The NFL and ESPN agreed on the broad terms of a media rights extension in January, but they didn’t sign the deal until eight months later, in early September.
The NFL’s solution: Verizon maintains exclusivity to stream to mobile phones, but ESPN was allowed to pick up wireless rights to devices that do not have phone capabilities, like tablets. ESPN is making that programming available to authenticated cable subscribers as part of the cable industry’s TV Everywhere initiative.
Verizon now has the right to stream “Monday Night Football” to its mobile phone subscribers, regardless of whether they subscribe to a cable or satellite service. Verizon had not streamed “Monday Night Football” to mobile phones until this season.
“When you talk about other wireless distribution devices and the different approaches we have, I expect to continue to work with a number of different partners,” said Hans Schroeder, the NFL’s senior vice president of media strategy and development.
Verizon is not upset by the NFL’s decision to create a distinction between wireless phone rights and wireless tablet rights, a Verizon spokesperson said, adding that the issue illustrates how quickly things change in the wireless market.
The NFL made sure the ESPN deal contained language that accounted for rights that are not imagined yet.
“We needed to put in a longer-term strategy,” Schroeder said. “We are very excited about our Verizon relationship.”
The wireless/mobile business has been a huge area of growth for the league. The league has seen a 230 percent increase in the number of downloads for its NFL Mobile app (4.5 million). Its mobile Web consumption hit 56 million page views during kickoff weekend (up 380 percent from last year). And the amount of downloads for the NFL 11 app on tablets and phones is near 2 million, up 150 percent from last year.
“Mobile, in general, is an incredible area of growth this year,” Schroeder said. “We think that we can continue to grow that.”