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The NFL, Google TV, and DirecTV’s Death Grip on the Sunday Ticket

If you’ve spent any time with me in person or paying attention to my tweetstream at all (especially on Sundays), you know about my love affair with football, the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens specifically.

I’ve gone nearly 11 years and have been at or watched every Ravens game in that time. I used to watch these games at my home in Baltimore when I was in-market, but then I moved to DC. Oddly (though I do understand the NFL marketing rules), being 45 minutes away put me “out of market” and into Redskins country. Acknowledged.

It began my weekly Sunday tradition of going to local sports bars to watch the game every Sunday. When I was in Virginia, that was the very awesome Crystal City Sports Pub (ask for John, tell him I sent you and order a cup of coffee… watch for his reaction :-p). When I moved back to Maryland, I went to one of several on Sundays.

Now that I’m in Austin, I’m fortunate to find The Tavern which serves as the Ravens Nest in Austin. 50 or so fans, most of whom have roots in Baltimore, show up every week to cheer on our “Death on Wings”.

But here’s the problem. I have Time Warner Cable. I can’t get non-nationally televised games at home. The only way I could would be to switch to DirecTV and pay several hundred dollars for the NFL Sunday Ticket. This is a problem for someone who doesn’t watch much TV anyway, and the TV shows I do watch, I catch on Hulu or TV.com. Sure, I enjoy ESPN SportsCenter when I need to have some noise on in the background so I can get work done, but otherwise, the TV is rarely on.

I’ve got Netflix DVDs and can stream many shows and movies instantly on Netflix to my XBOX 360. With my (free for me) 40″ HDTV, I can stream MLB.tv games, or if I chose, NHL GameCenter games from my laptop direct to my television. I can do the same with NBA Leaguepass (though I won’t because I hate the NBA).

The NFL really offers no option to U.S. customers except via NBC’s live streaming of Sunday Night Football. (Though they did offer Preseason streaming games online – see the picture above).

There is a lot of money tied up in contracts for the transmission and coverage of NFL games. I realize it. But there needs to be a change. Consumers would be thrilled to subscribe to an NFL.tv-style service that would allow them to access their favorite sport online. It could be setup in a variety of ways. The NFL could charge a flat fee of $160 for access to a single team feed with a higher-priced “all access pass” – perhaps $300. They could also charge for a pay-per-view format of $10/game where, if I’m compelled by the Colts-Patriots game, I could purchase a single game pass.

The money will continue to be with DirecTV and I’m not suggesting that their contract should be killed in favor of an all-streaming model. No, in fact, the real money for the NFL Sunday Ticket comes from bars that are paying a premium package to offer all the NFL-licensed content on 50+ TVs. That money will still be there. You could easily restrict distribution and force bars to buy from DirecTV. Money in the bank.

But for consumers, especially those who are fans of teams outside of their market, giving them the opportunity to invest in the NFL, expand distribution, embrace the technology available in 2010, having a streaming option would be a huge WIN.

In fact, I’m willing to bet on a net 10% increase in viewership/subscribers based on this model. At least.

Google TV was just announced the other day. We don’t know much about it yet, but we do know that networks are going to have their own portals. This seems like a great possible partnership for the NFL and Google!

The only question that remains, then, is if the NFL has enough balls to make the big move? I think they need to, lest piracy and viewership decline.

Am I crazy?

Photo by Joel Price

Controlling My Brand

Awhile ago, Chris Brogan wrote a list of 100 Blog Topics he would like to see. When I read those, I started drafts on three of the topics and determined that I would mull them over for awhile and when I felt like I had something worthwhile to say, I’d contribute my thoughts on those topics. A month later, I’m ready to tackle the first topic.

In the past few weeks, there’s been a notable shift here at this blog in what kinds of topics are tackled. The obvious slant is a business related slant. The mind of an entrepreneur. The thoughts of someone who finds the connected dots between the internet and social media tools available to us and business. In some cases, “business” is a vague term that is more aptly “practical common sense”.

We’ve talked a lot about brand recently and well into the past. A vast paradigm shift has occurred quietly and caught PR folks with their pants down. Why? Because a fundamental understanding of brand control is occurring and it’s outside of their control. In the good old days, brand was controlled via territorial trademark lawsuits, licensing provisions and PR firms. A brand was to be trusted because people will willingly become customers of a trusted brand. If you went to Best Buy, you were more likely to buy a Panasonic television at a premium cost point than you were a “generic” brand at half the price. “Panasonic is a great name”, you might have said. I remember going through this same routine in 1993 when purchasing my first CD stereo system. I bought JVC, because the JVC brand was “a good brand”.

In the good old days, brand was all about the corporate message – whether through advertising, press releases or user experience. Today, the only one of those things that matters is the user experience.

Today, organizations like the NFL and others continue heavy-handed brand control not realizing that brand is in the hands of the customers.

Today, brand is a matter of trust. Customers trust a brand because they have good experiences with the brand. The trust the brand, not because of a television commercial, but because they’ve been actively listened to and embraced. Customers who do not trust a brand, will not be customers for long and that hurts the bottom line. Customers who don’t trust the brand have made the brand worthless. Now who’s in the driver’s seat?

After purchasing my JVC CD stereo system in 1993, I had major problems with the internal workings. In dealing with customer service, my experience was soured. In my perception, warranties were not honored. I’ve never bought a piece of JVC equipment since. My trust in them disappeared in one instance. Their brand is worthless to me. Others, in the context of this time this blog has existed, have lost value in their brands as well – DirecTV, Comcast, The Hampton Inn.

For me, my brand is controlled by you – the reader. Additionally, my brand is controlled by other bloggers. My credibility is with those who follow me. I’ve taken the approach that I will engage the community around me because transparency builds trust. Trust builds brand. As trust grows, brand grows. Out of brand comes reach, job opportunities, speaking opportunities, user engagement, subject matter expertise and loyalty.

I’m a firm believer in brand control by engagement. What are your thoughts?

Added: By the way, here’s an example of a local café trying to control their brand in an internet age and having the opposite of their intended effect.