The 2023 NFL season couldn’t have had a better opener, as the Detroit Lions cemented their credentials as legit title contenders with a gritty, hard-fought win over the Kansas City Chiefs. The defending champs began their defense in defeat and succumbed to a loss thanks to an impressive fourth quarter rally by the Lions.
As most hardcore NFL fans would know, Amazon Prime Video is now the official home of ‘Thursday Night Football’ (TNF), so it left people perplexed as to why the first game of the NFL season wasn’t on Amazon. Some quick online research illuminates the reason: NBC and Peacock have exclusive rights to broadcast the opening game of the season; TNF will resume regular programming on Prime Video starting week two.
While the week one answer to ‘Where do I watch it?’ is a straightforward one, the same can’t be said for the rest of the season, as numerous fans seem to be grappling with the plethora of networks, platforms, and services required to indulge in the wide array of NFL matchups. Gone are the simpler times when NFL games were primarily broadcast on just one or two networks.
So, how did we arrive at this point? Well, the NFL is by far the most valuable product in American television today. Even during the regular season, NFL games consistently draw more American viewers than the marquee matchups in the NBA and MLB. Naturally, the league has capitalized on this immense popularity, which means football enthusiasts may need to open their wallets and perhaps even devise a play-call sheet of their own if they want to keep track and watch most of these games! A mere decade ago the NFL found its home on just four cable TV networks. Over the years, broadcasting rights for certain games have been either sold off or distributed among additional media and streaming platforms. As illustrated in the graphic below, the league now rakes in roughly $10 billion annually from broadcasting agreements, a staggering threefold increase compared to the $3.1 billion it earned in the early 2010s.
The surge in TV rights revenue has indeed boosted team earnings and consequently inflated team valuations. However, it’s undeniable that it places a significant strain on the wallets of fans. To put it into perspective, MarketWatch conducted an analysis (see the graphic below) revealing that streaming every single NFL game would set fans back more than $1,600. This hefty price tag encompasses six distinct streaming services and entails managing a total of five sets of usernames and passwords.
So, here’s the million-dollar (or rather $1603) question: will fans be required to shell out thousands of dollars annually to enjoy NFL games from now on? Maybe not. The NFL might have a ready-made solution.
Enter NFL+ — the National Football League’s dedicated streaming video subscription service. As this service embarks on its sophomore season, it brings with it two enticing enhancements: the inclusion of NFL Network and NFL RedZone.
To paraphrase NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, NFL+ was introduced last season with the aim of fostering a closer connection between the league and its millions of fans, and the response thus far has been overwhelmingly positive. Moreover, the incorporation of NFL Network and NFL RedZone is poised to offer even broader access to football content for NFL enthusiasts.
NFL+ has upped its game by incorporating live streams of NFL Network and NFL RedZone, offering fans more than ever before. This enhanced subscription provides access to live out-of-market preseason matchups, as well as live local and national audio for every game. Furthermore, it grants users the privilege of delving into NFL Films’ extensive archives, and a wealth of additional content, all accessible across supported devices within the United States.
It is worth noting that live local and primetime regular season and postseason games will be exclusively available on phones and tablets. This move aims to keep local games primarily on television for the time being, with the hope of potential changes in the years ahead.
NFL+ is accessible through the NFL App, available on all major app stores and NFL.com. It’s priced at $6.99 per month or $49.99 per year, and now includes NFL Network across various devices. Fans looking for an even richer experience can opt for NFL+ Premium, which is priced at $14.99 per month or $99.99 per year. This premium tier offers access to all the content and features available in NFL+, along with the added benefits of full and condensed game replays, the All-22 Coaches Film, and NFL RedZone.
The pricing structure appears to have been established with affordability in mind, reflecting research findings on what would be reasonable for both a base tier and a premium tier. Notably, this approach caters to consumers who desire access to NFL RedZone without the need to commit to expensive pay TV packages, addressing the needs of a broad range of football enthusiasts.
NFL+ represents the next step in the NFL’s direct-to-consumer strategy, building upon the foundation laid by NFL Game Pass. In an era marked by the rise of over-the-top (OTT) streaming, NFL+ underscores the NFL’s commitment to providing fans with the content they crave while ensuring a top-notch consumer experience.
