NFL Gives Viewers One (Legal) Choice Online
The National Football League, recognizing the value of its content, has decided to take control of its online destiny. And in a realm where other media properties have decided to let content run free across the web, the league is going to try to keep its highly prized video clips squarely on its home turf and charge advertisers a pretty penny to appear beside them.
While major sports leagues such as the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball have been running their own websites for years, the NFL resisted, opting instead to outsource its own online video-deficient site to CBS Sportsline.
For the coming season, however, that's changing.
The league has split with Sportsline after seven years and unveiled a homemade site with an exhaustive searchable video library -- a feature fans likely will find useful as the NFL forbids online news or video sites to run its highlights. And you can bet that advertisers seeking those fans will allow the league to charge handsome sums for advertising on its newest wholly-owned media channel.
"This is about us being able to control and experiment and figure out what the NFL experience online should be," said Hans Schroeder, general manager of NFL.com. "You want to control your own destiny."
'Treasure trove' of videos
That control is culminating in what the league describes as a "treasure trove" of videos of players and coaches past and present. There are 92 clips of disgraced Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick, 95 of Indianapolis' Peyton Manning and even 30 of a less-regarded passer such as San Francisco's Alex Smith.
The site also features a deep database of statistics, so fanatics likely will flock there, and fans who want to watch NFL video online will simply have no choice.
Unlike on cable TV, where the NFL Network continues to clash with carriers over broadcast fees, the NFL has secured a dominant position online, having successfully forbidden all other sites to carry its highlights, as well as limiting the amount of press conference footage that can be aired.
Others shut out
NFL.com's online rivals -- who have generally worked out deals with other leagues to use video footage -- seem resigned, if not indifferent to the NFL's hard-line approach. "I really don't think it impacts or changes our approach all," says an ESPN spokesman.
A CBS Sports spokesman declined to comment.
The league also has its legal department policing YouTube and other video sites to ensure it maintains its monopoly on online NFL video. Mr. Schroeder said the league has no plans to offer its own sanctioned user-generated-video-hosting site, but that it might be open to providing some clips and letting users make their own highlights.
"When you give people a legal channel, they tend to use it," he said.