFL’s digital media committee and whose father, Robert, chairs the league’s broadcasting committee, recently explained that the decades-old model could be changing in the next round of deals.
“[C]learly when we get to the end of this deal, what has been our traditional television deals I’m sure will change in their form and format,” Kraft said Thursday, per Ben Volin of the Boston Globe. “I think the way [games are] distributed and the way you access them, by definition, will be different, and we will definitely evolve with the consumer. And between now and then we’ll be doing a lot of experimenting so we know exactly what our consumers want.”
What the consumers want will be balanced against what the government wants. The federal broadcast antitrust exemption allows the NFL to bundle its TV rights together, forcing networks to take all teams in order to get the national brands with the broadest appeal. If the NFL significantly changes the manner in which games are made available via free, broadcast TV, the powers-that-be in Washington could decide to overturn the exemption.
And that leads to another potentially intriguing question. The current broadcast antitrust exemption, crafted back when computers were the size of Winnebagos and telephones became wireless only when the next-door-neighbor drank half a case of Schlitz and ripped the rotary dial off the wall, addresses the concept of “telecasting” games. Will the exemption apply to games delivered through Internet streaming or other means that don’t involve a traditional “telecast”?
That’s just one of the issues the league will confront as it determines how to go about ensuring that the enormous real-time audience that it currently gathers around televisions will translate to desktops, laptops, tablets, phones, and the computer chips that eventually will be embedded in our bodies with our eyelids serving as the remote control.