Anyone who has ever tried to watch an illegal stream of a sports event, whether that be boxing, soccer, or the NFL, will know the struggle of having to move between streams, as poor quality link after poor quality link gets taken offline. You would assume that only the most desperate to avoid either paying for a subscription service, or going somewhere that has one, would be willing to endure such an unpleasant and irritating viewing experience, but many do.
The NFL is notoriously reticent to make its games available to the viewing public for anything other than a premium price, making them a prime target for pirates. However, to combat the increase in illegal streaming, and in an attempt to cater to a public for whom the nature of media consumption is changing, they have focused on innovating their business models - apparently softening their stance on free viewing in the process. This week, the sports league announced that they had reached an agreement with CBS Sports which will allow the broadcaster to expand its free coverage to fans who lack even a cable or satellite package.
The NFL ON CBS is to make two regular season games, four playoff games, and Super Bowl 50 available to live stream. Fans will be able to access the games simply by visiting CBSSports.com on their laptops, desktops, connected TV devices and tablets, with no authentication.
The NFL is making some big moves to increase its digital presence, having previously been relatively slow to embrace the online market. They have already seen a substantial amount of success. NBC's streamed games averaged a record 3.3 million unique users last season, a year-on-year increase of 9%, and the league expects an increase of approximately $1 billion in revenue from 2014 to 2015. As part of its new digital focus, it announced in March that Yahoo would screen its first ever digitally-only live broadcast, and will this year roll up all of its subscription offerings into one package called Domestic NFL Game Pass. The Domestic NFL Game Pass will include NFL Game Rewind, NFL Audio Pass, NFL Preseason Live and the subscription portion of the retooled NFL Now, which features NFL Films and other long-form content - all for $99.
The NFL has worked exceptionally hard to make itself as relevant as possible in main-stream media. Every sports media outlet features an NFL related story on a daily basis, so much so that it has become a soap opera with a few games mixed in. Commissioner Goodell has set ambitious goal for 2027 of $25 billion overall revenue, a goal which it is aggressively pursuing. Its increased digital presence should go some way to helping them reach that goal, and its careful and deliberate strategy means that there is still a massive amount of room in the area for it to grow into.