The NFL has long dominated the entertainment industry. In 2021, 23 of the top 25 telecasts were NFL games, the other two were Joe Biden’s Inaugural address, and an episode of The Equalizer, which came on directly after the Super Bowl.
In the past decade, we have seen a dramatic shift in viewership from TV providers to large streaming platforms. Throughout it all, the NFL has remained with these TV providers, despite other sports and media shifting to being broadcasted on various streaming services. There has been questions and speculations in the industry as to when the NFL might decide to hop on this trend.
These questions were answered this offseason when the tech giant, Amazon, secured a massive $11 billion deal with the NFL for exclusive rights to “Thursday Night Football” games. This gives Amazon the streaming rights to “Thursday Night Football” for the next 11 years. The games are streamed on Amazon’s streaming service, Prime Video, which is exclusively available to Amazon Prime members.
There was a lot of skepticism from the public over whether or not this acquisition would be successful, as this is the first time NFL gave away exclusive long term streaming rights. However, currently it seems to have been a winning move by Amazon. Before the Chargers vs. Chiefs, the first broadcasted game on Prime Video, Amazon brought in a record number of U.S. Prime subscriptions over a three-hour period. The game averaged a staggering 15.3 million viewers. To put that into context, the average “Thursday Night Football” game broadcasted on cable in 2020 averaged 14.1 million viewers. In addition, and arguably the most important statistic, the average viewer age was lowered to 47 from 54 from last year’s tri-cast on Fox, NFL Network, and Amazon.
In their second broadcasted game, the Steelers and Browns brought in an average of 13.6 million viewers, which was a slight decline from the previous week. However, the median age of viewers was 46, which is seven years younger than viewers on the NFL’s linear TV partners. Since then, there have been four more games. Over this period, viewership has slowly declined, until it hit a season low of 7.82 million viewers in the week 7 matchup between the Saints and Cardinals.
Although this is concerning, there have been valid reasons for this decline. The matchups themselves have not been overly exciting for viewers. The majority of the games have been either blowouts or defensive battles, which tend to bring in less viewers. There have also been time conflicts with other events. The Saints vs. Cardinals game conflicted with the Yankees vs. Astros American League Championship game, and two NBA games. Despite the competition, Amazon’s broadcast was still the most viewed event by about 2 million viewers. In addition, the median age of the game was 45, the lowest of any game all season. This presence of a younger audience is extremely beneficial to the NFL and helps to ensure the league’s success in the future by bringing in new and younger attention to the sport. This potential presence of a younger audience could lead to more of a motive for the NFL to move to these large streaming platforms in the future.
Despite the recent dip in viewership, there is still a bright future for “Thursday Night Football” on Amazon. There will be better matchups than the blowouts of late, which should lead to a bounce back in viewership. This, along with the amount of young attention brought to the sport so early in this acquisition, is enough to confidently say Amazon’s Thursday Night Football experiment has been so far successful. Whether this success continues will depend on the willingness of the entertainment market to continue to cut their cords and move to subscription-based streaming.
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