Here are the details on how the Jaguars-Bills game in London on Oct. 25 will be available—for free—to millions of Internet users. Plus, thoughts on Cam Newton’s new extension, power rankings feedback and reaction to my daughter’s wedding
In 1964, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle convinced CBS to pay $16 million for the rights to regular-season and playoff games for the 1964 and 1965 NFL seasons. That was double what any network was paying to telecast pro football at that time, and the sports world shook with what was happening.
Today, a half-century later, the NFL will announce a deal with an internet company that, on the surface, won't be as breathtaking but could have more impact: For one of the least-starry of the 256 regular-season games this season—the Oct. 25 game in London between Buffalo and Jacksonville—Yahoo has outbid the competition to become the first internet company to take an NFL game off over-the-air or cable TV and send it around the globe on the web. The amount Yahoo paid was not disclosed [update: Brian Stelter of CNN reports the deal is for "eight figures," or at least $10 million], but one significant financial aspect is known: It will cost Internet users zero dollars to stream the game.
This, too, is certain: The October NFL game streamed by Yahoo, which counts 1 billion monthly visitors, will be the most interesting media test tube the NFL has experimented with in most of our lifetimes.
“We need to prepare for the future,” NFL executive vice president of media Brian Rolapp told The MMQB. “Have we entered into a new era? Maybe. Maybe not. Obviously TV is still the dominant platform to distribute our games, as it has been for years. But TV is not the only platform any more, and this is the first time in history we have done this with one of our games.
“We have cast our lot with TV through 2022, so obviously we believe in the power of television for our games. But things are changing, and changing fast, in the media.”
Three points to be clear about as the NFL enters the internet frontier:
• This game, at 9:30 a.m. Eastern time, will be broadcast over the air in Buffalo and Jacksonville, keeping with the tradition the NFL has long established for all games to be free in the home markets. The Buffalo market will be served by WIVB-TV, while the game will be shown on WTEV in Jacksonville, both CBS affiliates. CBS will produce the game using its talent and TV crew, and will show it to the Buffalo and Jacksonville markets on TV on Sunday morning and to the rest of the world via Yahoo. As with last year’s 9:30 a.m ET game, this one will not be shown on the DirecTV Sunday Ticket package.
• Every NFL game for the next eight seasons will be shown free in the home markets on the local network affiliates. However, a Broncos fan in Delaware, as an example, will still have to pay to see Denver's games through 2022. After that, the NFL is keeping its options open.
• What's interesting about the Yahoo venture is that at least two internet companies talking to the NFL offered big deals—but only if the league would allow the company to charge for the game on a pay-per-view basis. The NFL said no. The significant thing here is that more than 500 million users a month access Yahoo on mobile platforms such as phones and tablets. That gives the NFL a good indicator of where fans will watch the game, and for how long.
The NFL will be closely monitoring the ratings and access points to this game, which will be available free on Yahoo, Yahoo Sports, Yahoo Screen and Tumblr. It will be shown at 4:30 p.m. in Moscow, 9:30 p.m. in Beijing and 10:30 p.m. in Tokyo. “Prime time,” said Rolapp. “That will give us a good idea” of the reach of NFL games in Asia, with so many disparate NFL fans in so many places.
It would have been easy for the league to take a headline game and put it on the internet, and get boffo numbers. But Buffalo-Jacksonville will be a good measuring stick for the NFL. If that game can get eyes around the world, imagine what Dallas-Green Bay would get.
Rolapp said the league took its time with internet suitors—though some in the media community heard that web companies were having trouble figuring how they'd monetize the game.
“When we decided to do this—take one game and distribute it around the world digitally—we wanted to approach it with an open mind,” Rolapp said. “We were always going to show it over the air in the Buffalo and Jacksonville markets. Other than that, we said, ‘Tell us what you'll do.’ We got back a lot of interest. Free, subscription, with or without mobile filters ... And we settled on Yahoo. When Pete Rozelle founded the national TV deals, our sport was built on reaching the largest audience and taking care of the local markets. We think with the Yahoo deal, we have honored that.
