Verizon Bets on Yahoo in NFL Deal's Mobile -- WSJ

By Joe FlintFeaturesDow Jones Newswires

This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of WSJ.com articles that also appeared in the U.S. print edition of The Wall Street Journal (December 12, 2017).

Verizon Communications Inc. has struck a more than $2 billion deal to show NFL football games on its mobile network as well as its Yahoo, Yahoo Sports and go90 mobile platforms.

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Verizon will make national games on Monday, Thursday and Sunday nights--in addition to the playoffs and Sunday afternoon games from a user's home market -- available on its apps for smartphones regardless of a customer's mobile carrier, company and NFL officials said. The national games will also be available on tablets, but not Sunday afternoon games.

Terms of the deal weren't disclosed. According to people familiar with the pact, the agreement runs for five years, and Verizon's annual rights and sponsorship fee to the National Football League will rise from its current $250 million to more than $450 million.

Unlike its previous agreements with the NFL, Verizon will no longer have the exclusive mobile rights to distribute national and in-market games to its wireless customers. Games will continue to be available via the NFL's mobile app. The partnership starts in January with the postseason, when games, including the Super Bowl, will be expanded to Verizon-owned platforms like Yahoo and Yahoo Sports.

Verizon was willing to give up exclusive mobile rights in return for NFL content for its other platforms. In its previous deal, exclusivity was seen as crucial for Verizon to attract new wireless customers and keeping existing ones. Now the focus is on building its other platforms, particularly since Verizon bought Yahoo earlier this year for $4.5 billion.

"We want to be the first screen for live sports," said Brian Angiolet, Verizon's senior vice president and global chief media and content officer, who called the new deal a "game-changer" that would elevate its media platforms.

Games will be free to watch, and will appear with advertisements.

Verizon will continue to be aggressive in its pursuit of sports for its platforms, Mr. Angiolet said.

The mobile-rights deal marks a significant increase for the NFL, despite a second straight season of declining ratings, showing that content distributors still view professional football as a must-have property.

"We have been confident in the value of our content," said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Mr. Angiolet said the NFL "remains the marquee sport" for reaching a mass audience. While viewing on traditional platforms is slowing, "the viewership on mobile continues to grow," he said. Verizon also receives commercial inventory to sell on its platforms as part of the contract and will remain an official sponsor of the NFL.

Verizon's properties aren't the only place that cord-cutters will be able to turn for NFL content. The NFL has broadened the number of platforms where its games are available, in an effort to keep up with changing viewing habits among viewers, particularly those in the 18- to 34-year-old demographic. This season, Amazon.com Inc. agreed to pay $50 million to the NFL for rights to stream 10 Thursday night games to its Amazon Prime members.

"It was important to us to make our games more accessible to our fans," Mr. Goodell said. "Verizon understood we needed to go cross-carrier."

The next rights contract that comes up is the Thursday night package, which is currently shared by Comcast Corp.'s NBC, CBS Corp.'s CBS and the NFL-owned NFL Network, along with the Amazon streaming deal. There have been calls for eliminating, or at least reducing, the number of Thursday games, but the NFL hasn't indicated if it would reduce the package. The current pact expires after this season.

The Verizon renewal comes just days after Mr. Goodell signed an extension to remain as commissioner of the league through the 2023 season. That means Mr. Goodell will oversee negotiations of the major broadcast and cable rights deals that pay the league an average of $5 billion annually and are set to expire after the 2021 season.

Corrections & Amplifications Verizon will have the rights to stream Sunday afternoon in-market games on tablets, but not the national prime-time games. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said Verizon would have tablet rights for all of the games to which it acquired mobile streaming rights. (Dec. 11)

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

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

December 12, 2017 02:47 ET (07:47 GMT)