I'll be interested to see what the numbers were for Sunday's "stream only" NFL game from London. The Bill and the Jaguars played a game that was only available outside of the home markets on a Yahoo video feed. I watched a little bit of the game just to see what quality of feed we were getting--and it was nice HD and there was no buffering due to lack of broadband capacity. I stopped at a couple of places yesterday morning and there were computers playing the game there too--so people were definitely interested.
Barring a complete technical failure--or a total tune out--the NFL will declare the "stream only" broadcast a "huge success". The league will then begin a process to move their broadcast rights away from its four current TV partners and bring it all in house. It would make sense for the most popular sport in America to take full control of its product and the way that it is provided to the fans.
The infrastructure is already in place. The NFL has its own networks, production facilities and in-stadium camera systems. All they would have to do is contract with 16 production crews to provide weekly game broadcasts. Local play-by-play and color guys could provide "homer" calls for all 32-teams--and we may never have to put up with Joe "Everyone Thinks I Hate Their Team" Buck and Troy "Captain Obvious" Aikman again.
By cutting out the network middle men, the NFL could collect all of the broadcast advertising revenues for themselves. The only question is whether that would equal the billions the networks are paying now--as for some, the NFL is a loss leader that serves only to boost overall ratings and provide a huge promotional platform for other network programming. Plus, with wi-fi available in all stadiums--and more fans spending as much time looking at their devices as they do at the action on the field--you could provide special in-stadium content to those fans, including customized advertisements.
To start, the NFL would likely provide all of those streaming broadcasts for free--just like we "technically" get from the networks now. But as we become more accepting of the new delivery method, the league would likely start charging us. Either an every game, every week type package like NFL Sunday Ticket--or an ala carte option--for those Steelers fans scattered across the country who really don't need to see the Packers and the Bears game.
If you think the most popular sport in America could never become an internet-only thing, just consider boxing--which was a huge television draw--but now exists almost exclusively in a pay-per-view realm. And if billions of people worldwide were willing to get up early on a Sunday morning to watch Buffalo and Jacksonville on their smartphones.......
Just ask the 350-people who lost their jobs at ESPN last week because of "cord-cutters" where the future of sports broadcasting lies.