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Why Yahoo Is Treating the NFL's First Online-Only Livestream Like It’s the Super Bowl

More than 30 advertisers are on board

The Bills-Jaguars game from London will be the first exclusive livestream. Photo Illustration: Dianna McDougall; Source: Getty Images

Yahoo is ready for its close-up.

On Sunday morning, the 20-year-old Web portal will become the first online outlet to exclusively carry an NFL game when it streams the Buffalo Bills-Jacksonville Jaguars matchup from London's Wembley Stadium.

For Yahoo, this may as well be the Super Bowl.

The company is pulling out all the stops, including launching a dedicated website and Twitter hashtag, #WatchWithTheWorld. Despite the early-morning game time (9:30 a.m. on the East Coast) and a pair of teams that don't garner much national attention, Yahoo was able to sell out its inventory, booking major brands including Toyota, American Express, Citi and Microsoft among the more than 30 advertisers that signed up.

"Our advertisers have completely been leaning in," said Yahoo's chief revenue officer, Lisa Utzschneider. "We offered up an NFL-level sponsorship both to reach national fans in the U.S. and also global fans." Utzschneider said advertisers could have their ads run across the entire global stream or only target U.S. viewers.

"We're seeing a nice mix of both," said Utzschneider. "It's been interesting to see that our advertisers are interested in connecting with the global audience."

Yahoo scheduled 90 minutes of pregame programming, with Dairy Queen as the presenting sponsor. The pregame coverage will feature Yahoo's fantasy experts answering questions live via chat and Twitter and include a Katie Couric interview with Bills' legend Jim Kelly. Toyota is the presenting sponsor of the halftime show which, like the game, will be produced by CBS. Announcers Kevin Harlan and Rich Gannon are calling the game.

"Toyota and Yahoo have enjoyed a long and productive partnership," said Dionne Colvin-Lovely, director of new and emerging media, Toyota Motor Sales USA. "When Yahoo asked us to consider sponsoring their stream of this Sunday's NFL game, we had no doubt that it would be a good fit for us."

Yahoo declined to comment on financials or viewership guarantees, but Sports Business Daily reported that Yahoo had to drop its price for 30-second spots from $200,000 to around $50,000—Yahoo also sold some 15-second spots—and is guaranteeing a minimum of 3.5 million U.S. streams. The game will also have seven to eight fewer minutes of advertising than a traditional TV broadcast, Hans Schroeder, the league's svp for media strategy, business development and sales, told The New York Times. Yahoo is reported to have paid around $20 million for the rights to the game.

Following a rough third-quarter earnings report earlier this week—the company lost $42 million from its original video division alone—Yahoo will be hard-pressed to turn a profit from Sunday's game. But for Yahoo, it's about more than money—it's a chance to grab some good PR and show the world it can handle traffic from what should be a large global audience.

"One of the reasons why we picked them as a partner is that their distribution online is outstanding," said Brian Rolapp, the NFL's evp of media. The livestream will appear on both Yahoo and Tumblr, which reach more than 1 billion monthly users. (The game will also air on local TV stations in the Buffalo and Jacksonville markets.)

Meanwhile, the game is more than just a one-off experiment for the NFL.

Though the league's rights deals with its television partners carry into the next decade, the trend among younger consumers is to eschew cable subscriptions, and Rolapp wants to make sure the league is ahead of the cord-cutting curve.

"Broadband and Internet distribution has gotten to a critical place where it can support an NFL game," said Rolapp. "One of the reasons we're there is to see if this could be viable distribution for more than one game."

"We'll know a lot more on [Monday]," he said.

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