March 09, 2010
The NFL RedZone Channel was nearly flawless last season. No commercials, great decisions in when to cut from game to game, a reliable host who keeps the action flowing and never tries to get in the way; the channel made NFL Sundays even more enjoyable than before. But there was just one problem: We couldn't watch it while waiting in line at the grocery store or driving to get our friend from the airport or, heaven forbid, at a should-be-illegal Sunday afternoon wedding.
That won't be a problem any more.
The league signed a new distribution deal with Verizon Wireless that allows the wireless carrier to air live footage of every Sunday game. It's the first time the NFL has given live games rights to a mobile carrier.
As The Wall Street Journal reports:
The deal marks a significant shift in strategy for the NFL, which has never before allowed mobile access to its games on Sunday afternoons. Doing so was long considered by broadcasters to be a threat to the NFL's golden goose-its Sunday afternoon broadcasts that generate some $1.4 billion in license fees from News Corp.'s Fox and CBS Corp's. CBS, whose executives have said they will keep a close eye on the impact of mobile distribution on their ratings.
Brian Rolapp, the NFL's vice president for media strategy, said distributing live games over mobile phones on Sundays won't cannibalize the league's audience.
"We've been adding this stuff every year for the last three years, and ratings just keep going up," Mr. Rolapp said.
That makes perfect sense, because nobody who has access to a television would ever choose to watch a game on a cell phone. It's nice that the NFL has finally realized this.
As the Journal points out though, signing this deal sort of undercuts the NFL's argument to the player's association that revenue growth is slowing. It also further illustrates how preposterous an NFL lockout would be. People love the NFL so much that a phone company is willing to spend $180 million per year to give customers access to watch live games on a four-inch screen. Why would the league and its players do anything to risk jeopardizing such love?
And it should also be noted that today's news is only going to be very exciting for people who have Verizon, people who want to switch to Verizon, people who have phones that can support live viewing (Blackberry and Android phones are good to go) and people who are willing to pay for the right to watch games on a phone. That may or may not be you. Regardless, it's a step in the right direction for the NFL.
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