NFL sets sights on streaming future, passes Thursday Night Football to Amazon

Dive Brief:

  • The NFL and Amazon entered an agreement that gives the e-commerce giant exclusive rights to broadcast 15 Thursday Night Football games and one pre-season match per year in the U.S., according to a press release.
  • The 10-year pact with Prime Video, which kicks off in 2023, marks the first time a streamer has nabbed an exclusive broadcasting package for NFL games. It is just one of several long-term deals the NFL has struck with media partners that sees the league directing more attention to digital channels.
  • With deeper access to NFL games, Amazon gains a powerful means of attracting ad dollars. The company is making other moves to fortify its media business, making its first appearance as a presenter at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Digital Content NewFronts this spring.

Dive Insight:

The pandemic has enshrined streaming as many consumers’ preferred means of watching content, a shift in media consumption habits the NFL recognizes with the latest spate of broadcasting rights deals. Amazon has steadily expanded its work with the NFL in recent years, but nabbing exclusive rights to Thursday Night Football marks a first in the streaming world with considerable implications. It’s a decision that could lay the groundwork for more desirable primetime content migrating to digital channels in lieu of traditional ones like linear TV. NFL executives specifically called out audience interest in mobile when announcing the deal.

“Most of our fans enjoy NFL football on TV or on their phone, but don’t get to go to the stadium. So having long-term really good partners who can bring football at a high-production value into your household or onto your phone or on your digital device is really important to us,” Brian Rolapp, the NFL’s chief media and business officer, said during an interview on the league’s NFL Total Access show.

Beyond the Amazon tie-up, the NFL is broadly placing more chips on digital, as renewed agreements with each of the major networks running through 2033 now include some sort of streaming component. Networks are desperate for destination viewing content after receiving a steep blow to ratings and revenue under the pandemic. CBS, Fox and NBC are reportedly paying up to double the amount of fees compared to previous agreements with the NFL, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing anonymous sources familiar with the matter. In total, the deals carry an estimated value of $105 billion, per Bloomberg.

CBS will retain the rights to AFC conference coverage, but will simulcast those games on Paramount+, the streaming platform it launched earlier this year. Sunday Night Football, a program shepherded by NBC, will appear on NBCUniversal’s Peacock platform, which will “also air an exclusive feed of a select amount of games” over the span of the deal, per the announcement. Fox gets to expand digital coverage of games through Tubi, the advertising-based video on demand platform it acquired last year. Similarly, ESPN and ABC — both owned by Disney — will simulcast all of their games on ESPN+, including Monday Night Football.

The news marks a major win for Amazon as it tries to shore up a leadership position in an increasingly crowded streaming space. Amazon at the same time is ramping up its pitch to advertisers and media buyers with a debut at the NewFronts in May. The NewFronts are a key venue for digital publishers to show off the latest in content and advertising innovations. Other presenters this year include Google’s YouTube, Twitter, Snap and TikTok.

NFL games streaming on Amazon open opportunities for brands to reach fans beyond traditional static ad placements. Prime Video offers several interactive features like Next Gen Stats that could serve as a way to engage viewers. Amazon and the NFL will also continue to work together on exclusive content and “enhanced fan viewing experiences” related to Thursday Night Football ahead of 2023, the announcement said.

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