The National Football League has a long way to go before it can match the live streaming chops of pro baseball, but the NFL's online offerings have been getting a little bit better every season. When the 2015-16 season starts up this fall, the NFL will reportedly try an experiment that could have major implications for cord cutters.
Next season, the NFL will sell exclusive online streaming rights for the league's annual game in London, England, according to The Wall Street Journal. The game is scheduled for Week 7 and sees the Jacksonville Jaguars take on the Buffalo Bills at 9:30 a.m. Eastern. Local markets in Jacksonville and Buffalo will still get to see the game on TV, but the special game won't be on televisions across the rest of America, the Journal says.
To view the game in the U.S. outside of the two team home markets you'll have to stream it online. The NFL has yet to decide on which service will get the streaming rights. Google's YouTube is an obvious contender as the NFL just struck up a partnership with the search company. In 2013, there were also rumors about the NFL meeting with Google to discuss bringing NFL Sunday Ticket broadcasts to YouTube. That ultimately didn't pan out and Sunday Ticket remained with DirecTV.
The story behind the story: The NFL hasn't shied away from online streaming, but the league has approached it with caution. First it tried streaming Sunday night games seven years ago, then it began offering playoff games, and last year 97 regular season games were available online via Fox Sports. But nothing screams caution like selling live streaming rights to an out-of-country game between two small market teams with a kickoff time of 9:30 a.m. Eastern on a Sunday.
Nevertheless, it's a step in the right direction. If successful, this first gamble to go all-in online could have major repercussions the next time the league's broadcast packages come up for renegotiation.
New media, same business
The NFL offers a live streaming package called NFL GamePass to football fans outside of North America. The offering is similar to what Sunday Ticket subscribers get with DirecTV.
For the most part, however, it appears the NFL is still interested in striking up lucrative, exclusive broadcast contracts in North America, be they with Internet-based services or TV and cable companies.
That's a different approach from what Major League Baseball does by offering its own streaming packages worldwide (including inside North America) and then also making television deals in parallel.
The MLB's approach has its disadvantages, since games in your home market are always blacked out online in deference to television broadcasters. Nevertheless, the approach does allow baseball to embrace the Internet as a supplementary platform to TV.
That has also been the NFL's approach with Sunday Ticket, which allows subscribers to view out-of-market games on their TV or online. Other live streaming trials of NFL games have also been supplementary.
This time around, however, it appears the NFL will take a look at the Internet as a nearly complete alternative to television broadcasts—at least for one game next year.
Then again, as Peter Kafka over at Re/code argues, this could be nothing more than a ploy to terrify television broadcasters into paying more money for NFL broadcast rights.
Whatever the NFL's true intentions, hopefully this year's low stakes experiment will grow into improved offerings for cord-cutting football fans. But the bigger NFL news this week has nothing to do with streaming at all—the league is also suspending its loathed TV blackout policy for next season.