The National Football League's new massive media rights deals will shape the sport for decades while giving brands new opportunities for audience targeting, e-commerce and consumer interactivity.
The multibillion-dollar TV deals, announced Thursday, represent a new streaming era for football in which more of the games will be accessible digitally, including Amazon as the exclusive home for Thursday Night Football. The steep price tags of the pacts, estimated by Bloomberg News to total $105 billion, shows the power of the sport as one of the last TV programming options to still draw a sizable live audiences.
Aside from Amazon airing Thursday Night Football, making it the first streamer to secure a national broadcast package from the NFL, all of the new agreements with the broadcast players come with extended deals for their streaming platforms. These deals will run from 2023 through 2033.
“I think it is a sign of the times, and shows the growing scale that OTT platforms have to deliver audiences; we knew this day would come, so it is not surprising to see non-linear platforms becoming key partners with the biggest leagues,” says Michael Law, president, Dentsu’s Amplifi. “I suspect we will see more of this with the other league negotiations. For advertisers, I would expect we will still see scaled NFL delivery with all of their games, and this gives us some great opportunity to tie into digital and potential e-commerce extensions.”
“It’s the first time we really look at NFL as a property in a truly screen/platform agnostic way. If you were buying TNF from Fox you’ll likely look to buy it from Amazon now. I would assume the rating will be lower, so you’re spending less, but really it is not a meaningful difference in how we’d approach buying TNF,” says David Campanelli, chief investment officer, Horizon Media.
Certainly, one of the lowest hanging fruits for Amazon’s stream of Thursday Night Football is ties to commerce, according to multiple media buyers. While these agency execs expect there will initially be lower ratings on Amazon than on broadcast, as consumer behavior continues to shift to these platforms, that may not be the case come the second-half of these decade-long deals.
The media rights deals and especially the inclusion of Amazon, are "a clear sign that there is a permanent shift in consumer behavior as it relates to where the majority of content is being consumed. Any screen, any time even for the NFL is a big deal," says one media executive at a major NFL advertiser.
Despite Amazon’s higher prices for ads in NFL streams, even when it was just a secondary partner, brands are willing to do those deals because it helps them improve relationships with the most powerful e-commerce platform in the world, according to a media agency executive. Every viewer is an accredited Prime customer, too.
“Brands are trying to figure out what the best way to work with Amazon is,” the exec says. “Clearly the biggest appeal is getting access to their data and the best placements with them. If the NFL is a priority for them, you could see it becoming a part of larger Amazon partnerships for brands that are looking to improve their standing in that larger e-commerce arena.”
Amazon could also potentially put its own stamp on the games, with the ad exec saying the giant could even shorten games with fewer ad interruptions, since it would not be beholden to network and affiliate timetables. Also, graphics, promos and every in-game interaction could come with marketing opportunities that have yet to even be conceived. Twitch, Amazon’s young-skewing video streaming site, could also play a role.
For Amazon, the addition of more NFL inventory could help the e-commerce giant as it fends of spirited competition from the likes of Walmart+, a membership program the retail giant rolled out last year to take on Amazon Prime, suggests Sarah Hofstetter, president of e-commerce analytics firm Profitero. “It absolutely could be a retention strategy for Amazon,” she says.
TV prepares for streaming future
“Sunday Night Football” will air on both NBC and its streaming service Peacock. The platform will also produce a new, expanded post-game show following Sunday Night Football every week. Peacock also gained exclusive rights to six NFL regular-season games, airing one per year from 2023 through 2028. NBCU will also launch a virtual NFL channel that will include classic games, NFL Films’ series and library and archive content. It also has the option to incorporate “enhanced and interactive features in game presentations” that are streamed on NBC digital platforms, including Peacock.
Fox expanded its digital rights to enable “future direct-to-consumer opportunities,” as well as NFL programming on its ad-supported streaming service Tubi. It will also create an NFL experience on Tubi consisting of premiere video-on-demand as well as condensed games throughout the season.
All games broadcast on CBS will also be streamed on Paramount+, both on the premium tier and ad-supported tier that will debut in June. The deal includes the ability to implement interactive features for consumers on Paramount+.
As part of Disney’s deal, which brings the Super Bow back to ABC for the first time in 15 years, ESPN+ will also air one exclusive national game annually starting in 2022.
The biggest question regarding the streaming rights allotted to the broadcasters for simulcasts of NFL games on Peacock, Paramount+ and the like, will be if the national ad load will also be simulcast or if the network and streaming will be sold separately, Campanelli says, adding that each network handles that a bit differently currently. If the ads are simulcasted on both CBS and Paramount+, for example, Viacom would sell what is typically considered local inventory on a digital-only basis.
If streaming ads are sold separately, it could increase inventory, potentially opening the door for more brands to get into the sport. For brands, “the biggest challenge will be creating an ownership position in the NFL with so many platforms carrying the live game. It will create greater opportunity for challenger brands to enter what was once a premium buy,” says Nick Kelly, a former sports marketing executive at NFL sponsor Anheuser-Busch IniBev who is now club president for Charlotte's Major League Soccer franchise.
While Amazon’s entry marks a tipping point as the first time a digital-only player has grabbed exclusive rights to games, traditional broadcast giants still control the majority of the package.
“They clearly still want the content, they still need the content,” says David Carter, a sports business consultant and professor at the University of Southern California’s School of Business. “It’s vitally important from an ad sales standpoint, from a marketing standpoint and branding perspective and it’s going to be that way for at least a full media cycle,” he says, referring to the long-term nature of the deals, which run through the 2033 season.
Still, the TV networks, which rely heavily on live sports, especially the NFL for ratings, have baked in very clear cushions in these deals that will allow them to transition to what is expected to be a nearly full digital environment in the next 10 years.