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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

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Allow me to Complain…

Festivus was the other day, the traditional day that people “air their grievances”. Since I did not do that but I seem to be a bit fired up today, I’m going to separate from the normal informative, intellectual articles that would normally go up here, and instead rant a bit. Because there are a lot of things to rant about and I believe very good reasons for those rants to come. If you will allow me…

The Rooney Rule

The Rooney rule in the NFL is a rule that requires an NFL team to interview at least one minority candidate for an NFL coaching position before it can be filled. The principle is clear… there are not enough opportunities for minority coaching candidates so the NFL mandates the requirement.

The problem is, it does no good. It has become a thing of bureaucratic obstacles and a checklist item for franchises. Take the case of the Washington Redskins who are likely to fire head coach Jim Zorn in the next week after yet another abysmal performance.

During the preliminary process of hiring a new coach, the Redskins interviewed Skins Secondary coach Jerry Gray. Cool, cool. Except that it seems to have been done to fill a quota (yes, I used the Q word). Gray is not likely to get the job and probably never was likely to get the job but it was required that the Redskins interview a minority. Even the front page teaser of the article on NFL.com suggests the process is a quota-based process with the phrase, “Skins Interview Gray, Satisfy Rooney Rule”. Duh?

Search Neutrality

Search Neutrality is the bastard half-child of Net Neutrality. Net Neutrality, for context, is the Internet policy argument that states that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should not be able to offer preferential treatment to higher paying customers. First let me go on record to say that I don’t necessarily support net neutrality, though there should be some regulation around Internet service provisions because it affects more that just carriers pissing among themselves.

Though I am not a fan of unfettered capitalism (thus my support for some regulation around net neutrality), two or more companies trying to make money should be able to create incentives to customers that would provide better services (or preferred service, if you will) to better (or more high paying) customers. This has existed forever. You have Airline frequent flier miles. You have Premium accounts over basic accounts. You have different versions of operating systems offering better features. Etc. Etc. Etc. The Internet is not a Constitutionally protected right and is subject to the laws of competition and capitalism.

Which brings me back to search neutrality. There is some buzz around the idea that there should be regulation around search engines that would prevent search providers (Google, Bing, etc) from having editorial policy (read: search algorithms) that provide more favorable treatment to some publishers over others. Or would prevent search providers from supplying paid placement opportunities to publishers in an agnostic fashion.

This, on its face, is wrong. Yet don’t underestimate some guy who has no idea how to organically grow search result placements (SERPs) to try to rally support from the ignorant to punish the evil empires of Microsoft and Google for exercising capitalistic rights and sound business opportunities. Let me be clear, any kind of neutrality buzzword derives from the inability of some to compete on merit in a marketplace. Can’t get SERPs… smack Google with a search neutrality policy that makes everyone, everywhere completely equal while we eat fruit from trees while riding our unicorns. It doesn’t happen this way, people. Competition is created by innovation and capitalism. Survival of the fittest.

The Washington Redskins Crowd-sourcing Their Games

A week before the start of the NFL 2009 season, Cincinnati Bengals Wide Reciever-turned-parttime-kicker, Chad Ochocino, tweeted to his fans that he was going to delete his Twitter account due to strict NFL rules. Of course he didn’t, and Ochocinco, always a showman, used it to deliver more buzz around his ego.

However, the NFL rules around social media are draconian and many inside the league know this. Earlier this month, they released an updated policy that bars players and their agents from tweeting up to 90 minutes before or after a game. Members of the press are not allowed to tweet during the game either or risk having their credentials revoked.

This is the landscape in the most popular sporting league in the nation. The NFL has enjoyed widespread success through control mechanisms like blackout rules that prevent a team from having home games aired in local television markets if the game isn’t sold out 72 hours before gametime. Though most home games league-wide are sold out, the recession has caused some teams, like the Jacksonville Jaguars, to not be able to sell out.

2897040936_c9546b9679This is what the Washington Redskins face who, on Sunday, will open their first home game at FedEx Field and will be encouraging fans to tweet during the game. The new effort comes as part of a renovation of the Club Level and embracing of social media, Redskins VP of eCommerce and Web Strategy, Shripal Shah, tells me. In this new club level will be the game on massive HD televisions surrounded by live-streams of Redskin fan reaction to the game, but reactions will also be online for fans not in the club level.

The Redskins hope to get reaction from all fans through a new site called Redskins Twackle that does more than just pull tweets having a #redskins hash tag. In addition, they are pushing an iPhone App that will help crowdsource this data into the Redskins Twackle site.

Twackle is not a Redskins technology. Twackle is a product of XTreme Labs and is billed as “Your sports bar in the Twittersphere”.

While it’s not entirely clear what this play will do for new media in the NFL, it will be interesting to see how the League reacts.

* Image Credit: Mad_African78 on Flickr

Update:
The Twackle app in the iTunes store is not an official Redskins Twackle app. It is a generic app released by Octagon, not Xtreme Labs. Commenter Lahne notes that the NFL social media policy is slightly different than what I listed here. For the breakdown, see Tailgate365.