NFL Rights Help The Yahoo Sports App Score Millions Of Users

In February, you can watch the Super Bowl on your phone with the Yahoo Sports app.

Last year, Verizon purchased the mobile and tablet rights to NFL games for Yahoo Sports. Live NFL coverage attracted 4.3 million people to download the Yahoo Sports app this season, in addition to 1.1 million people who downloaded the app during the playoffs last year, when Yahoo Sports piloted the mobile draw.

The average user checks on a game a handful of times and watches for 44 minutes.

“On a Sunday at 3:27 p.m., I would know that any game that started at 1 p.m. is in the fourth quarter,” said Geoff Reiss, GM and VP of Yahoo Sports, which is part of Verizon-owned Oath.

So users check in – and while they’re there, they watch a few ads, with an average 90% completion rate, according to Yahoo Sports.

Under the terms of the deal, Yahoo pipes in national advertisers’ commercials and sells the remaining portion of ad space itself, attracting advertisers like Honda and Snickers. Advertisers can’t buy an individual game, but those who buy a strip of mobile ads to run during the playoffs will also have their ads shown in the app during the Super Bowl, TV’s most prestigious programming event.

The idea of a digital company gaining a foothold in a tentpole game where a 30-second ad costs $5 million would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. Today, Yahoo is part of a crowded group of digital bidders for sports rights.

Amazon streams Thursday Night Football, as Twitter did last year. YouTube and Hulu offer live TV, making sports streaming a reality. ESPN launched its own direct-to-consumer offering this year called ESPN+, which takes advantage of its deep library of sports rights.

“There is going to be continued fragmentation of the way sports rights are delivered across the marketplace, which will create opportunities for emerging players,” Reiss said.

As sports rights become available for renewal, more of them will be grabbed by digital players, he predicted.

Verizon didn’t write a hefty check to acquire the NFL’s mobile broadcasting rights just for the ads, though.

“The NFL helps us drive the top of the funnel to the overall ecosystem,” Reiss said.

That means re-introducing the Yahoo brand to a new generation. With 60% of viewers under the age of 40, the NFL helps Yahoo draw in viewers who may not remember the days when Yahoo was the top internet portal.

The Yahoo Sports ecosystem is growing, too. Yahoo expanded into fantasy college football this year. Football fans answer trivia questions during the weekly mobile contest on Yahoo Fantasy Slate to win cash prizes in an HQ-like experience.

Yahoo also created its own version of SportsCenter for the app called “The Rush.” The three-minute program did so well that it inspired two spinoffs: one for fantasy sports players and another for sports bettors. Former NFL player Martellus Bennett also hosts sports comedy show “Mostly Football.”

As the football season wraps up, Yahoo plans to target basketball fans next. Thanks to a deal with the NBA, app users can watch eight out-of-market basketball games on NBA League Pass before they hit the paywall and have to subscribe to the premium offering.

Are more paid offerings in the works at Yahoo Sports, as the company tests a subscription version of Yahoo Finance?

“Absolutely,” Reiss said. “Our job is to make sure we have the right economic proposition. There isn’t a single financial use case we want to put out against 13 million people.”

Just as theater producers try to “scale a house,” Reiss must figure out what the “orchestra” and “balcony” experiences could look like for Yahoo Sports – and what they each should cost.

Yahoo Sports’ big push into live sports comes as its parent company regroups. Oath lost its leader and name this year when Tim Armstrong left and Oath became Verizon Media Group. With a vision at Verizon centered on 5G, will the scale and ambition of Yahoo Sports’ plan decelerate?

No, according to Reiss. Engagement and traffic are up year over year.

“Sports is a growth area for the company,” he said. “We have more support than we ever had before from our corporate parent to grow this business, and we think we’ve earned this investment.”

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