Verizon Strikes Exclusive Deal With NFL for Streaming Game

By Joe Flint Features Dow Jones Newswires

The National Football League has struck a deal with Verizon Communications Inc. to stream one regular-season game in the coming season, in a bet that distributing the matchup free for consumers over the internet will lure more users and advertising dollars to its platforms.

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The game, a week three matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars to be played in London on Sept. 24, will be distributed on Verizon's AOL platform, its mobile video service go90, and Complex, a young male-focused site it co-owns with Hearst Corp.

Terms of the deal weren't disclosed, but a person familiar with the transaction said the price for the game was $21 million. Verizon will have exclusive global rights except in the Baltimore and Jacksonville markets, where the game will be available on local television. In the U.K., the game will be on Sky Sports.

The pact is similar to one the NFL struck with Yahoo Inc. in 2015 for a single game from London at a cost of $15 million, the league's first experiment making a matchup available primarily on the internet. That game, which featured the Jaguars and Buffalo Bills, had an average audience of 2.36 million viewers.

For the NFL, the Verizon deal continues its aggressive strategy of embracing new platforms and revenue streams.

Last month, the league reached an agreement with Amazon.com Inc. to stream 10 Thursday night games next season on its Amazon Prime service. That deal, which is nonexclusive, is valued at about $50 million. Thursday games will also continue to be available on television on CBS or NBC through a split agreement, as well as on the NFL Network.

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Vishal Shah, the NFL's senior vice president of digital media business development, said Verizon's scale and large digital platforms will allow the league to learn more about which distribution partners attract which viewers.

"Are we reaching incremental audiences? Are we reaching the millennial demo? What we want to continue to learn is who is consuming the live games," Mr. Shah said.

For Verizon, which already has an exclusive mobile package with the NFL, the game gives it an opportunity to showcase its platforms and "bring super premium content to customers," said Erin McPherson, vice president of content.

Verizon is also in the process of acquiring Yahoo, and if the purchase closes in time, the game could also be streamed there, according to people familiar with the transaction. As part of the accord, Verizon will sell all the national advertising in the game.

Verizon's exclusive mobile deal with NFL is up after the coming season. In 2013, Verizon agreed to pay the NFL $1 billion for those mobile rights over four years.

Mr. Shah declined to comment on the mobile deal specifically but said the league's goal is "driving the widest reach possible." Verizon's Ms. McPherson would only say the company "values this partnership greatly."

Write to Joe Flint at joe.flint@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 03, 2017 14:14 ET (18:14 GMT)