December 4, 2022

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Home » NFL+ FAQ: What the new NFL streaming service is, what it isn’t, and where it might go next

NFL+ FAQ: What the new NFL streaming service is, what it isn’t, and where it might go next

The Age of Streaming got another entrant when the NFL launched its new streaming subscription service on Monday.

And it means the era of free live games on your phone is over.

The new NFL+ functionally combines, replaces, and rebrands NFL Game Pass and the free live-game streaming fans could access previously via Verizon/Yahoo, other mobile providers and the league’s app, but it limits regular- and postseason games to streaming on phones and tablets while blocking them from being cast on smart TVs or computers.

In other words, it caters more toward mobile users. And while that’s not inherently a bad thing — especially amid the cord-cutting trend — it does mean that NFL fans remain without their holy grail: a streaming service that offers literally all games. Whether something like that ever comes remains to be seen.

Here’s an FAQ guide to what we know so far about NFL+.

Why is the NFL deploying this service?

The broadcast industry continues to undergo radical shifts in how people consume content. While traditional linear TV continues to make up the bulk of viewership, the number of U.S. TV households with cable or satellite has declined from 110 million several years ago to about 70 million today. Many of those cord-cutting households have opted for streaming services as replacements, so the NFL is going where its fans are going. About 5 percent of NFL live-game viewership is digital, and that number is expected to rise. Younger fans tend to stream more, so sports leagues are trying to reach that demo where it’s consuming content. Planning for NFL+ has been several years in the making, with league owners briefed on the launch in March.

How much will NFL+ cost?

There are two price tiers. The basic tier is $4.99 a month or $39 for the year. The premium tier is $9.99 a month or $79 a year. There’s a free seven-day trial.

What’s the difference between the tiers?

The cheaper tier gives you live local and prime-time regular-season and postseason games on your phone or tablet, live out-of-market preseason games on those devices or your TV, live game audio for all games, and ad-free access to the NFL’s library of on-demand content such as NFL Films and NFL Network programming.

The premium tier includes everything from what had been NFL Game Pass, everything from the basic NFL+ tier, plus ad-free full and condensed (45-minute) game replays and ad-free All-22 (which is the birds-eye-view video watched by players and coaches). The condensed replays go back as far as 2009.

Can I watch live regular-season and playoff games on my TV via NFL+?

No. Live regular-season and playoff games are available only on your phone or tablet. The service blocks casting to a smart TV or laptop/computer. Only preseason games can be viewed live on your connected TV or computer via NFL+, as can the replays.

Why not?

The NFL itself currently has only the phone and tablet streaming rights for live regular season and postseason games. The league’s 11-year, $113 billion worth of media rights deals that kick in this season include live-game TV streaming rights for the NFL’s broadcast partners.

So how can I watch live games on my enormous and expensive living room TV?

The way you always have: Via your local or national TV broadcasts through your cable or satellite provider and their authenticated streaming services, or via NFL Sunday Ticket for most out-of-market games.

Doesn’t that limit the usefulness of the new streaming service?

Yes. But the NFL has a complex ecosystem of broadcast and streaming rights with its various media partners, many of whom offer their own paid streaming apps, so this isn’t a surprise. The league believes fans will pay for the mix of live games, replays, audio, and library and coaching content. “It’s the right time now for us to package this all together in a product that is more significant at a price that we think is attractive,” David Jurenka, senior vice president of NFL Media, told the Los Angeles Times.

Why shouldn’t I just subscribe to DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket?

You can, and its games are available on your devices and your TV, but it’s $300 a season. It gives you all out-of-home Sunday games not broadcast locally by Fox or CBS affiliates in your market. It also doesn’t air the national primetime games on Thursdays, Sundays, and Mondays. Those streaming rights belong to NFL Network, NBC, and ESPN/ABC. Also at play: AT&T, which owns DirecTV, is giving up Sunday Ticket and the exclusive out-of-market rights after 28 years. Sunday Ticket after this season is expected to become a streaming service, and Apple, Amazon, Disney, and Google are all reportedly interested in buying its rights for what’s expected to be at least $2 billion. How that ultimately affects NFL+ isn’t yet known.

