- Reuters, Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Broadcasts of NFL games involve little football, and as Business Insider sports editor Cork Gaines detailed last year, 35.5% of the broadcast is players standing around between plays while 24.5% is commercials.
So with 60% of the broadcast consisting of ads and literally nothing else, it’s worth thinking about the problems surrounding Yahoo’s decision to pay $20 million to stream this week’s NFL game from London for free and the core assumptions the company made in doing so.
For one thing, the game between the Buffalo Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are combined 4-8 this year, is an uncompelling NFL game. Neither team is likely to make the playoffs, and the Bills’ starting quarterback isn’t playing.
The main storylines ahead of the Bills-Jaguars game is that one of the Bills’ best receivers, Percy Harvin, may or may not be considering retirement and that the amount of money Yahoo is getting for each ad spot shown during the game has cratered.
On Tuesday, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer told analysts that the company sold all of its ad spots for the game, but reports from Reuters and others indicated that spots were being sold for less than half the $200,000 Yahoo initially asked for from advertisers earlier this year. Additionally, Adweek reported that Yahoo has guaranteed advertisers at least 3.5 million streams.
And what’s more, the game starts at 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time, 3 1/2 hours before most NFL fans expect football to be on.
So before kickoff, it seems that this is a financial disappointment for Yahoo.
Yahoo’s involvement, of course, is an exciting entry into the world of NFL broadcasting, as it marks the first time a digital-only outlet will air a game primarily on the internet. And with a decline in cable subscriptions seeming to leave mostly sports fans compelled to pay up for expensive bundles, the entry of Yahoo marks an interesting time for the industry and the sport.
But this doesn’t change the product being aired by Yahoo, which is not good. Fortune’s Dan Primack wrote Friday that in addition to being between two below-average teams, this game lacks any sort of major fantasy-football implications.
This week we got a look under the hood of ESPN.com’s traffic and saw the insane number of pageviews that its fantasy-football content drives.
It can’t be overstated how much fantasy football is driving the league’s popularity, even in spite of recent controversies surrounding daily fantasy. Without this tailwind, Yahoo’s Bills-Jags game is lacking a draw.
- DraftKings TV
But as Sunday’s game in London lays bare, the underlying product – games of 11-on-11, American-style professional football – is not that compelling.
As we saw this preseason, and see almost every week during the regular season and playoffs, injuries are constantly taking players in and out of lineups. And with these constantly interchanging parts, the quality of play is not good. The NFL has 32 teams and each team has 53 active players, so each week about 1,700 players are active, with many of them playing for the first time in weeks or years, potentially with a group of all-new teammates.
What this creates is not only a league of constant change but one of anonymity. The only players everyone knows are star quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, who are given every advantage by the NFL’s rules in terms of staying healthy and on the field.
Everybody else is hoping to get lucky.
- Tom Pennington/Getty
At its core, the NFL is designed, from a competitive standpoint, to create a league of teams that finish their 16-game season between 7-9 and 9-7. The NFL wants a league of mediocrity that produces 17 weeks full of games that are maximized for random outcomes.
What this ultimately yields are one or two games each week that casual fans might want – say, this week’s game between Tom Brady’s New England Patriots and the New York Jets – and a bunch of games like the Bills-Jaguars that most people have no interest in.
The Wall Street Journal noted that the average NFL Sunday game gets about $500,000 per 30-second ad spot. The Super Bowl looks set to get upward of $5 million per 30-second slot next year. So the economics of investing in broadcasting football games seem obvious.
But these rates are for entrenched players like NBC, CBS, Fox, and ESPN. Yahoo, meanwhile, is a newcomer on the scene and is dealing with an untrained audience watching a game at a new time of day. And what’s worse, the company ended up with a forgettable game.
That Yahoo might end up with fewer people watching the game because it starts at 6:30 a.m. on the West Coast and can be seen only online is something we’d expect the company anticipated, at least a bit.
What’s less clear is whether the company knew the game it ultimately got to broadcast would stink – or that almost any game would be this way, anyway.