Road Trip for NFL 'Ticket’ - Multichannel

Road Trip for NFL 'Ticket’

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Subscribers to DirecTV’s “NFL Sunday Ticket Super Fan” package will score broadband video and mobile rights for the first time as part of the satellite provider’s exclusive pro pigskin platform.

Additionally more than 180 live high-definition pro football games will be offered as part of the $99 premium product — an additional cost to the base $269 NFL Sunday Ticket package, according to DirecTV executive vice president of entertainment Eric Shanks.

Beginning in September, Super Fan subscribers will be able to log onto DirecTV.com to watch live games via the Web. Only one person can be logged in at a time under one account, to avoid widespread Internet sharing of the live streams, according to Shanks.

“It’s no different than having someone over your house to watch Sunday Ticket,” he said.

DirecTV’s broadband offering marks the first time the National Football League has thrown a pass to the Web for distribution of so many live games — the out-of-market package can deliver up to 14 games on any given Sunday — in the U.S., although the league made a similar broadband package available overseas.

Last year, Verizon Communications offered NFL Network’s package of eight Thursday and Saturday night pro-football games to subscribers to both Verizon FiOS broadband and FiOS TV services, or subscribers who purchased DirecTV satellite service through the phone company.

While the Sunday Ticket package drew a reported 2 million residential customers last year, Shanks wouldn’t reveal how many of those subscribers plunked down for the Super Fan package, nor would he predict what percentage of Super Fan subscribers would take advantage of the broadband offering.

He did say, however, that DirecTV — which in 2005 purchased live game broadband rights as part of its five-year, $3.5 billion exclusive NFL Sunday Ticket deal — is strapping up to serve as many as 30,000 simultaneous users.

DirecTV will also hand off to Super Fan customers a mobile offering that will provide real-time highlights of the day’s games, according to Shanks. Subscribers with high-end video phones with Web browsing capabilities can sign onto DirecTV.com to view game highlights.

“Viewers will see folders for each game that you can look into and see the scoring and turnover plays on your phone — kind of on-demand highlights on your phone,” Shanks said.

If the broadband offering proves successful, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league may consider intercepting the broadband product from DirecTV once the Sunday Ticket deal expires in 2010. “There is that potential,” he said. “We’re beginning to study those opportunities.”

Other pro leagues and college sports distributors already offer live games on the Web. The National Hockey League last May began offering a package of broadband games through NHL.com for $119, while the National Basketball Association offered Web access via NBA.com as part of its $179 “NBA League Pass” out-of-market cable and satellite subscription package for the 2006-07 season.

Representatives from the NHL and NBA declined to say how many streams their respective packages generated.

Major League Baseball charges $89 for its MLB.TV online package of out-of-market games. Baseball officials also were mum about numbers, but Newsweek recently reported that the league’s broadband video and audio services will generate more than 1 million subscribers in 2007.

While the Sunday Ticket broadband offering may appeal to a large segment of Super Fan customers, Shanks believes that its live HD game offerings will be of greater value to football fans. The network will offer more than 180 HD games, a 20% increase over the 150 games offered last year.

He added that Sunday Ticket print and on-air promotional blitz highlights the HD product, not the broadband service.

“We’re communicating the broadband component, but we’re not aggressively promoting it,” he said. “You want to promote the things that resonate most with NFL fans, and that’s probably HD more than anything else.”

In addition, Shanks said new enhancements to the network’s fantasy football-oriented “player tracker” interactive feature will allow viewers to track individual stats for up to 18 players.

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