NFL Brings In Verizon for New Mobile App, Partnership

When it comes to new media, the NFL has traditionally been more protective of its content than other leagues. Through a new partnership with Verizon, however, the league is letting its guard down, allowing mobile access to its Sunday games for the first time. After a five-year partnership with Sprint, the NFL has called an audible, tapping Verizon Wireless as the new provider of NFL Mobile.

“We do not believe that mobile video will replace your home television in the foreseeable future,” says Brian Rolapp, SVP of media strategy for the NFL. “We still think the best place to experience NFL football is first to buy a ticket, second on your high-definition television, and then the other mediums. But we think mobile video is only going to grow and get better, and I’m really excited to participate in that.”

Right in the Zone With RedZone
The new four-year agreement makes Verizon the NFL’s official wireless-service sponsor and gives fans more video on their phones than ever before — including the NFL Network channel, live streams of NBC’s Sunday Night Football broadcasts, and the NFL Network’s signature RedZone channel, which is a perfect play for mobile.

“I’m most excited about the RedZone,” Rolapp says. “I think that is a wonderful application tailor-made for mobile users.”

The league-owned RedZone channel, which debuted last season, shows highlights as they happen, including side-by-side whip-around action from all of the games at 1 and 4 p.m. on Sundays. The channel constantly moves among scoring plays, turnovers, and other plays of interest as they happen. Mobile users will not be able to see the full games from those 1:00 and 4:00 windows, but they will get the key action and scoring plays, including all of the downs within the red zone.

“That is a great product for mobile, where your attention span is a lot different from when you’re sitting in front of your 55-in. plasma,” Rolapp says. “The RedZone is designed for that.”

In addition to the RedZone channel, the NFL Mobile application on Verizon will include full-game broadcasts of the Thursday-night games on NFL Network (which begin halfway through the season) and Sunday-night games on NBC.

“Of the 256 regular-season games, Verizon will have in-depth coverage for the whole game for all but 17, the Monday-night games,” Rolapp explains. “That means 92% of regular-season football will be there exclusively for Verizon subscribers on a wireless platform. That’s pretty powerful.”

First-Time Mobile Access
This deal with Verizon marks the first time the league has allowed mobile access to its games on Sunday afternoons, but Rolapp is confident that distributing live games on mobile will not cannibalize television ratings, which hit new highs last season. The draw here, he points out, is mobility.

“When you can’t get a ticket and you’re not home and you can’t see the highlights of the game, the fact that you can take that with you is very powerful,” he explains. “By definition, it’s incremental consumption from what we have today. We think this will just increase the consumption of football by taking advantage of the mobility of wireless.”

In addition to live game action, Verizon’s NFL Mobile application will also offer game highlights and on-demand video, featuring analysis and access from NFL Network and NFL Films; live radio broadcasts of every game for both home and away teams; fantasy news and statistics; and customizable NFL alerts, ringtones, and graphics.

Draft-Time Kickoff
The application will roll out in time for the NFL Draft April 22-24, offering fans a live stream of NFL Network’s coverage of the draft, on-demand video from NFL Network analysts, a pick-by-pick tracker updated in real time, and bios, profiles, and news on all of the prospects.

“Our season really starts this time of year, when you have the Combine and then the draft,” Rolapp explains. “We aim at the draft as the true kickoff of the new season.”

Staying Exclusive
The NFL’s mobile strategy has always been an exclusive one. The league partnered exclusively with Sprint when it rolled out its mobile application in 2005 and decided to continue with an exclusive arrangement this time around.

“When you combine some of the best content you can get from the NFL with the ability to market it on an exclusive basis versus your competitors, you create a pretty powerful combination,” Rolapp says. “When you look at where the money’s being made in wireless, the carriers are still making all the money. We help our partners compete in that area and the exclusive deal works for us.”

Once the exclusivity decision had been made, the NFL had to pick a partner, and Verizon’s combination of marketing expertise and handheld investment made the company a solid fit.

“Verizon is very good at marketing and talking to not only their current subscribers but subscribers they’re trying to acquire,” Rolapp says. “They’re investing a lot in handsets in their network, and we liked that because our fans are demanding and we care about how our content is displayed and packaged.”

Those handsets include BlackBerry and Android phones and Windows mobile devices. The service will be available over the 3G network and will not necessarily require a gadget upgrade. Verizon expects to release pricing on the service in the coming weeks.

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