“The last thing on our mind was money [rights fees]. We did want fair value for the game, and we think we got that.”
The NFL found last year that the London games could be more attractive if they started in the morning Eastern time—giving the American audience a fourth Sunday window, in addition to the two afternoon windows and one night game in all markets. Now they'll see if a game between two lower-echelon teams (at least as it stands in June) will move the internet needle. I'm guessing it will.
Next up will be the NFL selling highlight packages, as the league currently does on the internet with Twitter Amplify, to other web companies. The league doesn't sleep when it comes to pushing different ways for its games to be in the public eye—or when it comes to making money.
Now on to the rest of the news and the mailbag:
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Lots of responses to the pre-training-camp NFL rankings (most of you question my sanity) and to the wedding of my daughter (most of you seem happy for her, and I thank you), and I’ll get to those in a moment. First a few thoughts about the five-year, $103-million contract extension signed by Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers.
I love the deal for Newton, and for the Panthers. Three reasons why:
1. Dave Gettleman is singing an old Stephen Stills tune. The Carolina GM is loving the one he’s with. It’s fine to say Newton has this or that deficiency, that he needs to be a better decision-maker, he needs to hone his accuracy, he needs to play better on the big stage. All true points. But there aren’t many like Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. Baltimore would like Joe Flacco not to throw the occasional careless downfield pick. The Giants wish Eli Manning were more consistent. But those quarterbacks, Flacco and Eli Manning, have won Super Bowls—three of them combined—and Flacco has won at least one playoff game in six of his seven years in the NFL. I prefer to look at Newton's career this way: He’s made very good progress from an itinerant college quarterback, playing for one junior college and two top programs in the span of three autumns, to being the face of a needy franchise. He’s everything you want in terms of a man and a billboard for your franchise. Newton will get better as he grows, and as his offense matures and gets more talent.
2. It’s too hard to find another one, and too hard to find a better one. Ask yourself this question: Of the five quarterbacks taken in the first round of the past two drafts—Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota—would you want any of them over Newton to build your franchise around? You might be intrigued with one or more, but is there one you’re sure is better than Newton?
3. Newton is a beacon for the unobsessed quarterback, and a bright one. Now, I wouldn’t pay him for this reason, so maybe this is a misplaced point here. But I was struck last summer talking to Newton about how he was different from most of the quarterbacks playing at the top level of football now, and most of the young quarterbacks coming up behind him. Those quarterbacks, mostly, were products of a pipeline of summer coaching and fall coaching and winter coaching, and of spring and summer seven-on-seven football leagues that emphasize endless throwing and catching with college-prospect receivers. Newton, for the most part, didn’t have that growing up in Atlanta. He had a lot of catching up to do so he could compete against quarterbacks with better coaching and better off-season throwing programs. That’s why I think his best football, without question, is ahead of him.
I love Carolina investing in Newton. He’s a growth stock.
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Now for the thoughts on my Monday column.
I am really wrong about the Colts. I will sum up the reaction to my picks: You didn’t like me picking Kansas City four, Minnesota six and Indianapolis 11. Well, you didn’t like any of my picks, unless I picked your team first.
I get the anger about the Colts, who are the dominant team in the AFC South, with a great quarterback for the long term. My question about the Colts concerns their ability to play any defense when it counts. In their past five playoff games, in 2013 and 2014, Indianapolis allowed an average of 31 points per game. Three times the Colts allowed 43 points or more. They improved on defense this year by getting a 34-year-old pass-rusher back from a major injury. I like Robert Mathis—who doesn’t?—but there’s an incredible amount of pressure on him and the unproven Bjoern Werner to give the Colts a pass-rush … and on Trent Cole, 32, the rusher the Eagles gave up on. I don’t trust a run defense that got steamrolled twice last year against New England to be much better. But I like the GM and coach, and I don’t think the team is a finished product on June 3. I do think, though, that Ryan Grigson should have gone against his board and bypassed Phillip Dorsett for a run-stopper in round one of the draft.
