The NFL finalized negotiations for the broadcast contracts for the next 11 years, and a big winner was Amazon, which scored exclusive national rights to Thursday Night Football (TNF). Going forward, Thursday’s weekly NFL games will be an Amazon Prime Video exclusive, a big change for a package that was previously on terrestrial television or cable.
The deal runs from 2023 to 2033, and Amazon will pay $1 billion a year for the TNF package, according to a report from CNBC. Thursday Night Football is the NFL’s newest and cheapest TV package, but the deal brings Amazon closer to equality with the NFL’s other licensees, mainstream TV networks such as Fox Sports, ABC/ESPN (Disney), CBS ( Viacom) and NBC (Comcast). According to CNBC’s report, the other four channels pay more than $2 billion a year each, and unlike Amazon, the TV networks are allowed to take turns broadcasting the Super Bowl.
The NFL’s new deal also includes streaming provisions for the other providers. Each network can now simultaneously broadcast their games on their streaming service, and some deals have scored one or two exclusive streaming games. Disney’s ABC and ESPN games are also allowed on ESPN+, and ESPN+ gets one exclusive game per season, the London “International Series” game. NBC games can also appear on the streaming service Peacock, and Peacock will get “an exclusive feed of a select number of NFL games”. CBS can stream games on Paramount+. Fox Sports, which was not part of Disney’s acquisition of Fox, apparently has a streaming service called “Tubi,” which can now simultaneously broadcast the Fox games.
Amazon’s slow creep into the NFL ecosystem
Amazon has been broadcasting TNF games since 2017, including one exclusive game last season. Looking back, the games served as a tryout process for Amazon, which has apparently proven to the NFL that it can handle a full range of games. The simulated TNF games were all produced by Fox’s broadcast crew and broadcast on the Fox network, so Amazon just brought Fox’s content over its internet airwaves. Now with exclusive rights, Amazon will have to ramp up its own NFL production crew full of cameramen, commentators, a graphics package, and everything else needed to make an NFL game happen. Amazon has a few years to figure this out.
Amazon’s simulated games landed on Amazon Prime Video and Twitch, both of which had some interesting features. On Prime Video, Amazon offered alternate commenting options that you could switch between via the app’s settings. In addition to the standard Fox crew, Amazon offered several games options for the NFL’s first female broadcast duo, commentary aimed at British fans and scouting-oriented commentary. On Twitch, watching an NFL game with Twitch chat was certainly a unique experience, and for Amazon’s only exclusive game, there was a more casual stream of the game featuring ex-NFL players.
There were some drawbacks to streaming a football game on Amazon last season, namely the lack of DVR-like controls that many fans have become accustomed to. You wouldn’t be able to pause the stream, record it, do your own instant replay, do a slow-motion answer, or skip a commercial if you’re a little behind. Fans also suddenly found themselves having to have an Amazon game on their TV, which meant they needed some sort of streaming device. This last part won’t matter much to local fans since, like the cable-only NFL games, local TV stations can still broadcast your home team’s games over free air.
Live sports programming is one of the few features left from terrestrial TV that keeps some people from cutting the cord, so what happens to the NFL games is a big deal for the streaming wars. The next big clash of the NFL and the internet is what’s happening with the NFL Sunday Ticket contract, which is currently with DirectTV. Sunday Ticket is the NFL’s big money package, offering every off-market Sunday afternoon game from across the league for about $300 a year on top of your regular DirectTV package. The Sunday Ticket contract expires at the end of the 2022 season, and DirectTV, which had just been spun off from AT&T, doesn’t appear to be in a financial position to rejoin the NFL. There’s a good chance a streaming site will invade and pick up the NFL’s football-addicted package.