NFL, Verizon announce new deal to bring live games to all mobile customers via Yahoo

The NFL and Verizon announced a deal Monday that will provide live streaming of in-market and national NFL games to any mobile device regardless of carrier, mainly via Verizon’s Yahoo and Yahoo Sports platforms. The service is set to be available in January, for streaming of this year’s NFL playoffs.

According to the Wall Street Journal the deal is $2 billion for 5 years. Under the new plan Verizon has lost its former exclusive deal for mobile devices — a 4-year, $1 billion deal that was up after this season — for the ability to show more NFL games to a potentially much larger audience via Yahoo. Verizon said it will also make the games available via its g090 platform, as well as the NFL Mobile app. [Our friend Todd Spangler over at Variety has a good recap of the deal with more programming details.]

The games available look to be the same ones Verizon had via the NFL Mobile app — mainly any “national” games (including Thursday night, Sunday night and Monday night games) as well as local-market games. The plan will also include playoff games and the Super Bowl.

Also not yet known is whether or not Verizon will continue to make live NFL action free of data charges to its customers. For the past two seasons Verizon has promoted the no-data-charges option but has also run into many issues with the implementation, with many fans reporting inconsistent experiences around whether or not their accounts were charged data when they shouldn’t have been. When asked if the data-free plan would continue under the new deal, a Verizon spokesperson said Monday “we have not disclosed that information yet.”

According to the NFL the new deal does NOT include streaming of the NFL Network’s popular RedZone channel, which shows an unending stream of commercial-free live look-ins at all NFL games. For the past two seasons, RedZone access has been available to Verizon customers via the NFL Mobile app for an extra $1.99 per month charge. According to the NFL the RedZone mobile access plan for next season has yet to be determined.

Wi-Fi, new app features a welcome addition at historic Saratoga Race Course

Horses round the turn at Saratoga Race Course. Credit all photos: Saratoga Race Course.

Just because a sporting venue is old and historic doesn’t mean it has to stay behind the times. The welcome arrival this year at the famed Saratoga Race Course of a high-density Wi-Fi network and a new mobile app with services including live video, express food ordering and mobile betting was a winner for all fans, according to racetrack executives.

“I’m pretty proud of Saratoga — we’ve got history, tradition, and now the 21st Century,” said Bob Hughes, vice president and chief information officer for the New York Racing Association, which runs thoroughbred racing at the Saratoga Springs, N.Y.-based Saratoga as well as at Aqueduct Racetrack and Belmont Park. The new Wi-Fi network, which was fully installed for Saratoga’s 2017 season, “was a wild success for us,” Hughes said. “The fans were engaged, and the media noticed.”

Saratoga’s summer schedule — a tradition in upstate New York since racing first happened there in 1863 — is one of the more revered happenings on the horse-racing schedule, and the Race Course grounds are widely admired as one of the best experiences in sports. But up until a few years ago, that experience didn’t have much in the way of wireless connectivity, an issue Hughes said the NYRA started working on to correct after the 2015 season.

More mobility for race fans

With an executive direction to bring more mobility, access and convenience to fans, Saratoga started down the path that ended with a network using 220 Ruckus access points, Kezar scanners and a new app designed by VenueNext, and 1,000 bluetooth beacons from Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, to support wayfinding and other services. With more than 48,000 client user sessions on one of the summer’s busiest days — the Aug. 26 Travers Day — and an average of more than 1 terabyte of traffic each day, the new network at Saratoga was an instant hit, and something likely to keep the old venue even more relevant to a new generation of racing fans.

“The New York Racing Association was pleased this year to introduce cutting edge technology to Saratoga Race Course, the oldest active sporting venue in America,” said NYRA CEO and president Chris Kay in a prepared statement. “Given our ever growing reliance on mobile devices, these improvements are critical to the long-term success and sustainability of Saratoga.”

The unique schedule of Saratoga — 40 days of racing in the summer — also means some long days of races, with fans at the track from before noon until 7 p.m. some days, Hughes said. With the new network and app in place, those fans can not only stay connected to their outside lives, but they can also watch live and archived racing videos, pre-order concessions for express pickup, and even place bets from their mobile device.

“With 25 or 30 minutes between races, you now see a lot of people watching replays of former races” to gain betting insights, Hughes said. And that connectivity even extends from the racetrack seating areas out to the track’s famed picnic grounds, where Hughes said Saratoga deployed “mushroom” looking AP enclosures that put antennas at waist level, to bring connectivity close to the seating areas.

From the more than 1 million fans who attended races this season, Hughes said the Wi-Fi network saw pretty consistent take rates of 25 percent of fans present on the network at any given time. Having that wireless connectivity to outside lives as well as to tap into venue amenities, Hughes said, “takes any stress away.”

Verizon correcting bills to make sure NFL streaming is really ‘free’

Screen Shot 2016-09-09 at 10.29.06 PMIf you are a Verizon Wireless customer who rejoiced at the announcement earlier this fall that the wireless carrier wouldn’t charge for data used for watching live NFL action via its NFL Mobile app, you can stay happy — even if you do initially see some data charges on your monthly bill.

