“We are selling one audience, no matter where they watch our content,” Cordella said.
Like previous agreements with Amazon, Twitter and Yahoo, the new Verizon agreement illustrates the N.F.L.’s proclivity to push the envelope to broaden its reach, especially among younger viewers, who may not have a pay television subscription, even if it means potentially angering its television partners as they approach the start of negotiations for new deals.
In a statement announcing the deal, N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league was thrilled to get more deeply involved with digital distribution.
“Live N.F.L. action directly on your mobile device — regardless of carrier — will give millions of fans additional ways to follow their favorite sport,” Goodell said.
Since 2010, Verizon mobile customers have been able to stream N.F.L. games for free through the N.F.L. Mobile app.
The deal potentially allows Verizon, and the N.F.L., to reach more people, but also does away with what made the previous agreements so lucrative for Verizon: Exclusivity. When signing an extension of the mobile agreement in 2013, Verizon executives said that the number of subscribers the N.F.L. Mobile app helped retain, or add, contributed to the company’s decision to re-sign.
Now Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile customers will also be allowed to stream N.F.L. games, as long as they go to Verizon-owned apps or websites.
Over the past few years, Verizon has acquired a spate of digital media companies, including paying more than $9 billion combined to buy AOL and Yahoo, a sign of the company’s growing ambitions at becoming a digital media powerhouse able to challenge the likes of Google and Facebook for advertising dollars.
There are some protections for traditional broadcast partners built into the agreement, which does not extend to streaming on tablets or through smart televisions.
For the N.F.L., the deal is surely a short-term win. Verizon is paying nearly double the amount of money each year and doesn’t retain exclusivity over the games, though they are adding a number of sponsorship benefits. But long-term it seems certain to allow for further erosion of pay television subscriptions, and it will challenge the N.F.L.’s partners in legacy media, who are already facing two straight years of declining ratings.
The N.F.L.’s broadcast agreements all expire after the 2022 season. With ratings trending downward and digital rights giants, such as Netflix, Facebook, Amazon and Google, so far balking at paying hundreds of millions, or billions, for sports rights, the N.F.L. could soon be in for a round of tense negotiations.