January 17, 2018 / 4:44 PM / a year ago

Verizon renews NBA deal as it seeks to be go-to screen for sports

(Reuters) - Verizon Communications has renewed its deal with the National Basketball Association for two years, allowing users to live-stream games on its Yahoo platform and mobile devices and access out-of market live games.

Jan 15, 2018; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz guard Rodney Hood (5) shoots the ball against Indiana Pacers center Al Jefferson (25) and guard Joe Young (3) during the first half at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Verizon will partner with the NBA to create original content as well as establish a technology innovation fund to experiment with new formats, such as virtual reality, executives at Verizon and the NBA told Reuters.

The new deal opens up Yahoo’s pro-basketball fantasy sports to Verizon users globally. The companies declined to comment on the terms of the agreement.

Verizon is seeking to make live sports a focus in the wake of last year’s acquisition of Yahoo, said Brian Angiolet, global chief media and content officer at Verizon.

Live sports is valuable for advertisers because viewers are willing to pay for it and watch it for long periods of time in real-time. There is increasing competition between broadcasters, tech companies and cable operators for live sports rights as it remains one of the few areas where viewers watch in real-time.

Last month, Verizon paid around $2.25 billion for a five-year partnership with the National Football League for non-exclusive rights that include games on its Yahoo and Oath sites.

It has spent the past several months renewing deals for its FIOs TV service that enable it to also include more live sports and other league-related content on its digital Oath and Yahoo platforms.

For example, Verizon recently signed TV distribution deals with Spanish language broadcaster Univision Communications and A&E that include Mexican soccer league Liga MX and National Women’s Soccer League games respectively on Yahoo.

“We want to be the first screen consumers go to find live sports,” Angiolet said.

The NBA is looking to tap Verizon’s data and technology to help it continue to reformat its game telecasts to appeal to younger fans, said Bill Koenig, NBA president, global content and media distribution.

Another attractive element for the NBA about the deal is the marriage of Verizon’s data with fantasy sports presence, he said.

Yahoo has tens of millions of fantasy players and its users spend 30 billion minutes playing fantasy sports every year, according to Verizon.

“Fantasy is a good business on its own, but we think fantasy can be an important driver to becoming deeper fans and watching more telecasts,” Koenig said.

Reporting By Jessica Toonkel; Editing by Susan Thomas

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