Yahoo Betting Big on Live Sports With Deal to Stream NHL Games

The site will also air live baseball

As Yahoo figures out the future of its company, it's making a big bet on live sports.

The struggling tech and media giant announced a deal Thursday morning with the National Hockey League that allows Yahoo to stream four live games per week for free, meaning viewers don't need to be a pay-TV subscriber to watch. The partnership begins Friday and will run through next season as well.

Yahoo, which is already the league's official fantasy sponsor, will also offer condensed versions of games, "Best of the Day" and "Best of the Week" top plays and postgame highlights. Yahoo already has a partnership with NBC Sports to promote its national Wednesday and Sunday broadcasts, but that doesn't include livestreaming the game. "This partnership brings us one step closer to providing fans a live professional sporting event every day, on Yahoo," said Phil Lynch, vp, media partnerships at Yahoo.

But the most important aspect of the deal might be the fact that Yahoo will be able to sell its own advertising for the games, like it did when it streamed an NFL game last October. Since Yahoo's stream will be the TV broadcast feed (usually one of the participating teams' regional sports networks), it won't be airing those ads. Instead, Yahoo will sell its own 15- and 30-second spots with an inventory equal to a normal TV commercial load for an NHL game. Yahoo will also allow brands to be integrated into its platform.

Following the shut down of seven of its content verticals in February, Yahoo is betting much of its company's future on sports, especially live games. "Sports is one of the four content pillars we're focused on," said Yahoo CRO Lisa Utzschneider. "We've been talking to a handful of potential partners."

The NHL is not the only sport that Yahoo is working with either; the company had previously inked deals with the PGA and MLB, which will include live baseball games. Yahoo will air MLB.TV's Game of the Day, a free daily matchup the league's subscription-based package airs. Yahoo offered access to those games last season, but now will be able to house it on its own platform and to sell ads for it like its NHL livestreams. Last month, Yahoo also aired live coverage of the PGA's Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

And with the NFL looking to boost its coffers with live rights for digital companies, Yahoo might not be done. Utzschneider would not comment on any negotiations with the league, though she did say Yahoo hopes to announce an additional streaming deal of some kind soon. But it's clear Yahoo sees its livestream last fall as the beginning to a long relationship, not just a one-off.

"The type of engagement we got from viewers and advertisers, it was clear there was a demand from Yahoo users," she said. "It's an area that we're definitely doubling down on."