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Old 11-06-2008, 12:43 AM   #1
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Default NFL Games go wireless


NFL Games Go Wireless
Sprint Will Kick Off a Series of Eight Football Phone-Casts

In the era of the 52-inch plasma television set, marketers at Sprint Nextel Corp. are banking on football fans to seek out a decidedly smaller viewing experience.

For the first time Thursday, a National Football League game -- the Cleveland Browns vs. the Denver Broncos -- will be broadcast on Sprint mobile phones as part of the wireless company's exclusive partnership with the league. That partnership deal is valued at about $500 million over five years.

Over the next seven weeks, Sprint will phone-cast the eight games that are televised solely on the NFL Network, the league's cable channel. For the past three seasons, the NFL has struggled to persuade major cable operators to include its channel in their basic programming packages.

With the NFL Network is available in only about 40% of American households, Sprint executives hope the NFL games can do for their company what the league's Sunday Ticket package has done for satellite-television provider DirecTV Group. Sunday Ticket, which is exclusive to DirecTV, allows dedicated fans to see every NFL game on Sunday afternoons, and has been crucial to DirectTV's growth.

"Live compelling content is a game changer in the mobile industry," said Steve Gaffney, Sprint's director of sports sponsorships.

For the NFL, the Sprint phone-casts are part of a series of experiments with digital media aimed at discerning how fans will consume football in the future. NBC Universal, a unit of General Electric Co., conducted similar experiments this summer, showing highlights and a handful of events from the Beijing Olympics on mobile phones.

"We know a lot of fans find themselves displaced, and they are using devices like mobile phones for more tasks," said Brian Rolapp, the NFL's senior vice president of digital media and media strategy. "With 60% of our revenues coming from media, we'd be foolish not to do something like this."

The planned phone-casts are part of Sprint's NFL Mobile Live package, which is available on most Sprint handsets. The package can be purchased for $15 a month, and is also included as part of Sprint's Everything plans that start at $69.99 per month.

Whether anyone can earn any money from phone-casting sports or providing exclusive sports-related services to customers isn't clear. Sprint and the NFL announced their partnership in 2005. The company agreed to pay about $50 million each year to become the NFL's exclusive wireless sponsor and to market a series of football services, including highlights, tools to manage fantasy-football teams, ring tones and wallpaper. Sprint also committed to some $50 million more in NFL-related advertising and promotion.

Three years later, Sprint, with about 53 million wireless subscribers, continues to lag behind Verizon Wireless -- a joint venture of Vodafone Group and Verizon Communications -- and AT&T, the same spot it was in when the NFL deal was announced.

However, Sprint's Mr. Gaffney said customers who identify themselves as NFL fans, which make up an estimated two-thirds of Sprint's base, are among its most loyal and highly valued wireless users. Company research shows they use more minutes and are less likely to switch to a different carrier.

"It all goes back to mitigating churn and maintaining customers," Mr. Gaffney said.

Indeed, for $100 million a year, Sprint would prefer to do more than play defense with its NFL offerings. But can phone-casting the NFL Network games do the trick?

Some analysts remain skeptical. "People are choosing the iPhone because of its flexibility, its consistency, and its Internet access," said John Mansell, a sports-media analyst in Virginia. "I don't think [unique programming] makes much difference."

Despite the league's potency on DirecTV, exclusive NFL content couldn't prevent Sirius, the satellite-radio operator, from struggling until it was ultimately forced to merge with rival XM. In addition, Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile unit, which has an exclusive sponsorship deal with the National Basketball Association, remains in fourth place among the nation's wireless carriers by subscribers. And ESPN's mobile-phone venture remains one of the Walt Disney unit's few failures.

"The mobile-phone viewer is watching because he is outside the home," said Neal Pilson, a sports-media consultant. "The audience will grow, but will it ever be what advertisers pay to reach fans watching on cable or broadcast TV? Not even close."
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Old 11-06-2008, 12:25 PM   #2
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Default Re: NFL Games go wireless

ever try actually watching a live game on your phone? It sucks big time. I have the Sprint Instinct and the live games are all choppy and broken up.
After reading the idiotic threads over the past couple of weeks, I ask the question - "Who is worse...Steeler fans or Eagles fans?" Keep in mind that Eagle fans do not know what it's like to win a SB much less 6 and 2 this decade.
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