Today’s announcement that NBC and CBS will split the rights to Thursday Night Football seemed to make everyone happy. NBC and CBS both get additional games, the NFL Network gets to simulcast all of them along with an eight-game schedule exclusive to the league-owned network. But the deal leaves out perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Thursday Night Football package: online streaming.
In a statement released Monday, the NFL said that it was in “active discussions with prospective digital partners” for online streaming rights. A deal with Yahoo, which broadcast this year’s Bills-Jaguars game from London exclusively, Facebook, Amazon, or YouTube could happen this year. The company which obtains these rights is going to be of much greater interest to some — especially millennials and cord cutters — than which network is carrying the banner of Thursday Night Football.
Online streaming is seen as the next treasure chest for the leagues. Having already started to reach into that market with the Yahoo game this fall with success, the NFL is primed to capitalize on it. The benefits of streaming–making the games available to cord cutters at home and international fans without the ability to watch–makes it a potential gold mine that the NFL has not yet cashed in on. With more and more people cutting the cord, this is a market that the NFL, and other leagues, will need to get in on sooner rather than later. Whoever winds up with this package is going to help to define how people watch sports for years to come.