The National Football League (NFL) and private equity firm RedBird Capital are creating a joint ventured aimed at offering live sports over the Internet to commercial establishments like bars and restaurants.
The joint venture will explore ways to offer live NFL games and possibly other sports to business customers following the expiration of DirecTV’s deal for the NFL Sunday Ticket, which is moving to Google’s YouTube and YouTube TV later this year.
Bars, restaurants, hotels and other businesses have traditionally signed up for cable or satellite service to offer live sports within their establishments. For bars and restaurants, the draw of live sports on TV can help bring in customers, which leads to more food and drink sales.
Streaming presents a unique challenge for these businesses: The issue of latency across various services, coupled with sometimes unreliable Internet connections, can make streaming live sports within a business a difficult task to achieve, if not entirely impossible.
For this reason, deals allowing some traditional pay television services to offer live sports to business customers have been hammered out over the last few years. When Amazon’s Prime Video was awarded the exclusive rights to Thursday Night Football last year, the league and Amazon inked a deal with DirecTV to continue offering those telecasts over satellite, but only to business subscribers. A similar agreement was reached with Major League Soccer and DirecTV last month.
The NFL’s joint venture with RedBird, first reported Tuesday by the Wall Street Journal, seems to suggest the professional football brand isn’t interested in hammering out a deal with a traditional broadcaster for Sunday Ticket. Instead, the league apparently feels businesses are ready to tap into streaming sports.
The joint venture, called EverPass, is likely to be awarded the rights to NFL Sunday Ticket for commercial establishments, which are valued at $200 million on an annual basis and are separate from the NFL’s deal with YouTube.
Few details were available in the Journal’s report on how the NFL and RedBird will offer streaming sports to businesses through EverPass, but it could involve creating a streaming television product that is sold directly to businesses and bundled with a per-month or per-year subscription for live football and whatever other sports EverPass is able to secure the rights to.
With the start of the new NFL season less than six months away, it isn’t clear that EverPass will be up and running in time for bars, restaurants and other businesses to stream live, out-of-market football games through Sunday Ticket. Realistically, any streaming hardware and associated subscription created by EverPass is probably still a year or two away.
In the meantime, the NFL — on its own or through EverPass — could still award the commercial rights to NFL Sunday Ticket to a legacy pay television provider while EverPass is in development. That will almost certainly be DirecTV, since most bars and restaurants already have existing satellite hardware that was previously needed to offer Sunday Ticket to customers in their establishments.
The Journal noted that EverPass will be spearheaded by Derek Chang and Alex Kaplan, veteran media executives who both worked at DirecTV and were instrumental in nurturing DirecTV’s deal with the NFL for Sunday Ticket during their time there. The hiring of Chang and Kaplan for EverPass lends even more credibility to the notion that DirecTV could still offer Sunday Ticket to business customers for a limited time until EverPass is ready. (Editor’s note: After this story was first published, a spokesperson for DirecTV confirmed it is actively discussing ways to secure NFL Sunday Ticket rights for business subscribers.)
The idea behind EverPass is to create a one-stop shop for all types of streaming sports event, including live football. Executives at EverPass say the current landscape of offering live sports across multiple apps and pay TV providers might work for people who watch live TV at home, but isn’t best suited for businesses.
“Having six different apps on three different televisions is not really a solution that scales,” Kevin LaForce, the managing director at RedBird, told the Journal in an interview.
To that end, EverPass doesn’t want to compete with streaming services like Apple TV Plus, YouTube TV and Amazon Prime Video who spend billions securing live sports rights to offer to individuals. Instead, EverPass wants to exist as a last-mile solution that can address the needs of enterprise customers who want public performance rights to live sports within their businesses.
That could make EverPass an attractive option for other professional sports leagues — including baseball, basketball, hockey and tennis — who may want to offer streaming sports as an option to business customers without having to create or launch their own product.