As the NFL continues to branch out globally, alternative distribution models become a must. The NFL already streams games around the world via its premium NFL GamePass service, but 2015 will mark the first time the NFL streams games domestically in the US, and freely in other markets, with the International Series games in London slated as the testing ground.
Until recently, US fans had a relatively limited choice when it came to watching NFL games. While local games are usually shown on free-to-air TV networks like Fox and CBS, fans of teams outside of their geographic area were usually limited to expensive cable packages, like NFL Sunday Ticket, using VPNs and Smart DNS services to bypass restrictions, and purchase NFL GamePass, or turning to low quality illegal streams on services like UStream and Justin.TV.
And while NFL GamePass is a great service for dedicated fans around the world, it too is expensive, somewhat limited, and does very little to grow the global brand.
So for the first time ever, in 2015, the NFL will be experimented with free, worldwide streaming of games, and the NFL London “International Series” games appear set to become the showcase for this new distribution model.
Recently, the official Buffalo Bills PR account tweeted that their game in London against the Jacksonville Jaguars will “mark the first-time the NFL will use a distributor other than a TV network for a national game.”
While it didn’t specify what distributor, specifically, talks had reportedly already taken place between the NFL and Google about the tech giant, which owns the YouTube video service, taking over from Sunday Ticket from DirecTV, until the Satellite broadcaster upped its game, adding limited streaming to its current offering.
Additionally, the NFL has a partnership with Microsoft, through their Xbox one, and Microsoft are hoping that their Xbox Video service will become another dominant player in the emerging digital video space.
Additionally, NeuLion, who currently provide streaming services for the NFL GamePass service would undoubtedly be in contention for providing video, as would the new NFL Now service.
However, whichever service the league choose, this represents a huge step forward in terms of worldwide, online distribution, and also represents a major win for London, whose games will be available to watch around the world.
Although the game will be shown on traditional platforms in Buffalo and Jacksonville, as well as in the UK, the game, which will air at 9:30 in the morning (Eastern time) in the USA, will not be part of any other national broadcast. It will not be shown on any national TV channel, nor will it be included in the NFL Sunday Ticket package. The only way to watch the game—which will be the only NFL game taking place in the time slot—will be through whichever digital broadcaster wins the right, making it a very lucrative contract.
However, the bigger win is for fans. As the league moves away from traditional national broadcast mediums like Network TV, Cable and Satellite, and dips its toe in the water, however tentatively, with global digital broadcasting, fans of the sport around the world draw closer and closer to more affordable, less limited broadcasting of their favourite sport. Make an effort to make this game a success, watch it online if you can so the NFL know that fans want this.