The National Football League figured out a way to spice up one of the least appetizing games on its schedule: put it on the Internet. The NFL announced Wednesday that it will stream its London game online through an exclusive partnership with Yahoo. The contest, an Oct. 25 matchup between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Buffalo Bills, will take place in Wembley Stadium in London, and it will be available across a number of Yahoo’s properties, including Yahoo Screen, Tumblr and Yahoo Sports.
"We're thrilled that the NFL has chosen Yahoo for this historic opportunity," Yahoo President and CEO Marissa Mayer said in a statement. "It marks a significant change in the way users can access this amazing content. The NFL and Yahoo have both long engaged football fans around the world. Our partnership provides the ultimate football experience -- with digital availability, designed for the modern fan."
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell framed the partnership as a move forward. "The NFL has always been committed to being at the forefront of media innovation,” Goodell said in a statement. “We are taking another important step in that direction.”
After many years of caution in the digital space, the NFL has begun to embrace digital and streaming opportunities. It has worked with networks to offer live streams of the Super Bowl since 2013, and since 2010, Verizon Wireless subscribers have been able to watch highlights and specific games on mobile phones and tablets within the United States. The Yahoo partnership will make the game available globally.
The move comes as a bit of a surprise to NFL watchers. When rumors began circulating in February that the league might stream one of its regular-season games, it was widely assumed that it would choose Google’s YouTube as a partner; just weeks before, the NFL had announced a partnership with the company. But the Yahoo partnership allows the league to create a number of streaming experiences.
It also likely allows them to collect a sizable check. Though financial details of the partnership were not made public, media analysts expect that Yahoo paid a substantial amount – well over $1 million – for the rights to stream the game. “The NFL didn’t get where it is by giving things away gratis,” sports media consultant Ed Desser told the New York Times.
The London game, which the NFL has been using for years to try to improve foreign interest in its product, has managed better than decent ratings the past couple of seasons, despite its 9:30 a.m. EDT start time.
Whether this game will serve as a good representation of America’s most popular sport will remain a matter of debate: Last season, the Bills went 9-7, while the Jaguars, who have not qualified for the playoffs since 2007, finished 3-13. Neither team is expected to win its division.