Google and the NFL

The new NFL logo went into use at the 2008 draft.

The new NFL logo went into use at the 2008 draft. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Google has announced that it is interested in buying the Sunday package from the NFL to stream over the web. For those of you who are not sports fans, this means every regular Sunday football game (just not the Sunday or Monday night games or the mid-week game).

The Sunday package today is available today only on DirectTV. A sports fan must buy a DirectTV regular programming package in order to buy what DirectTV markets as the Sunday ticket. DirectTV simulcasts all Sunday games, so there are a number of games playing at one time.  DirectTV owns the rights through the end of the 2014 season and the package comes up for bid again.

The football programming currently costs DirectTV $1 billion per year, and one has to imagine the price is going to go up in a bidding war. But obviously Google can afford this.

I would think that losing football would be devastating to DirectTV. As a serious sports fan, I know of a lot of sports fans who subscribe to DirectTV just for the right to buy the football package. If that goes away, DirectTV is going to see a number of subscribers melt away over the first year.

The whole idea of Google buying the NFL package raises all sorts of different issues:

  • This would give major legitimacy to OTT programming and could form the core of a Google on-line TV offering with some teeth. One has to think that Google is going to bundle this with other programming to get enough revenue to pay for the package. This could turn Google into a serious player in the content provider war.
  • One has to wonder if Google understands the lack of bandwidth in much of the country. DirectTV delivers football in high definition, and most fans routinely watch multiple games at the same time or want to quickly flip between games. This country is divided into a lot of broadband haves and have-nots. Certainly customers on fiber like Verizon FiOS will love football on the web. But there are still a significant number of rural households who can’t get real broadband. And even more importantly, there are a whole lot of towns that don’t get enough broadband to watch multiple football games in HD.
  • Interestingly, the FCC has been tracking the availability of broadband by letting the service providers tell the FCC what they offer where. And everybody knows this process is highly flawed and that a lot of the reporting is very far from reality. Moving football to the web is going to more effective than any broadband map at showing who has and does not have adequate broadband. All we need to do to track where broadband is inadequate is to follow the complaints about Google football.
  • On the other hand, Google would be opening up the Sunday football package to a lot of new households. There are a lot of people today that can’t get DirectTV, either due to a clear look at the right part of the sky or else from living in a place, like a high-rise that doesn’t allow satellite TV.
  • And Google football is really perfect for somebody like me who is not always in the same place every Sunday. I would assume that if I am a subscriber that I am going to be able to watch as long as I can find a good broadband connection. I think there will quickly be web boards that track which hotels have good or poor internet and business travelers will be going to the good ones and avoiding the poor ones.

Sports programming is the one wild card in the programming world for which there is no substitute. To any sports fan there is the NFL and then there is everything else.

It has also been reported that ESPN is considering a web-package that they would only sell to web-providers who bundle it with a larger programming line-up. And one has to think that if ESPN works out this kind of deal that the college football networks will follow suit. If NFL football, college football and ESPN become available on the web, then landline cable TV is going to have lost its grip on a lot of households. This has to be a concern for the big cable companies.

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