NFL Putting Its Online Playbook to the Test

On TV, the National Football League is king. On the Internet, not so much. As more Americans cut the cable cord, migrating online to get their fix of shows, movies and cat videos, the nation's biggest professional sports league has been experimenting with apps and other digital initiatives, so far with only fair results.

Now the NFL's media division in Culver City is moving more aggressively to complement its vast TV empire with an online presence worthy of a major sports league.

Over the last year, it has replaced mobile app and NFL.com executives, welcomed four engineering and project leaders from the tech industry and increased its outreach to fans and Silicon Valley. An overhauled NFL Mobile app just launched, with a streamlined online subscription package that includes live audio of games and shows such as "A Football Life" and "Hard Knocks."

In October, one regular season game will be broadcast for free only on the Internet for the first time.

For now, the NFL isn't looking to regularly live-stream games online only -- even though the technology and demand are there. Doing so would hurt major television networks and jeopardize the billions of dollars a year that the NFL receives to show games on TV.

Instead, its Internet strategy for the time being is to build online features and portals that will enhance fans' ties to the sport -- and pull in additional revenue.

League executives know they face stiff competition online. Third-party football apps, Twitter and other sports are all vying for fans' attention, and the near-ubiquity of smartphones makes all of those options available at any time -- not just when you're sitting in front of your TV.

"We know people love the NFL, but at the same time, we know we have to do things differently," said Brian Rolapp, who oversees the NFL's...

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