Yahoo Lands NFL’s First Internet-Only Broadcast – The MMQB

In 1964, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle convinced CBS to pay $16 million for the rights to regular-season and playoff games for the 1964 and 1965 NFL seasons. That was double what any network was paying to telecast pro football at that time, and the sports world shook with what was happening.

Today, a half-century later, the NFL will announce a deal with an internet company that, on the surface, won’t be as breathtaking but could have more impact: For one of the least-starry of the 256 regular-season games this season—the Oct. 25 game in London between Buffalo and Jacksonville—Yahoo has outbid the competition to become the first internet company to take an NFL game off over-the-air or cable TV and send it around the globe on the web. The amount Yahoo paid was not disclosed [update: Brian Stelter of CNN reports the deal is for “eight figures,” or at least $10 million], but one significant financial aspect is known: It will cost Internet users zero dollars to stream the game.

This, too, is certain: The October NFL game streamed by Yahoo, which counts 1 billion monthly visitors, will be the most interesting media test tube the NFL has experimented with in most of our lifetimes.

“We need to prepare for the future,” NFL executive vice president of media Brian Rolapp told The MMQB. “Have we entered into a new era? Maybe. Maybe not. Obviously TV is still the dominant platform to distribute our games, as it has been for years. But TV is not the only platform any more, and this is the first time in history we have done this with one of our games.

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“We have cast our lot with TV through 2022, so obviously we believe in the power of television for our games. But things are changing, and changing fast, in the media.”

Three points to be clear about as the NFL enters the internet frontier:

• This game, at 9:30 a.m. Eastern time, will be broadcast over the air in Buffalo and Jacksonville, keeping with the tradition the NFL has long established for all games to be free in the home markets. The Buffalo market will be served by WIVB-TV, while the game will be shown on WTEV in Jacksonville, both CBS affiliates. CBS will produce the game using its talent and TV crew, and will show it to the Buffalo and Jacksonville markets on TV on Sunday morning and to the rest of the world via Yahoo. As with last year’s 9:30 a.m ET game, this one will not be shown on the DirecTV Sunday Ticket package.

• Every NFL game for the next eight seasons will be shown free in the home markets on the local network affiliates. However, a Broncos fan in Delaware, as an example, will still have to pay to see Denver’s games through 2022. After that, the NFL is keeping its options open.

• What’s interesting about the Yahoo venture is that at least two internet companies talking to the NFL offered big deals—but only if the league would allow the company to charge for the game on a pay-per-view basis. The NFL said no. The significant thing here is that more than 500 million users a month access Yahoo on mobile platforms such as phones and tablets. That gives the NFL a good indicator of where fans will watch the game, and for how long.

The NFL will be closely monitoring the ratings and access points to this game, which will be available free on Yahoo, Yahoo Sports, Yahoo Screen and Tumblr. It will be shown at 4:30 p.m. in Moscow, 9:30 p.m. in Beijing and 10:30 p.m. in Tokyo. “Prime time,” said Rolapp. “That will give us a good idea” of the reach of NFL games in Asia, with so many disparate NFL fans in so many places.

It would have been easy for the league to take a headline game and put it on the internet, and get boffo numbers. But Buffalo-Jacksonville will be a good measuring stick for the NFL. If that game can get eyes around the world, imagine what Dallas-Green Bay would get.

Rolapp said the league took its time with internet suitors—though some in the media community heard that web companies were having trouble figuring how they’d monetize the game.

“When we decided to do this—take one game and distribute it around the world digitally—we wanted to approach it with an open mind,” Rolapp said. “We were always going to show it over the air in the Buffalo and Jacksonville markets. Other than that, we said, ‘Tell us what you’ll do.’ We got back a lot of interest. Free, subscription, with or without mobile filters … And we settled on Yahoo. When Pete Rozelle founded the national TV deals, our sport was built on reaching the largest audience and taking care of the local markets. We think with the Yahoo deal, we have honored that.

“The last thing on our mind was money [rights fees]. We did want fair value for the game, and we think we got that.”

My take:

The NFL found last year that the London games could be more attractive if they started in the morning Eastern time—giving the American audience a fourth Sunday window, in addition to the two afternoon windows and one night game in all markets. Now they’ll see if a game between two lower-echelon teams (at least as it stands in June) will move the internet needle. I’m guessing it will.

Next up will be the NFL selling highlight packages, as the league currently does on the internet with Twitter Amplify, to other web companies. The league doesn’t sleep when it comes to pushing different ways for its games to be in the public eye—or when it comes to making money.

Now on to the rest of the news and the mailbag:

• THE MMQB: Jenny Vrentas on why the NFL is chasing London, and whether it will work

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