Just a couple of years ago, the only practical way to get your Sunday afternoon National Football League fix was to watch CBS (CBS) or Fox (NWS). To get additional games, you'd have to go to your local sports bar or pay up for your own DirecTV (DTV) NFL package.
Now, there is another way. Last week, the National Football League made live games available online for the first time. For now, the service is only available for Manhattan residents who don't have satellite access, but it may be offered as early as next year to others in the U.S. who don't have satellite access, an NFL source told DailyFinance.
This seems like great news. Being a New York City apartment dweller for most of the past decade, DirecTV's package of NFL games has not been an option because the buildings I've lived in couldn't accommodate satellite installation. Now I can get DirecTV's 'Sunday Ticket' package of all NFL games. DirecTV plans to expand the offer across the U.S. to those who can't access satellite TV, "no later than 2011," NFL spokesman Dan Masonson said in a telephone interview.
"We suspect there are a large number of consumers living in Manhattan who have always wanted to watch their home team play on Sunday afternoon," Richard Greenfield, analyst at Pali Research, wrote in a note to clients last month.
Greenfield may be right. Some NFL fans will go to great lengths to see their team on Sunday. I'm one of them. Two years ago, with the Miami Dolphins likely heading to their 10th loss in 10 tries, I drove to Philadelphia -- without a ticket -- to see the team I've rooted for since I was a boy. I arrived at Lincoln Financial Field 10 minutes prior to the game and, by chance, met the sister of the Dolphins linebacker coach. She had an extra ticket, sold it to me at face-value and I couldn't have been more excited to see my team lose.
That experience cost me just under $100, so paying $350 for a season's worth of online games from DirecTV seems like a fair price.
Pali Research's Greenfield estimates that less than one percent of Manhattan residents would sign up for DirecTV's online offer, given the state of the economy. My math calculates that would bring in about $18 million. Not a giant sum, but creating incremental revenue streams that should grow in coming years will help the NFL. It also reflects the league's willingness to adapt as technology changes the way fans watch games. NFL.com is also selling a season's worth of games online, minus commercials that are available after midnight each Sunday. These are big steps for a league that is viewed by many as slow to change.
"We've changed as the technology has allowed us to change," said Masonson, who explained that faster internet speeds have made video more appealing, "and we've heard from more fans that they'd like to see the games online."
NBC's Bob Costas asked NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on the NFL's first regular-season Sunday if he'd be willing to suspend a rule that prohibits broadcasting local games in a 75-mile radius of the team's stadium if the game isn't sold out 72-hours prior to kickoff. It's an old policy that seems oddly inflexible, given the surprising news that the NFL is making its product available on computers and mobile phones. But it didn't sound as if the NFL would budge. "This has been a policy that has been in place for several decades," Goodell told Costas.
Apple's (AAPL) iTunes store has proven that for all the folks who refuse to pay for anything online, plenty of others are willing to pay for the convenience of getting content they really want. Still, even though I can now get games online, it won't stop me from driving to Philly the next time the Dolphins battle the Eagles.
Anthony Massucci is a senior writer for DailyFinance. You may follow him on Twitter at hianthony.
Massucci's Take: NFL starts offering online football