The Role of Streaming in the NFL’s Digital Future

The Role of Streaming in the NFL’s Digital Future
6 min read
13 September 2022

In 2009, the senior vice president of media strategy and digital media for the NFL, Brian Rolapp, was tasked with determining the league’s approach to the newly wireless consumer market.

How was the NFL to cope with content moving online? Would the league be required to eschew lucrative cable deals in favour of online streaming alternatives? The answer that Ralopp came up with was to welcome streaming into the NFL broadcasting bosom.

A huge $780 million, four-year exclusive broadcasting partnership was announced with telecommunications company Verizon, who began streaming NFL action to millions of customers across the country.

Recently, the decision was taken by the NFL not to renew the deal with Verizon. What does that mean for the future of NFL streaming? Read on to find out.

NFL Plus

The NFL is the most lucrative sports league on the planet, bringing in revenues of $16 million during the 2019 season. This is a fact that might seem obvious to North Americans, but when you dig down into the statistics, it becomes less obvious and more impressive.

Football is America’s favourite sport, but it is pretty low down the list on a global scale. The English Premier League and the UEFA Champions League – two of soccer’s premier competitions – draw not just millions, but tens of millions more viewers than the NFL.

So why then, does the NFL bring in so much more money than those leagues? It is because of the sport’s ability to monetise and sell almost everything.

The slow but steady move towards sports betting legalisation in the United States had barely begun before the league had sought out partnerships with websites like DraftKings, which offer the latest odds for the NFL.

It is that desire to be at the peak of the curve that has seen the NFL sever ties with Verizon and instead, launch their own streaming service NFL Plus. Launching just in time for the 2022 season, NFL Plus is a tiered subscription service that allows football fans to stream all the latest action from the field.

In addition to this, the league are busy in negotiations with companies such as Amazon, Apple and YouTube to replace DirecTV as the home of the NFL Sunday Ticket. In a recent public appearance, Rolapp likened the NFL’s current approach to streaming services to the tactics they employed with cable television back in the 1980s.

During that period, when audiences were becoming steadily used to pay-per-view sporting action, the league first sought out to partner with small providers to test the water, before fully moving on board with mainstream cable providers.

The move from Verizon to NFL Plus seems to be the first step in that process.

(A more in-depth look at how NFL plus will operate and what services it will provide to fans.)

Is Streaming the Future?

The simple answer is yes. The NFL’s quick move to adopt streaming into its broadcast package should tell you all you need to know – the league are never behind the curve.

The TV industry has recently admitted that its market share is contracting – for the past seven years the average number of TVs per household in the US has been declining. It’s perhaps unsurprising then to see that cable networks are reporting huge drop offs in subscription and have been doing so since 2011.

In terms of sports broadcasting, all of this points to the logical conclusion that live streaming is the future.

The Role of Streaming in the NFL’s Digital Future

(Laptops, tablets and smart phones are quickly taking the place of large and expensive TVs.)

Why is Streaming the Future?

There are a number of factors behind the growing popularity of sports streaming but two of the largest are smart mobile phones and the pandemic. The former has changed society almost irrevocably since coming onto the market in 2007.

In a recent study it was found that the average American spends 3 hours and 43 minutes on their mobile device each day. Whether that’s consuming social media or viewing content on YouTube or TikTok, we now have a population that is used to the instant entertainment gratification of smart phones.

Who needs a costly cable subscription and a huge television set when you can get all the entertainment you want on your mobile phone for a fraction of the price? The USP that sports streaming has is that it fits neatly into the modern, increasingly mobile, entertainment landscape.

And what of the pandemic? It simply accelerated that shift. With no fans allowed in stadiums to watch sports all around the globe, streaming was seen as the best substitute for ticket holding fans.

In the English Premier League, the NFL and a whole host of other multi-billion dollar sports leagues efforts were made to ensure that the majority of games were available to live stream.

During that time it became not only clear that streaming was technologically feasible but that there was also an enormous appetite for it. Inadvertently the pandemic provided the test run for sports streaming and after passing that test with flying colors, it now look like becoming more commonplace.

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Alex 9.8K
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