As for the Vikes, ranking them sixth is a gamble, to be sure. A huge leap of faith. I did it because I think the Bears and Lions will take steps back, and I think Adrian Peterson will play for the Vikings and be motivated to play very, very well for a lot of reasons. Mike Zimmer will find a way to get a more dangerous pass-rush and to throw a scare into the Packers for the division.
Bottom line: The easy thing to do in one of these exercises is to take the standings of last season and simply cut-and-paste them. I tried to take some educated guesses—such as the Chiefs passing Denver, and the Vikings being the second-best team in the NFC North, and the Eagles passing Dallas. We’ll see if I’m right.
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Now for the mail.
Thoughts on the Laura-Kim wedding.
Loved your column about your daughter's marriage. Beautiful. Touching. Two people in love. What else matters? Thank you for the reminder (and the tears of joy).
—Patrick Butler, Fancy Gap, Va.
Devoting 1/4 of your column to your daughter's lesbian wedding was at best a waste of sports coverage space and at worst avid support for same-sex lifestyle. What's next, you join the liberal media and give us headlines every time Michael Sam enters a Montreal game to block for an extra point?
—Zev Roth, Israel
“With all the discord in this world, all the hate, why should any of us care who anyone loves, just so long as they have someone to love?” Beautifully said, sir. Thank you for sharing your reflections on this most joyous of days.
Please accept and pass along my best wishes to your daughter and her wife on their marriage and the start of a long and happy life together. My wife and I celebrated the sixth anniversary of our backyard commitment ceremony yesterday here in Charlotte. Little did we know then that it we would be able to legally wed only five and a half years later. We made it legal last Dec. 21. Your column this morning brought tears to my eyes as you described Laura and Kim’s relationship and how much love your family has for them. Thank you for sharing those stories with us.
—Betty, Charlotte, N.C.
I appreciate your column about your daughter and her “marriage.” I am someone who believes in the traditional definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman. The fact that I hold this belief does NOT mean or imply that I hate people who disagree with me, or that I want to prevent anyone from loving someone else. I wish your daughter and her partner a long and happy life together. Your implication of opposition to so-called same-sex marriage being equivalent to hatred is common among those who share your beliefs, but is a gravely prejudicial assumption about me and most other traditional Christians. If you want tolerance for your beliefs, you might start showing some tolerance towards those who believe differently than you. Again, I wish your daughter and her partner a long and happy life together.
—Francis Wippel, Inman, S.C.
I'm sure you're going to get plenty of negative emails, but good for you for writing about your daughter's wedding. Not only because she's your daughter, and so she deserves nothing less than 100% support from you, but simply because supporting equality is the right thing. It's always tricky coming from the hyper-masculine sports world, but your voice will at least convince some people to rethink their position. Thank you!
—William Daniels III, Mt. Morris, Mich.
I appreciate the stories about your daughters and how they're doing. Great piece on your daughter's wedding up in northern California. As you and I are about the same age I still have some difficulty with same sex marriage but as with you my mind is slowing but surely changing on it. Love is love, and who am I to judge. I hope they and other same-sex partners show us straight folks how marriage is supposed to be done! I wish them nothing but the best!
—Chris (an old football player and a slowly but surely former homophobic)
I have been a long-time reader of your MMQB column, and have always enjoyed your insights, but this last one is the best you have written, in my opinion. Reading your thoughts about your daughter's marriage was like listening to my Dad (who sadly recently passed away) talk about my marriage. He was a traditional white male, well-educated, three-sport athlete at Harvard, and having a lesbian daughter (also three-sport athlete Harvard grad) was a hard concept to accept at first. I am sure he always expected to celebrate my marriage at The Country Club in Brookline, after a big church wedding, and not at a wonderful inn in Provincetown. Yet he was pleased to walk me down the aisle, and told me the same things you wrote about your daughter, including the happiness of seeing me settled with a wonderful spouse who completes me. I just wish he could have seen his first grandson. Thanks for potentially broadening the traditional sports-crazed minds you normally reach out to, and for reading this note.
