September 9, 2021
Verizon will no longer stream NFL football games to its mobile customers under a new ten-year agreement with the sporting franchise that cost the operator a reported $1 billion.
Instead, Verizon will use the renewed deal to promote its 5G services both inside stadiums and to NFL fans nationwide. Specifically, the NFL named Verizon an "official technology partner" and "the Official 5G Network of the League."
5G "is now a platform for innovation," Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg said of the operator's new deal with the NFL, in comments to CNBC. Vestberg said Verizon will continue to explore new 5G-powered services for fans, athletes and coaches inside stadiums as well as how the technology might bring fans who are outside stadiums closer to the action.
For example, Verizon officials have hinted at technologies that would allow fans to attend games virtually through a virtual reality headset, though that has not yet been offered commercially.
Verizon's move away from streaming NFL games – which stemmed from a deal between the company and the league initially inked a decade ago – comes as little surprise. Verizon recently completed the $5 billion spinoff of its Verizon Media operation to Apollo Global Management, a transaction that essentially formalized the operator's step away from the content and media business. Verizon rival AT&T has made a similar move away from its own WarnerMedia content business, also to focus more closely on its Internet connectivity business.
"The strategy of Verizon is a network as a service," Vestberg explained of the broader strategy that the carrier has been pursuing under his leadership. "That's how we're going to continue to work ... We're confident it [the NFL deal] will give us a good return on investment."
5G for fans and players
Verizon currently operates a millimeter wave (mmWave) 5G network in 25 NFL stadiums across the US. That allows the operator to provide blazing-fast speeds to users inside the venue. However, most of the initial services supported by that network are also available via other technologies, including 4G and Wi-Fi.
Nonetheless, Verizon executives continue to tout services that would be possible only through the combination of advanced technologies including 5G and edge computing. For example, Verizon executives have hinted at offerings that would allow in-stadium attendees to check the length of the line at the bathroom or the food court before leaving their seat. Other services could include real-time facial recognition technology to quickly check on the identity of season ticket holders to allow them entry into the venue rather than forcing them to scan their tickets.
And Verizon has also hinted at 5G-powered services for NFL players and coaches. Already Verizon has demonstrated the effectiveness of such technologies via its work with the NBA's Phoenix Suns on their new training facility.
"Live sports is the most valuable content out there," Vestberg said, noting that Verizon hopes to offer additional augmented and virtual reality services via its NFL deal in the future.
Verizon's new deal with the NFL comes after a season dramatically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The NFL hosted just 1.2 million fans in its stadiums last year, but this year hopes to raise that number back up to 17 million.
"The game is so much better when the fans are in the stadium," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told CNBC, noting that 17 million figure would be higher than the NFL's 2019 season prior to the pandemic. "We think we can manage that," he said in response to questions about the COVID-19 Delta variant.
Interestingly, Goodell also addressed a question about the NFL's recent embrace of sports betting services. "What it will do is create more engagement," Goodell said of such services. He added that the NFL is already seeing an increase in revenue from sports betting.
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