Will New Streaming Service NFL Now Help Boost the League’s Online Presence?

I consider myself an average football fan, more or less. Like three-quarters of American men, I watch the NFL, and like the 25 million people obsessed with their fantasy leagues, I often pretend to be a real-life general manager. Just as the majority of all stat geeks do, I also prefer ESPN and Yahoo's (NASDAQ: YHOO  ) virtual football to the NFL's fantasy game, but unlike some of them, I'm excited about a new product the league just unveiled.

Say hello to NFL Now
In the Fantasy Sports Trade Association's latest newsletter, President Paul Charchian writes, "The NFL has launched a massive new digital initiative called NFL Now. It's a media aggregator designed to bring personalized content to each user based on his or her preferences.... They'll be pulling highlights from all of their various content outlets, including NFL Network footage, NFL Films, and NFL.com." Charchian explains that Now is able to provide insight about your favorite team and any player on your fantasy team.

While it may not stream live games -- that's still reserved for DirecTV's (NASDAQ: DTV  )  Sunday Ticket in the U.S. -- NFL Now is free. And availability on smartphones and tablets will be a net positive for millions of fans who were previously limited to NFL Mobile from Verizon, RedZone, and Game Rewind, all of which have associated fees.

Source: NFL.

In an interview with the FSTA, NFL executive Cory Mummery describes Now as an "opportunity to build a one-to-one digital relationship with ... fans," adding, "a personalization engine ... will leverage every user's preferences and content consumption history." A premium option, called Now Plus, will take the service a step further, by providing instant highlights and analysis that sync with a user's fantasy lineup.

The league's real goal 
The ultimate purpose of Now is likely to boost the league's online presence. According to Nielsen's latest Year in Sports Media Report, the NFL's fantasy football app ranked a distant third behind Disney's  (NYSE: DIS  )  ESPN and Yahoo last season.

Source: Nielsen, 2013 Year in Sports Media Report.

As I've said in the past, access to streaming video is a major advantage the league has over its competitors. If it can begin to couple these services with its own fantasy game, its audience can grow, and with Now it appears the NFL will look to do just that. In terms of sessions, NFL.com users already browse more often than their peers -- that's indicative of a content advantage.

Last year, a study from comScore also revealed that the NFL sits a mere eighth among sports sites in digital audience size, with an estimated 20 million monthly unique visitors. ESPN and Yahoo Sports, meanwhile, have more than twice that level of interest. No matter how you spin it, there's room for improvement.

What's the future hold?
This question is tougher to answer. While football's popularity and the proliferation of fantasy sports have helped the NFL achieve a record level of financial health, a better online presence may stimulate even more expansion. Annual revenues flirted with $10 billion this season, and commissioner Roger Goodell wants to hit the $25 billion mark by 2027. It's clear what direction the league wants to go -- up.

Personally, NFL Now has piqued my interest. If synced fantasy highlights come to fruition, the prospect of such a service may be too great to pass up. Instant alerts every time a guy like Eddie Lacy or Zac Stacy bruises into the end zone? I'll take it, especially if they're on my team.

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