NFL on Prime Video the leagues latest foray into streaming

By Joe Reedy
AP Sports Editor

Roger Bennett remembers calling his dad in Liverpool, England and asking his dad to hold the phone next to the TV so he could check out his beloved Everton in the FA Cup semi-finals.

To say those days are long, happily over, is an understatement. Technology, streaming packages and the value of sports programming have allowed fans to see their favorite teams or leagues live or on demand.

“We live in a golden age. You could argue for football that there is no better place to follow or be a fan than in the United States simply because of the sheer volume of games being streamed and accessed,” said co-host Bennett. from the “Men in Blazers” podcast.

With streaming services eager to acquire live content, professional sports leagues in the United States are taking the next steps. The NFL will be last with the Amazon Prime Video debut of “Thursday Night Football” when the Los Angeles Chargers take on the Kansas City Chiefs.

More than half of this season’s 103 games under Walt Disney Co.’s NHL deal will be exclusively on ESPN+ and Hulu this season. Turner Sports has the option to add games to stream on HBO Max as part of its seven-year contract.

MLB launched a Friday night doubleheader this year with AppleTV+. A slate of Sunday afternoon games on Peacock wrapped up on Labor Day weekend.

While deals with the NHL and MLB have been transformative, the NFL’s diversification into streaming has garnered more attention, much like when it signed its first cable deal with ESPN in 1987.

“The NFL’s deal with Amazon signals what lies ahead for coveted live sports streaming content,” said Jon Christian, executive vice president of Qvest, a technology consultancy specializing in media and entertainment. . “Consistent accessibility for desired sports programming on streaming apps is the next step for the vast majority of consumers to ‘cut the cord’ from traditional streaming methods.”

While viewing habits are one reason for adding streaming plans, technology is another. The rollout of 5G four years ago made it clear to leagues that video quality and presentation could be on par with what is found on a linear broadcast.

Brian Rolapp, NFL Executive Vice President, Chief Media and Business Officer, pointed to the NFL’s first attempt at streaming seven years ago for a regular season game in London as an example of the growth of things.

“We didn’t think the internet couldn’t accommodate so many users at once and deliver the high-quality experience you expect on TV,” he said. “We wanted to make sure the internet could evolve into high-quality audience support. And we think that’s where it is.

MLB recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of becoming the first professional sports league to broadcast a regular season game live. The following year, MLB.TV began as a package for out-of-market games.

MLB’s Advanced Media division branched out into direct-to-consumer services for HBO, World Wrestling Entertainment and Major League Soccer until it was formed in 2015 as BAMTech Media and eventually purchased by Disney.

“We have helped many people in space and are continuing to do so again. We believe it’s in everyone’s best interest to provide the best experience possible for fans, regardless of the content consumed,” said Noah Garden, MLB Chief Revenue Officer. “There is enough room for everyone. There always have been.

Amazon isn’t the only NFL game streaming service. ESPN+ will broadcast the Denver-Jacksonville game on October 30 from London, while Peacock will start next season. The league’s “Sunday Ticket” package for Sunday out-of-market games will be terminated by the end of the season.

ESPN+ has been at the center of the sports streaming ecosystem for nearly four years, with more than 22.8 million subscribers. With a full slate of football, college football and the US Open tennis tournament, ESPN said ESPN+ had its most-watched day on September 3.

Russell Wolff, executive vice president and general manager of business operations for ESPN+ and ESPN Networks, said he doesn’t think fans are picky about what’s on-line versus streaming, as long as they can see it. .

“Finding out where things are is as easy as possible for the fans, that’s probably the biggest change for the fans. I don’t think you have a problem with the fans saying, ‘Oh, that’s in streaming? I don’t know how to do that, or I don’t want to do that,” he said.

Peacock, which broadcasts the Olympics and the Premier League, has 13 million subscribers, while Paramount+, which owns the rights to Champions League football, has 43 million in more than 60 countries. Paramount does not distribute numbers only in the United States.

Major League Soccer’s deal with AppleTV+, including game production, has grabbed headlines, but the next big move could come in college football and basketball. If the NFL is a hit on Prime Video, it could allow Amazon and Netflix to become more attractive to the Pac-12 or Big 12, whose rights will arrive in the next two years.

“The NFL’s deal with Amazon signals what lies ahead for coveted live action sports streaming content,” Christian said. “American sports streaming is a little behind at the moment with huge opportunities ahead. Currently, the focus in streaming has been more on episodic and full-length recorded content, on demand. It will be interesting to see how it will pan out as the rights to major sports leagues don’t come cheap.

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