This direct-to-consumer (DTC) approach seems to be the wave of the future, as evidenced by the NBA’s transformative move in September 2022. The NBA revamped its global app to serve as a comprehensive hub for NBA enthusiasts worldwide. This revamped app offers a data-driven, personalized experience that aggregates team and league content, seamlessly integrating live streaming. By incorporating the NBA League Pass and NBA TV direct-to-consumer services, along with original content, alternative broadcasts, and archival material, the NBA set a new standard as an all-in-one platform. Moreover, it embraces news, live scores, highlights, and content from partners, influencers, and individual teams’ social media accounts, solidifying its position as a benchmark for all-encompassing sports platforms.
The results have been nothing short of remarkable. The app managed to rack up over one billion video views during the 2022-23 season, an impressive threefold increase compared to the previous year’s figures. This surge in engagement was largely fueled by the incorporation of social media-inspired vertical video content, which appealed to a younger demographic and spurred the consumption of new series and programming.
Beyond the NBA and the NFL, Major League Baseball (MLB) has reached a pivotal juncture, positioning itself strategically for a potential leap into DTC streaming and a reclaiming of local media rights. There have been notable instances where the league has assumed control over the production and distribution of locally televised games – the recent arrangement with the Arizona Diamondbacks being a prime example. Thanks to this new structure, Diamondbacks fans can now access a DTC streaming subscription priced at $19.99 per month or $54.99 for the remainder of the season by registering on MLB.TV. This move signifies a significant step in the direction of DTC streaming for MLB, potentially reshaping how fans engage with the sport, and a much-needed alternate route to rekindle dipping interest among younger fans.
Major League Soccer (MLS) has also been taking significant steps, positioning itself as the first U.S. sports league to embrace a nearly complete DTC approach. This shift comes on the heels of a game-changing 10-year, $2.5 billion deal to exclusively stream on Apple TV+. With global soccer superstar Lionel Messi and his former Barcelona teammates adding immense star power to the league via Inter Miami, this partnership appears to be an early triumph for both MLS and Apple.
In 2018, MLS made a pivotal move by instructing its then-23 franchises not to engage in new regional rights deals extending beyond the conclusion of the 2022 season. This decision has proven advantageous for MLS’s current 29 clubs, as they now collectively share a minimum of $250 million per season, with additional revenue-sharing mechanisms set to come into play. MLS’s venture into the world of DTC streaming marks a significant development in the league’s strategy, while simultaneously benefiting its clubs.
And lastly, recent consumer and fan research underlines the compelling case for DTC models and how they can drive enhanced fan engagement:
- DTC platforms have ushered in a new era of fan relationships, as demonstrated by a survey conducted by Deloitte among 3,000 US sports fans in March 2023. The findings revealed that when fans were asked about watching a sporting event on a specific SVOD service, around half of them said the experience was more interactive and personalized than watching the same event on cable or broadcast TV. Additionally, 56% of fans said they had a better viewing experience when watching this event on a streaming video service than on cable or broadcast TV.
- A research report released by Nielsen and LaLiga Tech in June 2022 shines a light on another hugely popular aspect of content consumption related to use of data. 55% for Gen Z sports fans are looking for and consuming live statistics during play.
- According to Nielsen, interest in Formula 1 grew by 73 million in 2020 – equal to 20% – in ten of the motorsport series’ key markets. Nielsen cited Netflix’s ‘Drive to Survive’ docuseries as a key reason for Formula One’s growing popularity among younger audiences – further highlighting the power of content and how growth can be driven by additional peripheral and story-telling programming.
In closing, the embrace of direct-to-consumer models in the world of sports not only shapes the present landscape but also holds the potential to define the future, setting the stage for a dynamic and fan-centric era that promises to transform how we engage with, and experience, our favorite sports leagues. Brands and sponsors can fuel this further by supporting (DTC) content for sports properties and teams, paving a strategic avenue to gain consumers and build strong connections with target audiences.
By: Joywyn Daniel