Yahoo Wants More Live Sports Following $20 Million NFL Streaming Bet

AP Photo/Matt Dunham

The Jacksonville Jaguars' win over the Buffalo Bills in London was viewed by 15.2 million people online.

The NFL and Yahoo are touting Sunday’s live stream of the Buffalo Bills-Jacksonville Jaguars game as a big win for live streaming.

Although Yahoo has been careful to call the event a "trial," senior vp Adam Cahan tells The Hollywood Reporter that he's eyeing more live sports opportunities for the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based tech company, which paid a reported $20 million for the streaming rights to Sunday’s game. He says NFL games in particular are "something that we want to do more of."

Most of the NFL's rights are locked up in long-term deals, but there's clearly appetite at Yahoo for future deals. Says Cahan: “If we can do something like the NFL game on a repeatable and scalable basis, those are big wins.”

The Oct. 25 game, the second in a three-game international series being played from London’s Wembley Stadium and the first NFL game available almost exclusively online, drew 15.2 million unique viewers and 33.6 million total streams across all devices, according to the NFL and Yahoo. In all, viewers streamed more than 460 million total minutes.

Although sizable, those numbers give few indications of how the game stacked up against games found on television. Yahoo did not release the number of average concurrent streams, but the data suggests that the game averaged just under 2.4 million views per minute. CBS Thursday Night Football games, meanwhile, average 17.6 million viewers, and ESPN Monday Night Football games average 13.5 million viewers.

Cahan declines to disclose additional statistics around concurrent viewers, saying only that peak concurrent viewers will be "dramatically bigger" than the estimated averages.

Regardless, this is a big streaming audience for the NFL, largely because the game aired on broadcast only in local markets and the U.K. By comparison, last February, more than 1.3 million people watched NBC's live stream of the Patriots-Seahawks Super Bowl, which also aired on TV in all U.S. markets. In 2014, Fox's live stream of the Super Bowl averaged 528,000 viewers, peaking at around 1.1 million concurrent viewers.

A big driver of success for the game was Yahoo’s decision to put the live stream on its home page. According to Sports Business Daily, an individual stream was counted after three seconds, which certainly helped to boost the overall stream count. Although some observers have noted that this might have artificially inflated Yahoo’s stats, Cahan says it shows the strength of Yahoo’s reach. "At the end of the day, it’s exactly what we were trying to showcase, which is how we at Yahoo think about our capabilities in terms of delivering a broad-reach audience," he says.

That reach extended internationally. The audience was made up of about 33 percent, or about 5 million, international viewers, and Cahan says viewership in the U.K., France and Brazil was especially strong.

Yahoo’s ability to bring in global viewers is especially valuable to the NFL, which has been making a push into international markets in recent years. Regular season international games began in 2007, with one game per year until 2013, when the league increased it to two. This year, there will be three games at Wembley Stadium, ending with the Detroit Lions-Kansas City Chiefs game Nov. 1. Earlier this month, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell even signaled that the 2016 international series could expand beyond the U.K., possibly to Mexico, where the NFL played a game in 2005.

Despite the usual complaints about streaming quality, most viewers had no problem watching the game across their connected devices. Yahoo said that the average rebuffering rate was less than 1 percent. “I do think the quality of what I saw, even on LTE, was impressive,” says BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield. “It shows the Internet is ready for live streaming video, and that enabling content to be watched anywhere, anytime could meaningfully improve the NFL’s global reach.”

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