As the NFL Football Season takes shape and your team is starting to pile up the wins or losses, it’s easy to lose sight of the enormous business being done in the background. Most of the media coverage this week will be about the resurgent Miami Dolphins under a new coach, or the fact that the Seattle Seahawks seem to be regaining their championship form – but in reality, the biggest news of the week involved a game in which the 2 and 5 Jacksonville Jaguars eked out a 4th quarter upset win over the now 3 and 4 Buffalo Bills. That game, played in London, may be a harbinger of how the entire league handles its media deals in the future.
For the first time ever, Yahoo and the NFL agreed to stream a live NFL regular season game for free online to a global audience. The game has reportedly attracted 15.2 million unique viewers and 33.6 million total views, even though it was held early in the morning with a starting kickoff time of 9:30AM.
“It’s been a great opportunity to partner with the NFL and deliver a truly exceptional global live streaming experience for our users,” said Adam Cahan, Yahoo’s SVP of Product and Engineering, in a published media release. “We’re seeing a dramatic shift in the industry as audiences’ primary video watching moves away from TV. We were thrilled to join the NFL in setting a new standard for sports programming for our users and advertisers.”
In a lesson probably learned from the global success of Netflix, the NFL managed to reach a much wider international audience with a third of all active streams during the game coming from viewers outside the United States, across 185 different countries worldwide.
“We’re a lot closer to the internet being a real, legitimate distribution platform for NFL games than we were one or two years ago,” explained NFL executive vice president of media Brian Rolapp when speaking to Peter King of Sports Ilustrated’s Monday Morning Quarterback. “We’re thrilled with the results of our initial step distributing an NFL game to a worldwide audience and with the work of our partner, Yahoo,” said Hans Schroeder, Senior Vice President, Media Strategy, Business Development & Sales for the NFL. “We are incredibly excited by the fact that we took a game that would have been viewed by a relatively limited television audience in the United States and by distributing it digitally were able to attract a global audience of over 15 million viewers.”
The majority of the money made by the NFL has always come from their lucrative broadcast television contracts, and ancillary revenue that only became possible with the major networks available as distribution channels for NFL content. Now, instead of only 3 or 4 real bidders for NFL games in the future, this London Yahoo event opens up the opportunity for the NFL to broadcast its own content via NFL.com, or to partner with any number of major online entities including Google, Yahoo, Facebook and hundreds of others. The quality of the feed was as clear and crisp as most television broadcasts and if you are a television network executive heading into the negotiation room to discuss future NFL game rights, your seat just got a whole lot hotter.