The National Football League has announced an agreement with Verizon that will give fans a new way of watching their favorite football teams. Starting in 2018, mobile customers will be able to watch live streamed games from their phones. The New York Times reported that the telecom giant will pay more than $2 billion over the next five years to stream games across digital media properties including Yahoo Sports, Complex, and go90.
Many in the industry see this move as a shrewd attempt to adapt to a changing sports media landscape. The rights to broadcast NFL games are currently dominated by the major TV networks (namely CBS, NBC, ESPN, and Fox) but TV audiences are growing smaller every year as more and more Americans look for alternative ways to consume content. This deal shows the NFL’s willingness to push the envelope and appeal to a new audience.
The league is excited about the possibilities. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement that the new deal “will give millions of fans additional ways to follow their favorite sport,” while NFL media executive Hans Schroeder told the Times that, rather than cannibalize the league’s TV audience, the mobile offering will instead diversify it.
“We think this is a very complementary way of growing, engaging, and reaching younger fans that will ultimately become longer term viewers,” Schroeder said.
While both the NFL and Verizon have reason to be excited, there is risk involved for both sides. For the NFL, this deal is a definite short-term win, as it nets them a big payday and could potentially widen their audience. Long-term, though, there’s a chance that pivoting to mobile could alienate the league’s business partners at the traditional TV networks. The league might be in for tense negotiations when it comes time to renew its broadcast deal in 2022.
Verizon is taking a risk as well. This new mobile package is open to all mobile users, even those who aren’t Verizon customers. So while airing NFL games will surely bring a larger audience for its content, it also means sacrificing exclusivity.