While Amazon may indeed become a key part of the NFL’s immediate future when it comes to the so-called OTT broadcasting of games, there’s another option that the league quietly is considering: Cutting out the middleman and streaming games directly to customers.
As recently explained by John Ourand of SportsBusiness Journal, the NFL has been selling live games directly to consumers in Europe, and the league currently is focused on growing the product. While the league currently doesn’t sell live game action to domestic consumers, it could just be a matter of time before the NFL creates a similar product that would allow the league to manage the experience and retain all revenue.
The question becomes whether a service like Amazon will offer enough money for the ability to stream games in order to make it more financially viable for the league to simply collect the rights fees in lieu of creating its own in-house streaming business.
But here’s the one thing to keep in mind. Even with OTT being a big part of the league’s future, broadcast TV via free over-the-air networks won’t be going away, especially since the NFL would risk losing its broadcast antitrust exemption if the league stops making football available on free TV, a practice the NFL championed several years ago while stubbornly (and clumsily) defending the blackout rule.
Regardless of how it all plays out, big changes are looming for the way live NFL games are consumed, from the way that we watch to the way that the league gets paid for it to, ultimately, how much money the NFL continues to make. Despite the league’s popularity, the NFL has benefited over the years from the willingness of networks to overpay for pro football. If/when that ends, it will be difficult for the league to continue to grow the multi-billion-dollar pie.