During Roger Goodell's time as the NFL's commissioner, the league has made a lot of moves to expand its brand and increase its reach. But more Thursday games and an expansion of the NFL International Series may pale in comparison to the revenue source that a Week 7 game between the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars could open.
With consumption of television turning increasingly to streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and HBO Go, the NFL has been perfectly fine at negotiating huge deals with networks. But if the NFL's first-ever streaming game is even a mild success, it could open the floodgates for yet another billion-dollar revenue stream.
And giving it a shot couldn't come at a better time.
Bills vs. Jaguars ... who cares?
It's hard to imagine that a game that could go down as one of the most monumental in recent history would be played by the Bills and Jaguars. The Jaguars have 10 wins since the beginning of 2012 and the Bills haven't been to the postseason since 1999.
Neither teams has been particularly good in recent history, and neither are hugely popular. According to The Harris Poll, which ranks each team's popularity, the Jaguars are the NFL's least popular team for the eighth time in the last 10 years, and while the Bills jumped to No. 19, the team has been in the bottom half of the league in popularity since making the playoffs in 1999.
Simply put, it's a boring matchup between two teams that are boring. The Bills are No. 27 in offense and will be missing Tyrod Taylor, Sammy Watkins, Percy Harvin, while the Jaguars are No. 30 in both scoring offense and defense.
So, if things go poorly and the streaming service provided by Yahoo! isn't crisp and hitch-free, how much outrage will there be, really? If the Week 7 game between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants was provided on the Internet, there would be high-stakes for the NFL to get it right, but with the Jaguars and Bills, there's less risk.
But if a game between the Bills and Jaguars does well, the value of bigger matchups in the future will go up.
Early kickoff offers exclusivity
If streaming the Bills and Jaguars was an option at the same time as eight other games kicking off at 1 p.m. ET, it goes without saying that its viewership numbers wouldn't be as strong. If it was in primetime it would either have to compete for coverage with Sunday Night Football or take over a spot which is already doing just fine in the ratings, not that it would be possible to pull those rights from NBC in the first place.
Instead, a 9:30 a.m. ET kickoff gives the game no other NFL competition to deal with. In fact, it's only real competition in terms of Sunday morning sports are Week 7 preview shows.
Those who wake up at 9:30 a.m. on the East Coast or even 6:30 a.m. on the West Coast to watch football are already fans and this game is tailored to that market.
Money has already come in a big way
The NFL announced that the game will feature one fewer commercial break in each quarter, which should cut the total time of the game down by about eight minutes. That didn't slow Yahoo! from having any trouble selling out the ad space for the game, though.
Yahoo! announced on Thursday that it had secured 30 top brands as advertisers for the game, including American Express, Microsoft, Snickers, and Toyota.
Considering Yahoo! spent $20 million for rights to the game, and Netflix has previously insisted that it's not worth it to go after live sports, the ability to sell brands on the product and even get Dairy Queen to sponsor the pregame show and Toyota to sponsor halftime, bodes well for the future of the NFL on streaming services.
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The NFL is calling this streaming game a "test" for the future, and with TV rights for almost every NFL game already booked through 2022, don't expect streaming to overtake DirecTV's Sunday Ticket any time soon. But with Thursday night games on short contracts, Goodell has put the NFL in position to have a huge bidding war for Thursday Night Football and have streaming services in the running.
The success of this "test run" for the NFL is key for that bidding war to hit its maximum, but even if things go south for the league on Sunday, it's still the perfect time to take the risk.