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Volume 20 No. 46
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The NFL in 2027: Watching, buying, and ‘feeling’ the action

In the 78 years since NBC’s pioneering broadcast of the October 1939 match between the Philadelphia Eagles and the then-football Brooklyn Dodgers, we’ve seen some amazing developments in sports viewing, from the revolution of color TV to watching local teams battle around the globe on our mobile phones.

In the video industry, sports aren’t just the most lucrative source of content — they’re also a clear indicator of viewing trends and engagement. And given the dramatic shifts we’ve seen lately in sports broadcasting, I have to wonder what watching “Sunday Night Football” might look like in 10 years’ time — and what technology will drive it.

So, what might the next 10 years have in store for NFL fans across the country, and the world?

Real-time fantasy leagues: In 2027, integrated fantasy football leagues could come with your sports package, and you might expect sponsored pop-ups and overlays providing data in real-time, pregame, in-game and postgame. Think Nike, Coke or Pepsi sponsoring a trade window during the game so you can dump your under-performing QB at the end of the quarter and activate the next Peyton Manning. Your personalized up-to-date stats can come with personalized ads, and long commercial breaks might give way to on-screen overlays, shortening game time — a win-win for viewers, brands and the NFL.

Many fields, many devices: Forget the days of watching football games on your “TV”; NFL games in 2027 will be consumed on every video-enabled device. Watch your home team on your laptop while you get video highlights from the other teams and players on your phone. Your phone’s touch screen will allow you to access viewer-controlled cameras for the best angles, allowing you and other eagle-eyed fans to hover over the goal line. We’re also seeing younger generations gravitate increasingly to live streams of games. In 10 years this trend will broaden to all generations watching multiple live streams of games in multiple markets simultaneously. Allowing fans to be the director, choosing their views from whatever game(s) they want will allow streaming providers and operators to assemble tiered, a la carte packages — a win-win for the NFL, and for broadcasters who adapt.

Pizza, beer and money: Content monetization will evolve with new ad placements, hybrid business models, and even crowdsourcing. Immersive, interactive and data-driven offerings are increasing fan engagement and ultimately expanding revenue for sports franchises. Customers could tap on their favorite player mid-game and shop for that player’s jersey; broadcasters can team with food-delivery services, helping fans get their favorite game-day snacks delivered to their door. And with more data than ever, the NFL in 2027 gets the right ads to the right consumers, expanding its monetization opportunities — a win-win for NFL, distributors and local businesses.

Artificial Intelligence delivers meaningful content to the right consumer: Fed up with seeing your least favorite player endorse products and ads for stuff you will never buy during the game? Artificial intelligence will enable media providers to recognize not only the faces of players but also match the teams and players you support with the product categories you prefer. You’ll be served unique ads tailored to your preferences. Bolstered by an integrated and intelligent video production system, NFL broadcasters can get content to consumers faster than ever, with the right highlights sent to their partners around the globe, as soon as it happens. The name of this game is engagement — and if the NFL plays it smart, they’ll win big.

AR/VR will put you in the game: Pity the poor NFL fan who can’t see the local game due to a broadcast blackout because enough tickets weren’t sold. No, he won’t have to illegally stream an out-of-market signal. Instead, the NFL will offer a customized service, for an additional fee of course, taking viewers into the action. Pro football has enriched video game manufacturers but the idea of really being “in” a pro game could be even more lucrative. Imagine seeing yourself, thanks to VR goggles, running down the sidelines, or wearing a haptic suit and actually “feeling” some of the action, or listening in on the coach’s box while plays are called. Winners here include game companies, equipment companies, broadcasters and the NFL, poised to reap expanded rights. In other words, fans and business alike can enjoy an adrenaline rush.

These predictions may cross the goal line by 2027 or be far out of bounds, and only time will tell. No matter what the future looks like, the technology is already there for sports broadcasters and producers to revolutionize how fans view and engage with football.

Jim O’Neill, principal analyst at Ooyala and editor of Videomind, is an award-winning industry expert and futurist who specializes in the convergence of traditional TV and the Internet.