The National Football Leauge — notoriously protective of its game action — will stream 17 prime-time, regular-season games this year on NFL.com and NBCSports.com, SportsBusiness Journal reported today. It will be the first time that live action NFL games will be broadly streamed in the U.S.
The streaming begins Sept. 4 in a Thursday game between the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants, with the online video consisting of NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” broadcast feed. Announcers Al Michaels and John Madden will make the call. Viewers will be able to choose from four live camera angles and review updated stats in real time.
The announcement was not openly cheered by the NFL’s other television partners, who, combined, provide $3.7 billion a year in broadcast rights revenue — making the NFL America’s most valuable television property.
Over-the-air networks Fox and CBS and the cable network ESPN also broadcast several games a week, but NBC airs only one on Sunday nights (totaling 17). Because NBC broadcasts only one game, NFL executives told SportsBusiness Journal that it was the best fit for a single-year experiment.
The NFL’s television rights are extremely convoluted and have been a hinderance for the NFL finding new distribution methods. Cable channels are not likely to stream live games because they fear the streams might dilute their audience, which cable TV operators paid handsomely.
Local affiliates, too, have vocalized their concerns over streaming games on the Internet, fearing diluted TV ratings will keep viewers away from local commercials. These commercials may not be included in the live streams.
See also: Where to watch NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL online
In contrast, the three other major sports leagues in the U.S. — Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Hockey League (NHL) — have been streaming live games since 2001. MLB has made full-season out-of-market streaming packages available since 2003, with the NBA following with similar packages in 2006 and the NHL for the 2007-08 season. Each league is finding ways to work with traditional and cable networks, local affiliates, and advertisers as they push for new distribution.
Now it’s the NFL’s turn.