Tencent Signs Deal With NFL to Livestream Games in China

The National Football League and China’s Tencent Holdings have signed a deal to give the latter exclusive rights to livestream games and other NFL content online for three years. Tencent will stream the games and other content for free on its flagship social media app, WeChat, as well as other mobile and desktop platforms. WeChat has more than 960 million monthly active users. The NFL first made a move into China in 2009 when it produced a 16-episode reality TV series in which a Taiwanese pop band explored football culture.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the NFL also partnered with Chinese social media company Sina Corp. to stream a single game, and then “sold broadcast rights to 19 different provincial satellite-television channels to show NFL highlights and games.”

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NFL head of operations in China Richard Young notes that, “expectations are that most of the viewing in China will be on mobile platforms, partly because of the time difference between the U.S. and China.” “They are watching from home while getting ready for work, watching on their commute to work, putting it on pause, going to work and continuing to watch,” he said.

The deal will provide Chinese viewers with “more than 100 NFL games a year, including all the league’s prime-time games, live or on-demand.” That includes all of its Thursday, Sunday and Monday Night Football games, as well as the Super Bowl championship game. Tencent will provide “live Chinese commentators” and NFL coverage on its news platform. For the NFL, China’s potentially immense viewing audience comes as TV viewership in the U.S. dipped 8 percent last year from the previous season.

The NFL hopes to follow the path taken by NBA basketball, which is the most popular spectator sport in China. Former Houston Rockets player Yao Ming helped to promote the sport in China. In 2015, Tencent “paid at least $500 million to become the NBA’s exclusive digital-streaming partner in China for five years.”

“The culture of the NFL, the fans, the tailgating and the drama that is delivered with the NFL is appealing,” said Andrew Collins, chief executive of Mailman, a Shanghai-based sports- and digital-marketing agency. “It’s not just sport, it’s entertainment.”