Verizon and the NFL: Pals Now, but What About the Future?

NFL commish Roger Goodell at CES. Credit: Paul Kapustka, Mobile Sports Report

On the surface the appearance of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell at the Verizon CES keynote was all happiness and light, as chairman Rog traded pleasantries with Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam. But if you listened between the lines there was a bit of a disconnect, making us here at MSR wonder how in sync the two current partners will be in the near future.

The two areas where Verizon and the NFL seem headed in different directions are in mobile content delivery and in-stadium wireless networks, two huge matters for both entities. Currently Verizon is the NFL’s exclusive partner for providing mobile access to live NFL games, available only on Verizon devices via the NFLMobile app. Verizon currently can show live games on Thursday nights, Sunday nights and Monday Night Football, as well as the RedZone channel, which shows a lot of live content from games all around the league. Verizon paid something on the order of $700 million for the deal, which is said to expire after next season.

The unexpected appearance of Goodell during McAdam’s speech led us to initially believe there was some renewal announcement in the air — but instead Goodell left without talking about the future of NFL Mobile. Our guess for most of this season is that the NFL wants to take full control of its mobile/digital content offerings and sell them to fans at a steep cost, like Major League Baseball does. The silence in the presence of Verizon’s CEO can’t be good news for the phone carrier.

Likewise, Goodell has said he wants all stadiums in the league to install high-capacity Wi-Fi networks, to better serve fans with mobile content, social media and other connectivity options while they’re at the games. McAdam’s company, unlike its main competitor AT&T, has not made public Wi-Fi a priority and McAdam talked at CES about his hopes to use the company’s new 4G LTE video broadcast tools to help bring fans mobile coverage of events like the Super Bowl. He even made a pass at Goodell, telling the commish on stage that “we’d love to broadcast the big game [Super Bowl] in the 2014 time frame.” Goodell didn’t bite and didn’t comment. That doesn’t sound like much of a deal or even a promise. Akward stuff for a CEO to be floating, in front of thousands of witnesses.

Though we haven’t yet delved fully into how Verizon’s LTE video broadcast technology works, we’re skeptical that it can handle the big traffic demands of a full stadium of mobile users — more than half of whom are likely not Verizon customers and therefore unable to use any Verizon network technologies. Our guess is that the NFL will keep looking to Wi-Fi to solve stadium network issues — leaving Verizon on the sideline.


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