Could NFL Sunday Ticket come to live within the NFL+ service, maybe as an even more expensive tier?

It’s a wild west out there, so it wouldn’t be entirely shocking. This is a time of experimentation by networks, streamers, tech giants and sports leagues. Perhaps the NFL uses the threat of putting Sunday Ticket on NFL+ as a leverage play to boost offers from Apple, Amazon and the rest, who will want the Sunday Ticket as a tool to grow their own paid services.

Didn’t the NFL previously offer local market games for free via its app and Verizon customers through Yahoo Sports?

Yes. NFL+ replaces those free options. Last year, Yahoo-owner Verizon didn’t renew its NFL mobile streaming rights that it had since 2010. The carrier, which gave up NFL streaming exclusivity in 2017, instead opted to focus on tech and marketing under a new 10-year deal with the NFL, including building out more robust 5G networks at stadiums. Its expiring non-exclusive streaming deal was for all NFL games except out-of-market carried on DirecTV. The streaming rights with Verizon were reportedly worth $400 million and could command more today if the NFL opts to partner with another company.

Could NFL+ eventually permit live regular-season and playoff games to stream on my smart TV or computer?

It’s absolutely something the NFL could do, and may at some point, but there is no timeline. Here’s what NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told the Associated Press this week about NFL+: “We think this is a major step forward. It will evolve, build and get better as more and more content becomes available on this platform. The work that we’ve done either with other offerings or research has helped us sort of frame this in a way that we think would be very attractive and engage our fans.”

Will NFL+ be subject to blackouts?

No. But preseason home games in your local market will not be available on the service if they’re shown by Fox or CBS stations. The NFL allows teams to sell local in-market TV rights for preseason home games, while the regular season and playoff broadcast rights are sold nationally by the league.

Will all national games be available via NFL+?

Yes, but the aforementioned tablet/phone versus smart TV rules apply.

Is this another app to download?

No. You access NFL+ via the NFL app or NFL.com.

How many fans are expected to sign up?

The NFL didn’t disclose any estimates, but with younger sports fans increasingly consuming live sports via streaming, it could be a healthy amount before long.

What happens to NFL Game Pass?

NFL+ has replaced it domestically. And if you were an NFL Game Pass subscriber — it was $100 annually — with auto-renew enabled you automatically are rolled into an NFL+ subscription.

What about international viewers?

The NFL Game Pass will live on for viewers outside the United States.

How many Game Pass subscribers are out there?

The NFL has not disclosed any numbers.

Without the ability to stream live games on a smart TV, doesn’t this limit the number of potential NFL+ users?

Certainly, but if the league is able to add smart TV live streaming, that will boost the user base. And because this is the NFL’s own streaming service within its own app, the league has full control. Even if the user base is initially limited, the $11 billion NFL will be A-OK. This is a long-term play in the burgeoning streaming market.

Will the NFL ever offer team-specific streaming, like MLB does?

One would hope. The NFL has said it’s always studying options and listening to fans, but whether that eventually leads to single-team streaming is too soon to know. If the league thinks it can profit from team-specific streaming, it’ll happen one day. MLB charges $74.99 yearly for its MLB.TV single-team package through the MLB app that offers out-of-market games.

What will be the first game on NFL+?

The preseason kickoff Hall of Fame Game at 8 p.m. Aug. 4 between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Las Vegas Raiders from Canton, Ohio. It’ll also air live on NBC and its in-house streaming service Peacock.

What about latency?

That remains an issue for all streaming even as work is done to try to eliminate much of it. The Super Bowl reportedly had about a 40-second lag time for streamers because of latency issues. On-demand video, like Netflix and possibly the NFL’s library of content on NFL+, is content that exists already on a server, so lag time should be nil. Live streaming, on the other hand, is a near real-time transmission feed that is subject to technical issues. Some lag is built-in to ensure a smooth stream. But it can be an annoyance for viewers who see social media updates before the action on their screen. If latency is an issue for NFL+, subscribers will quickly take to Twitter to complain.

Why does any of this matter?

NFL games are the gold standard of American television, accounting for 75 of the top 100 broadcasts last year and commanding enormous viewership — about 17 million a game — and gargantuan media rights deals.

(Photo: Robin Alam / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)