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Sprint Nextel in NFL Exclusive

NflFresh from announcing the creation of the third-largest wireless company on Friday, Sprint Nextel Corp. announced Monday it has signed a five-year deal with the National Football League to become the league's official wireless sponsor. The company said it will use the estimated $600 million arrangement to provide exclusive game highlights, updated scores, live game video and Fantasy Football statistics to its wireless customers. It said it is working with the NFL to develop much of the original programming, which will feature content from the NFL Network and NFL Films.

Expect this to affect the fortunes of two major initiatives: ESPN's MVNO deal with Sprint whereby ESPN wants to become its own mobile carrier in the same mold as Virgin Wireless and Boost; and efforts by SBC and other carriers to deliver television over Internet protocol (IPTV).

Taking pro football - the best performing sports franchise by most any calculation - out of ESPN's platform is like imagining ABC without Monday Night Football. It's not an absolute deal-killer, but it potentially robs the nascent platform of what should have been its number one draw. I say "potentially" because Sprint Wireless, with its heritage and ongoing commitment to cable operators (Adobe Acrobat required), understand TV programing trends better than the other carriers.

And as for IPTV, which I've blogged here and here - I think a critical aspect of tomorrow's IPTV platforms isn't going to be "how" the programming is delivered to the home, rather "how" and "where" and "when" the consumer is going to choose to watch the video. The early successes of TiVo demonstrate both the consumer appetite for being able to choose when to watch, and also the ease with which the market may be lost. Sprint's less-heralded efforts in IPTV may have a leg up, as they learn how consumers prefer to consume mobile video.

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