NFL insists streaming-exclusive playoff games are good for fans

The NFL streamed a Wild Card playoff game this January, and the shock around the media landscape was palpable. Making people sign up, turn over personal information, and pay for an NFL playoff game was a first, but it won’t be the last.

While the NFL has previously hosted playoff games on cable television like ESPN and Nickelodeon, those games were always nationally simulcast on an over-the-air network in addition to their paid option. (It should be noted that any game behind a paywall, be it streaming or cable, is simulcast over the air in the team’s home TV market.)

On Monday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was asked about streaming more playoff games in the future. It’s not about what he said, but what he didn’t say.

“Our fans are on these platforms. Our fans want to access them,” he said to a group of around 150 invited media members. “The technology’s extraordinary. You can do things on some of these platforms that you can’t do on the linear platform. So for us, it’s part of the future. I don’t know where it goes from here, but we’re going to continue to reach our fans where they are, with the best possible production, best possible technology.”

Instead of expanding into these new platforms, placing them exclusively on these platforms is a much different animal. One he didn’t address.

ESPN has long utilized their multiple channels to cover a single sporting event in numerous ways with their Megacast format, the Manningcast has been a brilliant way to have an alternative broadcast to the main Monday Night Football offering, and Prime Video has offered “Prime Vision with Next Gen Stats” featuring a zoomed out camera angle and stats and analytics jammed onto the screen. They haven’t replaced the traditional broadcast, but enhanced it.

Goodell is purposefully not talking about the fans who aren’t on these platforms and who don’t have access to them. Peacock paid a reported $110 million to stream the Wild Card game this January, and it was because of the exclusivity. They didn’t want to simulcast it on NBC. (Both NBC and Peacock are under the NBC Universal umbrella.)

Nearly 23 million people watched the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Miami Dolphins (though a chunk of those viewers were on local television in Kansa City and Miami), which makes it the largest streaming event ever.

Paying for NFL games isn’t a new phenomenon. Goodell noted that 90% of the league’s games are on broadcast TV. Games have been on cable’s NFL Network and ESPN in the past, and streaming service Prime Video became the exclusive home of Thursday Night Football in 2022. In 2023, Peacock streamed a December game.

Goodell did mention that the Super Bowl wouldn’t move to a streaming service in his lifetime — he turns 65 this month — and that the NFL was committed to being on broadcast television.

The NFL’s growth has largely been fueled by national television deals. One of the reasons the American Football League was successful in the 1960s is they were able to secure a broadcast deal with ABC, with the revenue shared equally between all the AFL teams. It allowed them to financially compete with the longstanding National Football League. The largest portion of the league’s shared revenue still comes from television deals.

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