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Volume 22 No. 31
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Oath’s mission is to build stronger connection between fans and their favorite sports

Verizon has been one of the most active companies in sports and media over the past year, completing a $4.48 billion acquisition of Yahoo last June, combining that asset with AOL to create the new Oath digital content and advertising subsidiary, and more recently extending content partnerships with the NFL and NBA. The NFL deal, worth an estimated $2 billion over five seasons, removes Verizon’s carrier exclusivity to stream the league’s games live on mobile devices. But it positions Yahoo Sports as a key mobile distribution partner and calls for the development of “smart stadium” technology in NFL stadiums. The NBA deal expands the reach of the League Pass out-of-market package through Yahoo Sports and will bring augmented reality content and other game presentation concepts to the league.

Tim Armstrong, Oath chief executive and a key figure in Verizon’s run of sports dealmaking, discussed the company’s strategy with staff writer Eric Fisher.

ARMSTRONG

How would you define your overall sports strategy?
ARMSTRONG:
When you take a step back, the Yahoo acquisition, the AOL acquisition, the investments we’ve been making, they’re about, “How do you take non-mobile fans and make them mobile?” So when you see the NFL deal, the NBA deal … what we’re essentially doing is a very simple strategy of connecting the most important real estate for consumers, which is their phone, and what they’re most passionate about, which is often sports, and bringing those two things together in a very simple way.

How do you view the competitive landscape?
ARMSTRONG:
Our unique positioning in the market and what we bring that nobody else can bring is super-scaled, direct mobile access and our reach across all the Oath properties.

The new NFL deal doesn’t include carrier exclusivity for Verizon for live games. Why do you not consider the agreement an overpay?
ARMSTRONG:
If you think about the [mergers and acquisitions] that have been done in the content landscape in the last few years and the amount of money paid for some of the large content companies, and then you look at our NFL deal, the NFL deal involves one of the powerful content and audience drivers on the planet. And in comparison to the size of some of those content acquisitions, you basically have Verizon with 100 million members in mobile, Oath with a billion consumers that will have access to this, and you didn’t have to go buy a massive content company, and it’s all digital and all mobile. So I think we underpaid for our strategy overall and we’re appropriately paying for what our audiences and our partners are getting out of the [NFL] deal.

What does the “smart stadium” component of the NFL deal involve?
ARMSTRONG:
There’s two things. First, consumers expect now to be connected 24/7, and there’s a basic element of doing an even better job serving those fans in-stadium. But the second piece, which is really exciting, is when you have 5G coming into these stadiums and having them lit up with really fast, high bandwidth connectivity, it opens up another realm of possibilities. Imagine having something like the giant screen at the Cowboys’ [AT&T Stadium] on your phone as well, being able to not only see replays, but also follow individual players and have instantaneous stat uploads. It’s also going to make you more connected to other fans.

How does the NBA deal compare to the NFL one?
ARMSTRONG:
Verizon has had a long relationship with the NBA, and the extension is in part about helping consumers get access to out-of-market League Pass games. … And when you think about some of the other things inside of the deal, you’re going to have a much bigger studio presence and a push around innovation and things like virtual reality and augmented reality. I would say this also highlights, like our other deals, how 5G [mobile networks are] going to be an important change for sports and help create a much richer fan experience. … You’re going to have more data, more viewpoints, more AR/VR.