RealTime IT News

IBM Scores on Content Conversion With NFL

The National Football League has struck a three-year technology services and corporate sponsorship deal with IBM Corp. .

As part of the deal, IBM will pay the NFL to be its official information technology partner, and in return, will get extensive advertising and co-branding opportunities. While no financial details of the pact were disclosed, advertising barter and hardware, software and service swaps are said to be part of the deal.

"We are looking at all of the NFL assets, and how we can best aggregate them and store them in a central repository in an agnostic format, and then parse them out to the teams, the coaches and other NFL divisions and distribution partners, including ABC/ESPN , CBS Sports , Fox Sports and DirecTV," said Peter Brickman, senior director of operations and technology for the National Football League. Those NFL Divisions include NFL.com, NFL Network, NFL Sunday Ticket and NFL Films.

As part of the agreement, IBM will receive the rights to use NFL and Super Bowl marks and imagery in its advertising and marketing efforts. It also will receive prominent presence on numerous NFL media platforms, including NFL.COM and NFL Sunday Ticket (the NFL's out-of-market satellite subscription package on DIRECTV). In addition, IBM will be a charter advertiser of NFL Network, the new NFL television programming service launching November 4, IBM said in a press release.

"It is a combined sponsorship-consultancy deal. IBM will pay the NFL as part of this deal, as well as providing hardware, software and services. The NFL, in return, will be giving IBM access to the NFL logo for use in IBM commercials, as part of purchasing a large block network commercials over the entire season with its broadcast partners," added Brickman.

"The goal of the partnership is to create a central digital warehouse for all of the NFL's media assets, including video, web content, audio and statistics. The content management solution will also be responsible for the distribution of this content to the league's NFL films division, its broadcast network partners, as well as its teams," said Jeff Schick, IBM's director of content management worldwide.

One of the first tasks of the partnership will be an assessment of the NFL's content assets, and then IBM is expected to implement an IT solution to figure out the best way to distribute the digital media.

"We are looking at a whole in depth analysis of all of our analog and digital content and will decide the best ways to retrieve, index and distribute to internal and external partners," said Brickman.

As one aspect of the partnership, IBM will digitize 80 years worth of NFL Films, or nearly 100 million feet of footage. If the film to digital video archive task was outsourced, it is said to possibly cost tens of millions of dollars, which is presumably calculated into the deal as ancillary advertising and sponsorship opportunities for IBM.

"Today, much of the NFL's content is using physical media. As a result of this partnership, now that content will be in digital form, which will them allow to manage and share in new ways," Schick said.

"Starting with this season we will be offering video highlights of selected games to DirecTV NFL Sunday Ticket subscribers with Tivo PVR units," said Brickman. The subscriber base on Sunday ticket is north of 1.5 million and a subset will access this service free of charge.

"It's potentially possible that by next season, we will offer a more robust video highlight service to these satellite TV and PVR customers to enable them to choose specific teams, players, plays for their customized viewing," Brickman said

But both Brickman and Schick said there is much work to be done before the NFL is going to be offering new media services based on this deal.

"We are currently in the design phase, but how we store, manage and distribute that content will be key design points," Schick said.

The NFL said it picked IBM for its technology expertise and portfolio of products, such as DB2 Content Manager, DB2 Universal Database software, Tivoli Storage Manager software and IBM tape storage, which run on IBM eServer xSeries and pSeries servers.

Currently, the NFL has a deal with SportsLine to host and manage the NFL.com web site. Brickman said this pact will not affect that arrangement.

The Sports Business Daily reported that the NFL-IBM agreement is worth more $30 million annually in cash and services, but did not provide a source for the information.