The NFL Finally Cuts The Cord

April 21, 2015

The NFL Finally Cuts The Cord

Welcome to the “awkward age” of television. Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services are undoubtedly revolutionizing the way we access content. Indeed, once hesitant networks are now widely sharing their catalogues. Now, the only other major missing content on these services is live sports.

The major U.S. professional sports leagues have been testing the digital waters to varying degrees for the past two years, but the National Football League has perhaps been the slowest to begin exploring the potential of online streaming. Since becoming the most popular professional sports league in 1985, the NFL has commanded billions of dollars for highly sought after network broadcasting rights. And, its only deviation from the network broadcast model is its subscription-based agreement with DirecTV, which provides the NFL with an additional $1.5 billion annually.  

Decades of growing popularity compounded with little change in the viewing habits of NFL fans have created a status quo that forces networks and fans to play entirely by the NFL’s rules – until now. This season, the League will live-stream one regular season game, it has announced. The specifics of the plan have yet to be announced, and the League remains years behind the other major sports leagues. However this is a significant first step, and suggests for the first time that the NFL is aware that they too will have to adapt to a changing world. 

So how does the NFL’s single game plan compare to the other major professional sporting leagues? The NBA, NHL, and MLB are all making a concerted effort to provide streaming of as many live events as their existing broadcasting contracts will allow. However, accessing games can often take a piece-meal approach. The current the streaming models being used by the three organizations follow roughly the same blueprint, and therefore have many of the same drawbacks. All three leagues allow users to stream most regular season games, while largely restricting post-season matches from streaming devices. Additional network streaming services, such as Sling TV, can be used as a workaround to this problem, although they are an imperfect fix. 

As the streaming model continues to gain momentum, it is now evident that professional sports are willing to adapt to the viewing preferences of their millions of fans. The NFL’s hesitant foray into the streaming world is an indication that even the most stubborn of the sporting behemoths understands the potential of this new medium, and perhaps the danger from failing to adapt to it. Perhaps the upcoming NFL Draft, which the League will livestream on its website, will help make them more comfortable with the expanding models. Either way, while the NFL’s master plan for moving toward a streaming model is unclear, it is safe to assume that their process will be as slow and methodical as it will be lucrative.

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