The NFL has signed a deal with Tencent that'll see the Chinese giant becoming the exclusive home of the game for the next three years. As well as most pre and regular-season games, Chinese fans will be able to watch both the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl. In addition, Deadline Hollywood says that ancillary shows, such as the Draft, Hard Knocks, Game Day and A Football Life are all included in the deal.
Tencent is a Chinese conglomerate that makes several American tech giants feel tiny by comparison, being Amazon, Facebook and Google all wrapped into one. But even though American Football's not a huge deal in China, the deal is a big win-win for both the NFL and Tencent. The former gets its content in front of up to a billion new potential customers, while the latter gets the prestige of a top-tier global sports brand.
The NFL's toe-dipping didn't begin with Tencent, however, and experimented with streaming live games on Sina Weibo last year. That limited trial saw it broadcast six regular season games, one edition of Sunday Night Football, three playoff games and the Super Bowl. Less than a year later, however, and the league has switched allegiances to Tencent, Sina's wealthier and more popular local rival.
Yes, you should have a nagging sense of deja vu, because it's the exact same playbook the league used in the US. Before the 2016 season, the NFL brokered a deal with Twitter that saw the microblog live stream Thursday Night Football. A year later, and the league chose to work with Amazon Prime instead, although Twitter still has a 30-minute news show that it'll broadcast as a consolation prize. Not to mention Verizon's longstanding deal with the league to handle streaming video and apps for its users.
As we looked at last year, however, there is one issue with the current plans to bring sports broadcasting online: it doesn't get the ratings regular TV does. Although if Tencent and others are prepared to spend big to bring the rights to their platforms, it may not matter that only a couple of million people tuned in.