At a time when the pandemic is impacting certain aspects of the NFL’s business, it’s not keeping the NFL from doing business.
The league announced on Wednesday morning an extension of its deal with Amazon to stream 11 Thursday night games per season. The arrangement now includes a late-season Saturday game that will be streamed exclusively by Amazon.
“In keeping with the NFL’s long-standing commitment to make its games available on free, over-the-air television, the game will also be televised in the participating teams’ home markets,” the league said in the statement announcing the deal.
That portion of the statement states a lot. At a time when some wonder whether the NFL will be moving its product to platforms that aren’t free, the league understands the importance of keeping certain games free. Whether to maximize the audience for a prime-time game or to avoid a revolt (and a threat to the broadcast antirust exemption) when fans have no way of watching their local teams play without paying for it, the league will keep putting games on free, three-letter networks.
That said, an Amazon-only game is destined to have poor numbers. In 2017, the league streamed a Ravens-Jaguars game in London exclusively on Yahoo — and the ratings were so bad that the NFL never revealed them.
The balance for the league becomes revenue versus exposure. Sometimes, the NFL will take more money knowing that a given game will be seen by fewer people. And that definitely will happen when a game can be watched only on a premium platform that currently costs $119 per year.
The new Amazon deal lasts through 2022, which puts the Thursday night streaming rights in play for the next wave of broadcast-rights negotiations. With 17 regular-season games coming in 2021, games available exclusively on streaming platforms could become a regular facet of the weekly NFL schedule.