NFL rights are the biggest in sports media—and the closest thing we have to weather vane for where our jumbled world of media and tech are headed.
Here’s the big thing: Verizon has no exclusivity. They’ll host the games for anyone and everyone no matter what network they’re on. And this kicks in for the upcoming NFL playoffs.
This is good for NFL fans. Getting online access to football games had become a relatively byzantine adventure. With Verizon hosting the games but not having exclusivity—if you’re an AT&T or T-Mobile wireless customer you previously couldn’t access the games—you’ll be able to watch no matter what service you subscribe to.
This is also a hefty deal. Verizon is paying more than its previous agreement ($1 billion for four years, according to Recode), and actually getting less for their money. Previously, if you wanted to stream NFL games, you had to be on Verizon’s network. Exclusivity like this is one way that wireless companies—which recently have entered into a reasonably competitive era—can convince people to use their service over others.
The notion that Verizon is willing to pay the NFL just about double what it had been for even less exclusivity highlights just how important tentpole events and content are to companies looking to give consumers a reason to visit their properties. The NFL is hardly at its healthiest, with declining ratings and a near-constant stream of bad press about the health implications of playing the sport.
Yet Verizon still felt the right move was to drop a massive amount of money on NFL rights even without the exclusivity. The deal has to be music to the ears of any other professional sports owner. There had been some speculation among industry analysts that the prices for sports media rights would be dropping.
Monday’s deal shows prices are doing quite the opposite.
“We’re making a commitment to fans for Verizon’s family of media properties to become the mobile destination for live sports,” said Lowell McAdam, Chairman and CEO of Verizon Communications, in a press release.
Verizon has been among the most aggressive companies in trying to push back against the major tech companies by creating a vertically integrated media/telecom giant. Verizon has been on a content acquisition spree for the past few years, grabbing AOL and Yahoo, which it has combined into its new Oath unit.
The hope for Verizon is that by being able to combine its massive wireless network with a sizable online audience (and plenty of targeting data to go along with it), the company can carve out a place behind Google and Facebook, which have left everyone in the dust when it comes to online advertising.
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