RUMOR: The NFL is Exploring a Massive Shakeup of its Distribution in 2022 to Focus on Digital


nfl broadcast digital

At $39.6 billion, The NFL’s current deal with television networks is the most expensive of any current entertainment contract. And while traditional television is certainly working great for the NFL, when the contract is set to expire in 2022, things are going to look at lot different when it comes to watching football. How will folks stream the Jets vs Patriots game in 2025? The future is yet to be written.

While the signs are clear that the NFL is working towards developing a strategy for digital streaming, they have yet to find a suitor capable of handling the massive undertaking. Most importantly, digital streaming advertising is pennies to the dollar when compared to traditional television broadcasts, largely in part to the controlled audience all hovering in front of one screen for current distribution.

But as advertising dollars continue to shift from broadcast television to digital streams (albeit at a slow clip),  the NFL is showing signs that they believe there is plenty of money to be made online, and plans on exploring this as a serious option come 2022.

During the 2015 season, the NFL partnered with Yahoo! to stream an early London game digitally, with some level of success that, while still nothing compared to the numbers during a Sunday Night Football broadcast, were certainly promising. Just this week, the NFL announced plans to stream NFL Redzone on Playstation Vue, and has also announced plans to stream several games through Twitter during the 2016 season.

The NFL is also exploring several new options for streaming partners throughout the remainder of the 2022 broadcast contract that should continue to reveal their intentions to move even more digital in the coming years. Call it a phase of experimentation.

But the big shakeup is likely to come when renewals are up for negotiation at the end of the current contract, as the NFL is watching current technology.

Here’s the juicy part:

Rumors circulating that there are riffs between current major broadcasters and the NFL as the league is turning its attention more and more digital. One source at a major network has mentioned that the bosses are not happy with the NFL’s attempts to push traditional broadcast aside as they continually experiment with new streaming options. We keep hearing that the NFL is exploring its own proprietary live streaming service as well, which could take even more of a chunk out of current broadcast revenues. The NFL has a major advantage in these negotiations, however, which explains the broadcast networks’ reluctance to push back.

ESPN has had a rough year already, with subscriber numbers continually falling in no small part to the fact that they have failed to adapt to modern streaming technology. While live sports remains one of the last bastions of a non-digital age when it comes to television, the writing on the wall has clearly shown that those who aren’t adapting will slowly continue to decline.

The NFL is fearful that if they continue to renew broadcast contracts with traditional television, they could also fail to capitalize on digital revenue in a big way. The NFL could rely far less on their current network partnerships by expanding their digital offering. Clearly they have the upper hand with one of the US’s most popular sources of entertainment, so it feels like it’s only a matter of time before this comes true.

Think about how bad Yahoo! (Verizon), Google, Facebook, Hulu, and other live-streaming digital powerhouses would absolutely love to get their hands on NFL games. There’s no doubt a big change is coming.