NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell may see the Internet as the next big NFL branding opportunity and Yahoo, the first non-TV related platform to host a game, may be the beneficiary. Pro Football Talk reported that Goodell is looking into bringing Thursday Night Football onto the platform to allow fans to stream the games live. The web based viewing option would be the first time the Thursday Night Football game was available for free online on a weekly basis. NBC Sports streams its Sunday Night matchup via NBC Sports Extra but other networks decline to allow fans to access regular season content for free online. Luckily for fans CBS has been streaming the NFL Playoffs for free for the last two years and even Fox has allowed the Superbowl to be streamed for free without pay TV authentication. So while the idea of free NFL NFL streaming is not new the significance of a weekly NFL game on Thursday being available can not be overlooked.
NFL Following Old Blueprint
If you think streaming Thursday Night Football on Yahoo is an odd pairing then you don’t understand how the NFL became the institution it is today. Did you know that when the NFL started broadcasting on Sunday afternoons that it was because nobody else put high profile programming in that slot? That time was just filled with old movies and filler. The NFL claimed Sunday afternoons from nobody and since then nobody has ever been able to make a dent from 1pm-7pm. The NFL owns a day. It later claimed Monday nights in much the same fashion. It took college football decades to make it onto a non Saturday broadcast time (with the exception of major bowl games) and that was only due to ESPN. I believe that one day the NBA, and Major League Baseball will be trying everything they can to find their way onto a major website so that their content can be available for the masses. Yahoo too is treading down a familiar path. While people may look at the website/search engine as past its prime having been surpassed as a search engine by Google the company is very much in the same position as Fox was when it grabbed the NFC broadcast rights from CBS in the 1990’s. At the time Fox was home to the Simpsons and Beverly Hills 90210 and not much else. Overnight it became the home of John Maddon and even revolutionized sports broadcasting by integrating what at the time was nicknamed the “Fox Box” the upper left hand corner score keeper that is now the industry standard. Being the home of the NFL could completely transform Yahoo.
NFL Future Proofing
The Internet will one day be the medium for all TV whether it is delivered by companies like Comcast or Google. In time the term cable company will not even exist. Within the next five years I would expect to see companies like Time Warner Cable simply refer to themselves as communications companies and drop Cable from their name faster than Kentucky (formally fried) Chicken did with its KFC rebranding. If Thursday Night Streaming works out for Yahoo do you think CBS will sit idly by and let a major revenue stream slip right through its fingers? Fox might as the company has stubbornly ignored the cord cutting and free streaming trend sticking instead with full authentication. Either way you can bet the NFL is going to factor streaming into future TV negotiations and I believe it will favor networks that put its product on the most screens possible over those that put up walls. By the time the rest of the sports industry and television industry catches up the NFL will be the king of Internet sports streaming and fans will be the winners.