March 26, 2015
For the first time, the NFL will allow one football game to be streamed on a national digital platform. The league relies heavily on television to broadcast its games, but for this single broadcast next season, it is letting digital platforms bid for the rights. The game will be a week-seven matchup between the Buffalo Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars to be played in London. The broadcast is slated for 9:30 am Eastern time, but that will be primetime in China where the NFL hopes to attract viewers.
The NFL is using this bidding between digital platforms to evaluate the market, and perhaps look into a more comprehensive digital rights deal in the future. Any site or streaming service can bid because there are no technological prerequisites. The service can be tied to hardware like Apple TV as well.
“We won’t shut the door on anyone because we are trying to learn about the market and find out what the models might be, but we want to reach as many people as we can,” said NFL EVP Brian Rolapp.
NFL is also abandoning its blackout rule that prohibits local broadcasts of games if the game had not sold out. The blackout rule was not used at all in the 2014 season; however, there were two blackouts in 2013. Critics have pointed out that this outdated policy is largely ineffective at encouraging sold-out games because a blackout means less exposure for the team.
The upcoming 2015 season will be the start a new broadcasting strategy, including more exposure. Currently, the NFL is developing a digital model that will let fans watch the games for free. However, that could change as the league learns more about the market.
Currently, the NFL has $27 billion in contracts with broadcasting giants NBC, CBS, and Fox. The one game that will go on digital will likely have little effect on these television partners because the game would only have been broadcast regionally, according to The Wall Street Journal. Fans in Buffalo and Jacksonville can still get up early to watch the 9:30 am game, which will be broadcast by a TV partner in those markets.