In February, right before the Super Bowl, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said that his league was “aggressively pursuing” the streaming of a regular season game on the internet. It was the first time the league publicly entertained the idea of a web broadcast—before then, NFL executives were conspicuously mum about the subject.
Consider it aggressively pursued. The NFL announced today that Yahoo will provide the first ever free, global live-stream of an NFL game, when the Buffalo Bills take on the Jacksonville Jaguars in London on October 25. According to Re/Code’s Peter Kafka, who cites industry executives, Yahoo paid $20 million for the rights to broadcast the game online.
The stream will still have ads, and will feel very much like a normal NFL telecast, only you’ll be able to watch it for free on your laptop, tablet, or smartphone, without needing a TV subscription.
Other technology companies, including Google-owned YouTube and Facebook, were thought to be in the running, but Yahoo appears to have been the highest bidder. Yahoo is in the midst of building out its video business, and while this game is hardly the Super Bowl, it should help create more excitement around Yahoo’s video platform that has yet to gain much traction outside of a few diehard Community fans.
That doesn’t mean very many people will watch it, though. Since it’s being played in London, the game will air Sunday morning at 9:30am EST and 6:30am PST. On top of that, the Jacksonville Jaguars are one of the NFL’s perennial losers, and while the Buffalo Bills—recently a mediocre team—are showing signs of promise, they aren’t exactly a top draw (the game will also be shown on TV in the two teams’ home markets).
But that’s precisely why the NFL chose this game to experiment with. The stakes are low, and the NFL has very little to lose by testing the internet waters with such an inconsequential game. Yahoo similarly benefits—not only will it help the company test its streaming capabilities, but it could give Marissa Mayer and co. the inside track to broadcast more NFL games in the future, should the rights become available.
According to the New York Times, Mayer “personally wooed” commissioner Goodell during negotiations.
Those rights, however, are mostly locked up by TV broadcasters like CBS and Fox until 2022. Until then, you’re unlikely to see many more online-exclusive NFL broadcasts, save for a handful of Thursday night games starting in 2016.
For this game, at least, Yahoo would be smart to somehow integrate its popular fantasy football platform into the watching experience. It’s likely that many Americans who watch the game will be those wanting to see how their fantasy players are doing.
As more Americans cut the cord, it became clear that the the most popular sport in America and one of the most lucrative properties in the entire world—the National Football League—would have to embrace the inevitable future of internet television. That day has come, and Yahoo could reap the benefits.