Amid all the excitement around the Super Bowl, most of us future-of-TV watchers missed an important announcement by the National Football League. At his annual press conference before the big game, league chairman Roger Goodell said, “We are aggressively pursuing the streaming of a regular season game with our first over-the-top telecast.”
Translation: The NFL will let a streaming video service broadcast one game next season to anyone with an internet connection, including people who don’t pay for television. It would a first for any major sports league in the United States.
“How our fans, especially younger ones, connect with the game is changing every day,” Goodell said in explaining the move. The streamed game “would be carried on broadcast stations in both team markets, but it would also reach a worldwide audience, including millions of homes that do not have traditional television service,” he added.
Goodell didn’t say who might buy the rights to stream the game. Google reportedly considered bidding for the rights to the NFL’s Sunday Ticket package in the past.
The NFL isn’t anywhere close to cutting out the broadcast networks (CBS, NBC, Fox) and pay television providers (DirecTV, etc.) that provide the bulk of its revenue. In fact, the league recently renewed long-term TV contracts worth perhaps $5 billion a year. So American football fans who want to watch their local teams will have to keep paying for traditional TV.
But the move to stream a single game is still hugely significant because the NFL hasn’t publicly entertained the idea before and because streaming every game seems like its inevitable future. At some point, as more people cut the cord, it’s conceivable that the league could cut out television middlemen and sell streaming subscriptions directly to fans.
Next season’s stream is probably the first of a few moves in that direction. It wouldn’t be surprising if the NFL became more aggressive in distributing its wildly popular RedZone channel, which Goodell called “one of the greatest innovations in television history,” over the internet. With small exceptions, it currently requires a pay-TV subscription.
The NFL already offers its own streams of games to people outside the US and Mexico. It appears that the upcoming test is also aimed at international fans: Sports Business Daily reports that the game to be streamed online will likely be one of the three being played in London next season, with a 9:30am eastern time kickoff that’s better suited to the rest of the world. But by streaming the game worldwide, including in the US, it seems clear the NFL is starting to explore an inescapable trend.