There was word back in April that Yahoo! might have been making a play for the live NFL mobile rights that for the last three years have belonged to Verizon. But as it enters the final year of its original deal with the NFL, it looks as though the telecommunications giant is going to be hanging onto those extremely valuable rights for several years to come.
And, more importantly for NFL fans, it looks as though the extension will come with an expansion that will allow Verizon to stream every single regular-season and playoff game, not just those airing on ESPN, NBC and NFL Network (which was the case in the last deal).
The new deal, which starts in '14 and will allow Verizon to stream every NFL regular-season and playoff game to mobile phones, should forever obliterate the distinction between sponsor and media-rights deals. Its previous deal gave Verizon subscribers access to live game schedules from ESPN, NBC and NFL Network. But this new deal adds in the CBS and Fox Sunday afternoon schedules, plus the playoffs, showing games in-market only.
One caveat here: This doesn't include tablets, but it isn't always easy to distinguish between the two.
It comes just two weeks after the league signed a five-year, $400M deal with Microsoft. Pointedly, the massive Verizon deal does not include the rights to stream NFL games to tablets -- only “mobile phones,” which is certain to lead to fights over what is considered a phone. The league likely will have to resolve the difference between dedicated tablets, like iPads, and hybrid devices, like Samsung’s popular Galaxy.
For what they're paying, you'd think Verizon would get the benefit of the doubt in that battle. This isn't TV money, but it's not far off. It makes Verizon one of the league's biggest clients. The last deal wasn't nearly as lucrative ($720 million over four years, according to Reuters, although SBD sets the number a lot lower at about $200 million), so a new benchmark has been set as far as live mobile sports rights go.
That first deal was the beginning and this is just chapter two. Don't be surprised if in a decade or two, mobile rights become more pricey than television rights. And that applies to all sports. Keep in mind that the majority of NFL games are aired when people are sitting around on Sunday afternoons. Major League baseball and NBA basketball aren't as popular as the NFL, but they have a lot more games at varied times and dates, which could mean the NFL won't be the only league laughing all the way to the bank as sports fans become more digitally versatile without losing their thirst for watching games.