You could be watching Deshaun Watson on your phone next season.
You could be watching Deshaun Watson on your phone next season.
Photo by Eric Sauseda

NFL Verizon Deal Underscores Fans' Move from TV to Tablet

When talking about cord cutting, there are usually two camps. One grew up in an era when the TV was often the centerpiece of the living room. Many can remember when there were only a handful of channels and no remote control. The other has grown up with the internet where on-demand is not a luxury but a requirement.

The discussion gets a little more complicated when sports are involved. While virtually every television network has some component that allows for streaming, sports have long relied upon television network revenue to support soaring budgets, so providing streaming options for fans has been slow to emerge. As a result, most sports fans — especially fans of the NBA, MLB, NHL and MLS where there are more than 16 games aired nationally once per week — often have no choice but to stick with cable or satellite. But, that may be changing.

The NFL and Verizon, its wireless partner, announced on Monday that it had agreed to a new five-year, $2.5 billion deal that will open up streaming to any wireless user regardless of their carrier (Verizon had held exclusive rights before now). The new deal begins in January meaning playoff games will be able to be streamed on wireless devices not connected to Verizon networks.

This is obviously good news for NFL fans not on Verizon and it demonstrates the NFL's recognition of how differently fans consume content now. The ideal for pretty much everyone is a big television (assuming you can't go to a game), but that doesn't help if you aren't at home and still want to see your team live.

It might be hard for old timers to understand, but kids want to watch on a range of devices. They want to be able to catch the game on an airplane or in their hotel rooms. They want to watch in the park or at the beach. Since dragging a 60-inch plasma screen isn't practical, a phone and a decent connection will do. The NFL's deal allows fans to not be shackled to a particular network to catch the game.

The bigger questions going forward will be how the NFL and other sports monetize streaming revenue. TV was and is easy. Ad revenues and deals with networks make for lucrative partnerships. Streaming is still a bit untested when it comes to making money, but given that these are multi-billion dollar partnerships, they will probably figure it out.

And as digital becomes a bigger percentage of the pie when it comes to consuming live video content, you can be damn sure they will adjust.

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