Beautiful story about your daughter's wedding, Peter. That took guts to open up like that. I usually don't care for the non-football items in your column, but I think there's something important about a story like this that needs to be said. Your readers have gotten to know you pretty well over the years, and every example of someone they know sharing in a joy that wouldn't have been possible a few years ago is slowing moving the needle.
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Now for other stuff.
ON FOOTBALL RANKINGS. This is one of the few lists I have seen that has, for the most part, disregarded the importance of quarterbacking in the modern era of football. Last year’s records are almost eerily related to the team’s quarterbacking ability. Andrew Luck, lacking any defensive support, took the Colts to the AFC championship. Big Ben, overcoming a defeated offensive line and an aged defense, was able to produce one of the best records in the AFC in 2014. However, Kansas City (ranked fourth in your power rankings), having one of the best defenses in the NFL and a more than capable receiving corps and running back, was overwhelmed by the teams with elite quarterbacks. This was demonstrated in the Chiefs’ barely above-average record in 2014. My point is, regardless of the glaring weaknesses a team might have, those weaknesses are overcome by excellent quarterbacking.
—Paddy Cotter, Roanoke, Va.
Paddy, that could well be. But I think the Colts needed to do more on defense than they did this off-season. We’ll see if Luck overcomes that.
THE RAVENS ARE SO GREAT. I love how in your prediction about the Ravens, you go on and on about how you trust this, and trust that, and at the end of your paragraph you even throw in "This is a battle-tested team that had two 14-point playoff leads in Foxboro last January. I just think the Ravens will find a way." So why didn't they "find a way" to maintain not one but two 14-point playoff leads in Foxboro last January?
Good point. They should have been able to stop New England. But I do think with most of their key guys except Haloti Ngata back, they’re less wounded than the rest of the top teams in the AFC.
CAROLINA AT 20? Enjoy your columns Peter and wanted to send my condolences on becoming a little senile. Carolina at number 20? You’re kidding right? One of the top defenses in the entire league, and once again, the supposed experts have little respect for the two-time defending NFC South champions. They lost some close games due to a boring offense the last few years, but that’s about to change in Charlotte. A healthy Cam Newton, better depth at WR, upgrades on special teams, and hopefully Jonathan Stewart staying healthy, and I'm afraid you'll rue the day you ranked them so low. When healthy, Stewart's a top running back. Plus the offensive line is not as big a problem as so many are predicting. But hey, go right ahead, give little respect to the Panthers once again like others.
—David Floyd, Cornelius, N.C.
Again, all you say is valid. The point about Stewart, though, is a pretty iffy one. The guy’s missed 20 games the last three years with injuries, and he’s a year older. I like Newton. I just think the division’s better, and they’ll all knock off each other pretty consistently this year.
ON THE POSTGAME HANDSHAKE. I'm not so sure about the NFL adopting the NHL's postgame handshake in the playoffs. How about the last Super Bowl? The Patriots were trying to run out the clock to win the game after intercepting Russell Wilson. Seattle showed itself to be a classless team when its players started throwing punches and tried to start a fight in the end zone. It was a rank display of childishness that got very little attention because everyone was so focused on the fact that Seattle didn't hand the ball off to Marshawn Lynch. Can you imagine what might have happened if they'd lined everyone up at the 50 to shake hands?
Dan, have you ever watched two hockey teams slug the crap out of each other for seven games? And then line up at center ice and congratulate each other and hug and say, “Heck of a series?” I’ve seen it … scores of times. Football players can do the same thing.
ON DOWNTOWN SEATTLE. I have been a high school football coach for a number of years in Washington and lived around the Seattle area for a few years as well. My wife and I moved away for a while, and then returning on a trip from the Olympic Peninsula, we stopped in Seattle for some food at P.F. Chang’s. I can not overstate how appalled we were at the rapidly declining state of the streets in downtown Seattle. We experienced what you did, almost to the word. It was uncomfortable and we couldn't get out fast enough. We love Seattle and the Hawks, and we’ve always enjoyed our time there, but with no police presence and the growing number of transients on the streets, it’s going to keep us away for a while.
I love Seattle, too. I just think the police ought to be more visible late at night downtown.
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