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Up Next For the NFL: Fans Left Out of Verizon’s New Deal To Watch Games on Phones

December 12, 2017, 6:15 PM UTC

Verizon signed a new deal with the National Football League on Monday will let more football fans watch live games on their phones. But millions of people who traded their cable subscriptions for streaming services like Sling TV, YouTube TV or DirecTV Now must wait at least until next season to watch games on their phones.

Under the new deal, Verizon’s Yahoo and Yahoo Sports apps will join the NFL’s own app in becoming a showplace for watching live football on mobile devices. The biggest change is that customers of other wireless carriers like AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint will be able to watch games of their local teams using those apps.

The prior deal mostly cut off non-Verizon customers from watching live football on their phones.

But the win for football fans who don’t subscribe to Verizon was tempered by continuing annoyances for cord-cutting fans who pay for a streaming video package. Currently, people who subscribe to the services, which offer a cable-like bundle of channels via apps, can’t watch live football games on their phones even when the broadcast is carried by a channel in their package. That’s due to Verizon’s prior exclusive deal and, at least for now, it continues with the new deal.

However, the NFL has some potential good news for those fans. The league is currently discussing with broadcasters broader distribution opportunities, including possibly changing its policy for Internet TV services. An update is expected ahead of the 2018 season.

Verizon said it could not shed “any clarity” on the Internet TV blackout policy, referring questions to the league. Dish Network’s (DISH) Sling TV, Google’s (GOOGL) YouTube TV and AT&T’s (T) DirecTV Now didn’t immediately comment when asked about the possible policy change.

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The continued restrictions highlight how powerful sports leagues have evolved how they use blackouts in the digital age. Decades ago, local games that didn’t sell out all tickets were kept off of the local TV broadcast station to encourage fans to attend. Lately, the NFL has doled out separate rights deals for different mediums, using exclusivity to extract more money from Verizon and other broadcasters. Several outlets reported Verizon would pay $2.25 billion over five years for the mobile rights. Back in April, Amazon (AMZN) acquired the rights to stream the NFL’s Thursday night games to Amazon Prime subscribers.

Verizon’s is betting that allowing customers of other wireless carriers to finally watch games on their phones will pay off by leveraging its $4.5 billion Yahoo acquisition earlier this year. While the prior NFL restriction by itself wasn’t enough of a draw to attract many wireless customers to Verizon, the broader distribution should be a top draw for Yahoo’s apps, which will feature ads during game broadcasts.

Other wireless carriers are still using entertainment as a draw, though in a different way. AT&T (T) gives its unlimited customers free HBO, Sprint (S) provides free Hulu accounts, and T-Mobile (TMUS) offers free Netflix (NFLX) subscriptions.

Under the new deal, Verizon (VZ) said it could broadcast in-market live games, including pre-season, regular season, playoff and Super Bowl games. The new agreement starts in January, with playoff games appearing on Yahoo, Yahoo Sports, Verizon’s go90 app and the NFL’s mobile app, Verizon said. Consumers who already pay for traditional cable or satellite TV can also watch on mobile by logging into their provider’s mobile app and verifying their subscriptions, Verizon said.