One of the most asked questions in this corner of the sports world is when one of the major professional sports leagues takes a leap with one of the top digital brand and agrees to a rights deal not with ESPN, but with Google, Apple, or Yahoo.  That day is coming much closer than we may have thought.  At least in part.

Roger Goodell dropped a bit of a mini-bombshell during his Super Bowl press conference when he floated the idea that the league was keen on streaming at least one game over-the-top this year on a digital platform.  Sports Business Journal has more details on that indeed being a reality:

The NFL is preparing to negotiate with digital companies (think Google, YouTube or Yahoo) to distribute one 2015 regular-season game via an “over-the-top” webcast.

Goodell surprised media executives during Super Bowl week when he announced plans to stream a game next season over-the-top.

“It would be carried on broadcast stations in both team markets, but it would also reach a worldwide audience, including millions of homes that do not have traditional television service,” Goodell said during his annual state of the league presser.

NFL executives are convinced they will be able to find a willing partner to buy the rights. “It would have to be a partner who would get behind it promotionally and make sure that people are aware that the game’s available and be able to reach a big audience,” said Hans Schroeder, NFL senior vice president of media strategy, business development and sales.

What would be the motivation for doing just one game over the top and embracing only a skosh of the digital revolution?  Think of it as a test drive.  Before the NFL would want to air a more complete package with a digital partner, they better be sure one game works first.  The NFL would be wise to investigate if there’s a streaming video platform that could handle the bandwidth of an NFL-sized audience.

As for which game it will be? One of the three 9:30 AM ET windows from London makes the most sense, not just for an American audience, but for a worldwide audience as well.

As for which game gets streamed? The most likely scenario would be one of the three London games on the 2015 schedule, which start at 9:30 a.m. ET. The NFL has not made a final decision, but sources say it is looking closely at the Bills-Jaguars game in London on Oct. 25.

While I can’t imagine there’s going to be scores of NFL fans stateside waking up early Sunday morning and heading to their iPads to catch a Bills-Jags tilt (although curiosity, fantasy football, and our nation’s obsession with football would do enough), this would be huge for the NFL’s reach across the globe.  Think of all the viewers the league could theoretically reach with a live, free, streaming game across the world.

The future of sports and entertainment is in digital.  And in spite of all Roger Goodell’s infamous missteps as commissioner there’s one thing he is still good at – making the league and its owners an insane amount of cash.  There would certainly be some particulars that need to be hammered out for this to become a reality – which digital platform the league will partner with, how fans will gain access to the game, and whether or not the league would need to compensate its television partners in any way.  However, this is a very forward thinking move from the NFL.  Expect it to be only the beginning as more leagues experiment with going over the top.

[Sports Business Journal]

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