Back in 2015, the NFL used Yahoo! as its guinea pig to begin testing the waters of digital streaming for its Thursday Night Football brand. The global net broadcast of the Bills and Jaguars game in London drew an audience of over 15 million people around the world.
The league used that as a launching pad in order to reach a one-year agreement with Twitter to stream all 10 of its Thursday Night Football games during the 2016 season, a deal that was worth $10 million. The NFL and Twitter were both satisfied with this partnership, but it will not continue through the 2017 season.
The league instead just announced yesterday that it has reached an agreement with Amazon this time, a deal that is worth $50 million, to stream the same level of content as that featured on Twitter a year ago. In this instance, however, the NFL games will be available on the website’s Prime service, which requires a subscription to view.
This is an arena that Amazon was looking to get into, according to Jeff Ourand for Sports Business Daily, writing that the deal “marks the biggest win for Jim DeLorenzo since he joined Amazon last March to head up the company’s sports division and pick up live sports rights”.
Last season, via Twitter, Ourand writes that the games featured an average of 265,000 viewers on an average minute basis. He also writes that the league brought the youthful and global audience that Twitter brought to the table, while Twitter was satisfied with its ability to increased its connected television distribution.
Twitter was among several companies also bidding for the rights to stream the NFL’s TNF brand for the 2017 season, but evidently did not step up to the plate to the same level that Amazon did. Ourand also believes that it is part of a strategy on the NFL’s part to explore a variety of digital markets.
The league will see several broadcasting arrangements begin to expire in 2021, which will give them the opportunity to freshly negotiate more lucrative and varied deals. They have already now worked with or will work with Yahoo!, Twitter, and Amazon over the course of the past three years, which gives them a good data set to work with.
It will be interesting to see how the NFL uses this accrued knowledge and experience to attack its digital distribution in the future, which is of particular concern for the out-of-market fans who don’t want or have access to satellite television to follow their teams.
In the meantime, however, those who don’t subscribe to Amazon’s Prime service will still be missing out on the opportunity to digitally stream TNF games, and though Prime’s membership is fairly substantial, that still leaves a lot of people out. Perhaps the league is testing viewership response to a pay model for viewing live streaming.