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NFL to Stream Football Game for First Time

24 Mar, 2015 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Netflix says it has no interest in streaming sports

The National Football League is the biggest professional sports organization in the world with annual revenue around $10 billion. But unlike other major pro sports such as baseball, basketball, hockey and soccer, the NFL doesn’t stream games live anywhere.

That will change next fall when the league streams a game for the first time — the Jacksonville Jaguars playing the Buffalo Bills Oct. 25 from London during week seven of the season. The game, which will be broadcast on television only in local markets, has not yet been licensed to a digital platform.

Two years ago, the NFL hinted at going digital when it considered licensing the “Sunday Ticket” broadcasts to digital platforms. DirecTV ultimately re-assumed the rights as leverage for its pending merger with AT&T.

The NFL last December did ink a deal with Facebook to offer video clips of games online — something it also does at NFL.com. In another move, the league did away with the “blackout” rule — a throwback to its early TV days prohibiting local broadcasts of games not sold out 72 hours before kickoff.

“For us it’s just about trying to get smarter; the world is changing quickly,” Brian Rolapp, EVP with the NFL, told The Wall Street Journal. Rolapp added that broadcast television remains the NFL's medium of choice.

Though billed as an experiment, it’s surprising the NFL has taken this long to embrace streaming video. Major League Baseball was the first to offer online streaming access (at MLB.com) to out-of-market games beginning in 2002, although it did offer audio-only before that.

Baseball games can now be streamed live and on-demand via MLB.tv, which is available on Roku and other streaming media devices. In 2012, MLB.tv enabled viewers for the first time to choose between either team’s audio simulcast.

As baseball attempts to deal with a changing audience, it has initiated efforts to speed up the game. MLB.tv, which costs $110 a season ($130 for mobile access), enables viewers to watch live games on demand. Viewers can select individual innings, including a team’s at-bats or pitching during a live stream.

While the NFL hasn’t disclosed a streaming partner for the Bills-Jaguars match-up, don’t expect Netflix to flex its fiscal largess and move into live sports streaming.

“We are focused on TV shows and movies, and there's lots of room to grow in those categories,” said spokesperson Anne Marie Squeo.

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