It’s 2023 and Amazon just bought NFL TV rights…now what?
With the news earlier this year that Amazon would make it’s first official foray into major American live sports through a $50 million NFL digital streaming package, it’s not crazy to imagine a world where Jeff Bezos decides to perform the Full Monty and outbid his legacy media counterparts when their TV rights are up in just 5 years time.
While 5 years in media and tech is seemingly eons of innovation away, the Seattle-based behemoth will likely have to start thinking and planning for an NFL TV takeover bid in the not-so-distant future, especially given the amount of infrastructure they would have to put in place ahead of time.
Of course, this thought exercise is wholly contingent on several not-so-insignificant factors, including the 2017 digital streaming efforts being considered a success, a plausible path for streaming profitability for Amazon and the continuation of viewer behavioral trends (cord-cutting, cord-shaving, increased penetration in number of connected devices etc.) that have all but dominated the media mindshare over the last 3 years.
But for starters: how could we get there?
Let’s just imagine for a quick second that Bezos has submitted a bid higher than the roughly $5 billion combined that CBS, FOX, NBC and ESPN pay for their packages annually, ensuring that every NFL game from Thursday to Monday is brought to you by Amazon. Even though this would be significantly more than their 2017 initial investment in the NFL digital streaming rights, Bezos and Co. did just acquire Whole Foods for roughly $13B in June, so it’s not crazy to think that a $5B price tag is very much in play for the online retail giant.
Given Amazon’s currently minimal TV presence and programming (more to come on this in a minute), the NFL could still look to license highlights to ESPN, FOX, NBC and CBS, a last ditch effort for the legacy stalwarts to maintain their studio coverage and relevancy in the Football World. This spinoff of highlight rights from the overall NFL TV rights package would also give the NFL another way to keep the game top of mind all week long, especially considering that Amazon may not want to get into the “Monday Morning QB, Hot Take-ization” that is the daily sports studio show space.
So now that we’ve covered how Amazon could plausibly bid on rights, what would an NFL Sunday brought to you by Amazon look like?
The first obvious question is now that our feet are up on the couch on a Sunday afternoon, where would we even find these NFL broadcasts, since Amazon doesn’t yet have a connected or linear channel? While seemingly a massive hurdle, the NFL has already provided a path forward with a Sunday-only network that is beloved by diehard Fantasy owners everywhere: the Red Zone Channel.
Picture this for a second: one channel that is solely dedicated to football and allows you to pick which NFL game you would want to watch at any given moment every single Sunday. Sounds pretty good, right?
With just a simple sign-in using your Amazon Prime account, you would have access to every game in the league and have the opportunity to watch any game you want at any point in time, live or time-shifted. The same viewing format would appear on Amazon.com, where fans could stream the games online and this channel, let’s call it the Amazon Football Network, would be available on connected devices such as Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Roku and whichever other OTT platforms are available in 2023.
While it’s almost impossible to say what the cable ecosystem will look like in 5 years, Amazon could also look to strike deals with traditional cable providers (such as Comcast, Cox, Charter and Time Warner) for a relatively small subscriber fee to ensure that the Amazon Football Network appears in just about every home across the country.
Amazon would be more than happy to offer every game at any time to fans across the country because fundamentally, it would drive more consumers to sign up for Prime, thereby increasing the subscription base to include football fans who may not have already been Prime users.
Which leads us to the next big question: how would the Amazon Football Network affect overall NFL ratings?
While it is one of the most popular media debates at the moment, the short answer is that Amazon wouldn’t actually care about their NFL ratings on the Amazon Football Network.
Simply put: the purpose of ratings is to measure what percentage of households with access to a given network viewed that network’s commercials during a specific time period. While Amazon would obviously want as many viewers as possible, they ultimately wouldn’t care about this predominately imperfect measurement for 2 reasons:
1) Mandating a Prime account for viewers would essentially make the NFL a subscription product
2) Who says the Amazon Football Network would be running commercials?
Amazon already does an incredible job of aggregating user data and knowing your product wants and needs before even you do, dropping diapers off at your doorstep with near-eerie precision.
So if the Amazon Football Network won’t have commercials, then what will we do between stalled out drives? Will we ever have time to refill the chips and salsa again?!
During stops in play, instead of going to the typical 3-minute commercial break, fans will see drop-in engagement ads from Amazon that promote products that Prime users are most likely to buy.
For those with smart or connected TVs, the drop-in promotions will be interactive and give fans the option to make product purchases on-screen and right next to live game action.
Whether it’s a new couch because your buddy spilled his cold one on the cushions and you’ve been looking at two-piece faux-leather options all week or groceries because it’s been a while since your last cereal delivery, Amazon will use your Prime account data to give you the opportunity to make the purchases you probably need right in between drives.
These drop-in engagements could last only 60 seconds and appear right next to game coverage, which will also give fans more access to the players on the field, making it feel like there is never truly a break in the action.
And from Mr. Bezos’s perspective, why haggle over commercial time when you can sell millions of paper towels directly to the customers who you already know best?
Ultimately, cut-down commercial time will also lead to quicker games, which will keep more fans staying tuned in for longer. Not that Amazon will necessarily care about their ratings, but the NFL will view this increase in attention as a boon towards keeping their audience focused on the product for longer periods of time.
And how about all of that awkward time in the stadium when players are just standing around and waiting for the signal to start the next series? Yeah, that’s gone too, which means that an Amazon rights deal could give fans not just a better TV product, but by extension, a better in-venue product as well.
There are more than a few hurdles before a true digitally native company like Amazon jumps head-first into the shark-infested media waters that accompany a major live sports rights deal but, if the Whole Foods takeover last week proved anything, it’s to never underestimate Amazon’s prowess, even in the areas where you’d least expect it.