For football fans for whom the ability to watch every NFL game on TV on Sundays isn’t enough, help is on the way. As part of a new four-year, $4 billion deal struck between DirecTV (NYSE: DTV) and the NFL last night, they will now also have the option of getting any game streamed to their laptops.
It represents the first time the NFL has licensed the online rights to its games. Details about what the service — which the DirecTV release said will begin “no later than 2012″ — will look like or where it will be housed online (on the NFL site or a separate URL) were not disclosed. But if the service resembles the free games streamed on NFL.com last season, it’s good news for football fanatics and perhaps DirecTV, who must turn their billion-dollar-a-year investment into paying subscribers. The online NFL service, which streamed Sunday and Thursday games in conjunction with broadcasts on NBC, featured HD full-screen players and the ability to manually change the camera angle at any time during the game.
While the league gave up the online rights, the NFL won the right to create a new channel called “Red Zone Channel” (to be launched in the next couple of years) that shows real-time highlights of NFL games that will be distributed on multiple media, including cable, satellite, online and mobile.
DirecTV previously paid the NFL $700 million for the rights. The 40 percent increase this time around indicates the company believes that online rights will prove to be valuable and that the Sunday Ticket package can lure subscribers away from cable and other satellite TV companies. The move also confirms that media companies are more than willing to continue paying top dollar for popular sports even with few signs of an economic recovery on the horizon; ESPN (NYSE: DIS), NBC, and CBS (NYSE: CBS) all pay between $600 million and $1 billion a year for broadcast rights.