Last football season marked the first time the NFL sold the rights to stream an entire game for free over the top. The buyer was Yahoo the game was played in London, and the grand experiment generally went off without a hitch, though some debated the level of success in the aftermath of the stream. Yahoo, parent company of Yahoo Finance, said 15.2 million people tuned in to the stream at least once, and that an average 2.35 million people were watching at any moment.
Now the NFL has decided that one good turn deserves another, or many more: The league is selling streaming rights to its Thursday Night Football (TNF) games as an additional digital package, separate from the TV deals it announced in February. (On TV, CBS will show five of the TNF games, NBC will show five, and NFL Network will show eight.) The NFL has also said it will sell streaming rights to all three of next season's London games. That's 21 games total. It will likely sell the Thursday Night games as a separate package from the Sunday morning London games, but it could give them all to a single provider if the price is right.
The process has prompted a slew of reports about various companies showing interest, from more traditional cable giants like Verizon (VZ) to tech companies like Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOGL), and Amazon (AMZN). This month, Facebook (FB) reportedly jumped in as well. And this week, in an interview with Variety, VP of partnerships Dan Rose confirmed Facebook's interest.
Each of the interested parties brings a different audience to the table, and has a different reason why streaming NFL games would appeal to it. The question now becomes which one will cough up the most for the rights. All the NFL has said on the matter is this, in its announcement last month of the final Thursday Night Football deals: "The NFL is in active discussions with prospective digital partners for OTT [over-the-top] streaming rights to Thursday Night Football. A deal announcement is expected in the near future.”
Nothing is stopping the NFL from having multiple streaming partners, just as it has multiple cable partners. Sources tell Yahoo Finance that any number of combinations is possible: The league could divvy up the TNF games, selling some to one partner and some to another; it could sell all the TNF games to one company but divide up the London games; it could even add some of the rare Saturday games that happen late in the season. Sources also say there are companies in talks with the NFL that have not yet been named in the press—it's easy to imagine, say, ESPN being in the mix, or Twitter, which has implemented a rash of new features in the last year as Wall Street has pressured it to grow its user base. The league can end up with any mix it likes.