Verizon Gains Exclusive Mobile Rights to NBA League Pass

By FeaturesDow Jones Newswires

Verizon Communications Inc. has struck a wide-ranging agreement with the National Basketball Association that extends the telecommunications giant's relationship with the league beyond streaming games and into content creation as well as virtual and augmented-reality fan experiences.

As part of the deal, Verizon will now be able to offer the NBA's "League Pass" subscription package of more than 1,100 regular season games on all its platforms through its Yahoo Sports. Verizon's price tag for the package is $99 a season, 50% less than what it costs to buy it through a traditional pay-TV distributor. Verizon also receives some ad inventory to sell.

Continue Reading Below

Currently Verizon distributes "League Pass" only on its go90 platform. As part of the deal, Verizon will gain mobile carrier exclusivity, meaning that no other carrier will be able to offer League Pass subscriptions. Non-Verizon users who have League Pass subscriptions will be able to access through Yahoo Sports.

The deal includes tablet and computer rights as well as mobile rights to games.

Terms of the new agreement were not disclosed but a person familiar with the situation said it is in the $400 million range, which is similar to the previous deal between the two. Verizon and Yahoo are also investing $25 million in a technology fund to develop new fan experiences for watching games.

Besides streaming games, Verizon and the NBA will develop original programming to complement coverage. The first such effort, "NBA Daily Run," is expected to debut later this season.

Verizon and the league will look to take advantage of the carrier's advanced 5G wireless technology to deliver new high-bandwidth services such as enhanced augmented and virtual reality. For example, the NBA will use Verizon's artificial intelligence technology to create an assistant general manager to help fantasy-team owners select and manage their rosters.

"We are granting them greater rights to do more and we're working with them to create a greater variety of content said Bill Koenig, the NBA's president of global content and media distribution. "This is a very important deal for us from a content, innovation and financial perspective," he added.

For Verizon, the new NBA partnership is part of its broader push into acquiring digital rights to sports content to broaden the reach of its Yahoo portal. In December, Verizon reached a deal valued at more than $2 billion with the National Football League to show games on its mobile network, go90 and Yahoo.

"It's our mission to be the first screen that customers go to for sports. We believe that sports is the aggregator for audiences," said Brian Angiolet, Verizon's senior vice president and global chief media and content officer.

The NBA's League Pass is also available through the league itself. NBA rights holders ESPN and TNT also stream their coverage to customers who have pay-TV subscriptions, as do regional sports networks.

While other sports including the NFL have seen ratings sag, national viewership for the NBA is up 21% this season following last year's finals, which were the most-watched since 1998.

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

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 17, 2018 12:17 ET (17:17 GMT)

Continue Reading Below