After being alerted by a Mobile Sports Report reader that data charges were still showing up after a user watched some NFL games, we asked Verizon if their promotion was up and working. According to an email response from an unnamed Verizon authority, it appears that while Verizon was making the NFL action free, the streaming of ads was not — but never fear, Verizon said it is crediting users’ bills for any ads watched while watching football via the NFL Mobile app.

Here is the official response we got from Verizon’s PR company, attributed to “someone at Verizon” (seriously, that’s how it was worded to us):

“The NFL live games are automatically zero rated so they won’t count against customer’s data. Ads during the games are not, but we are issuing customers additional data (1GB or more depending on each customer’s NFL streaming) or post bill credits to cover the usage incurred from the ads. That process is disclosed in the disclaimers and the bonus data is issued automatically when a customer streams an NFL live game. We are monitoring this closely to make sure all customers do get a truly free NFL experience with a combination of automatic zero rating, additional data or bill credits as needed.”

As you continue to watch for free maybe give a shout out to Gary for spending 40 minutes on the phone with Verizon customer support, a painful experience we know well. Anyone else still seeing data charges for football with no refunds, let us know.

Twitter’s NFL streaming debut fails on Tweet front; will AT&T and Verizon eventually dominate mobile device NFL streaming?

Twitter’s debut in live-streaming NFL games had good video, but the accompanying Twitter feed — which users couldn’t configure — left many observers wanting more. Will Twitter ever be able to deliver, or will physics keep Twitter from being able to add anything special to mobile-device sports streaming? In the latest STADIUM TECH REPORT PODCAST, co-hosts Phil Harvey and Paul Kapustka dissect Twitter’s streaming issues, and wonder when people will realize that AT&T and Verizon may be the eventual winners in the NFL streaming battle with their Sunday Ticket and NFL Mobile platforms. Listen now!

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PODCAST:

Here is the link to the podcast on iTunes!

Verizon drops data charges for live NFL streaming via NFL Mobile app

Screen Shot 2016-09-09 at 10.28.58 PMAre you ready for football? And are you ready for cellular company wars around viewing football on your phone? Verizon kicked off the 2016 NFL season with an announcement Friday that it would no longer charge its customers for data used while watching live NFL games via the NFL Mobile app, perhaps the biggest sign that the battle we predicted is now fully underway.

From our perspective, some of the most-read stories in Mobile Sports Report history have been posts wondering about how much data customers might use watching a live football game on their phones. The answer now, for Verizon LTE customers, is easy: It’s zero. You will still need to pay $1.99 a month this fall to watch RedZone on your phone (to us, RedZone is even better than specific live games), but watching the live local and national-broadcast games (like Sunday night games and Monday Night Football) won’t chew up any of the gigabytes in your data plan.

Whether or not this type of “free programming” will spark any net neutrality debate is best left for other outlets, though it’s hard to think of a type of programming more popular than live NFL action. In the meantime, our guess is that the wildly popular NFL Mobile app (Verizon never releases figures on how many users it has for NFL Mobile, but if you start your guessing between 5 and 10 million you might not be far off) will get even more popular, and the promotion should help sell a lot of fence-sitters this weekend on buying with Verizon, just to get even the app’s limited NFL schedule for basically free.

The promotion may not even cost Verizon much when it comes to minutes, since many NFL Mobile veterans I know (some of whom are already tweeting in agreement to the next statement) almost always seek a Wi-Fi connection when they are streaming NFL Mobile games, because better bandwidth and no data charges. But it’s a hell of a selling point and one we kind-of predicted when we foresaw cell-phone NFL battles between Verizon and its NFL Mobile deal and AT&T’s new ownership of Sunday Ticket thanks to its DirecTV purchase. Too bad the user numbers aren’t ever made public, because it’d be cool to see how many fans are streaming NFL action live on their phones.

We still haven’t been able to get an answer from the NFL or Verizon on another rumor we heard this summer, that RedZone action would be available for free to any fans inside NFL stadiums on game days. Many stadiums already have that ability via apps built by YinzCam, which has a rights agreement with the NFL to allow RedZone viewing in some stadiums. Maybe MSR readers across the country could chime in on whether or not they can see RedZone at their stadium, and we can crowd-source a list. Or we could all just watch more football. Stay tuned, because it’s our guess that this won’t be the last you hear on this front this season.

Remember: You can’t watch NFL Mobile live games on your tablet, because Verizon’s rights package only includes cellular phone-type devices. And be prepared for service to suck this Sunday, because these opening-day things never seem to work out for Verizon and the NFL. Don’t say you weren’t warned!

Why did Olympics streaming soar, and broadcast TV fail? Podcast episode No. 7 explores why online sports is winning

The drop in prime-time TV viewership for the recent Rio Olympics was a bit of a head-scratcher for many, especially in light of the soaring numbers for online viewership of the same games on various streaming outlets. In the STADIUM TECH REPORT PODCAST episode 7, hosts Phil Harvey and Paul Kapustka explore and explain why this shift from scripted to live happened, and what it means for all types of live sports content going forward. Give it a listen now!

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PODCAST:

Here is the link to the podcast on iTunes!