During Yahoo/Verizon’s presentation about its NFL streaming strategy this spring, young New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold offered some insight into Generation Z.
Watching NFL games on your phone is a natural, said the 22-year old Darnold, because his friends spend all day on their devices anyway. With Yahoo Sports extending its live NFL streaming rights into its mobile Fantasy Football app for the first time, the sky’s the limit this season according to Geoff Reiss, general manager of Yahoo Sports.
The veteran media executive bullishly predicts Yahoo Sports will double its NFL revenue in 2019 as today’s younger, on-the-go football fans watch more games on their mobile devices.
As a result of Verizon’s $2.5 billion, five-year deal with the NFL in late 2017, Yahoo was already streaming live NFL games for free, including local, prime time and playoff games as well as the Super Bowl.
This season’s edition of the fantasy app will allow Yahoo to also stream these games to its seven million weekly fantasy football players. As well as better target 40 million fantasy football players in the U.S. There’s no subscription required. As long as users download the Yahoo app, they can watch on smartphones and mobile devices.
“We believe it will play a significant role in being able to expand the reach and the number of fans we are able to deliver NFL games to every week,” said Reiss, who launched the ESPN.com and NFL.com web sites while working for Paul Allen’s Starwave in the 1990s.
“These are the largest group of the most dedicated NFL fans out there. So we’re excited to be able to improve what we really think is the best fantasy app in the industry with the addition of the NFL games,” he said.
Ask a fantasy football aficionado their favorite time of the year and many will say their annual draft, said Reiss. So Yahoo is rolling out a new fantasy product called Best Ball, which does away with trades and week-to-week roster management in favor of the fun and excitement of drafting.
“It kind of sucks you only get to (draft) in August — and don’t get to do it again,” he noted. “Best Ball is really about providing fans the opportunity to just continually draft and challenge themselves with the idea: Are they getting any smarter? Are they getting any more successful?”
Nothing stays the same in sports media. Yahoo might be smartly positioning itself in the right place at precisely the right time, say sports business experts.
Americans watch 5% less TV every year, according to Brian Rolapp, the NFL’s executive vice president of media. At the same, they’re watching more videos on their mobile devices and online. That’s where tech giants like Yahoo come into play.
Yahoo’s research shows are NFL fans are 12 to 13 years younger on average than the league’s graying TV audience, according to Reiss. That gives Yahoo a better shot at reaching cord-cutters and cord-never’s who aren’t playing by TV’s normal rules.
Almost 60% of the live stream audience on the Yahoo Sports app is 39 years old or younger, with each unique user averaging 41 minutes on the app. Roughly 75% of those who stream return week after week. The app boasts an ad completion rate of 90%.
A big NFL season would also nicely position Yahoo for a run at bigger and better game rights when the league’s TV deals come up for bid in 2021-2022. The NFL’s current TV partners like ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro admit they’ll have to fend off tech giants in the coming years. If Yahoo proves it can unlock the key to younger TV viewers, NFL shot callers like Rolapp will listen closely.
Yahoo advertisers have taken note. Buffalo Wild Wings has come in as a new sponsor this season. Pizza Hut is back for an advertising encore.
Given the growth of fantasy football, Professor Steve Miller of Rutgers University believes Yahoo can hit its goal of 100% NFL revenue growth this year.
Those younger 18-34-year-old NFL fans aren’t watching games in their living rooms for three or four hours at a stretch anymore. They’re the first generation to come of age at a time when fantasy football is an established part of pop culture. They root as hard for fantasy players on their virtual teams as they do for their hometown clubs.
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The NFL and Yahoo are smart, said Miller, to extend their streaming deal to include the most rabid pro football fans of all on the fantasy app.
“If you can stream the fantasy app, the gamblers watching are going to make this thing thrive,” Miller predicted.