By Paul Pastor
When you’re looking more than a decade ahead in a shifting market, it’s wise to keep all of your options open. That’s what the NFL and its partners did last week when they announced a flurry of new deals worth more than $100 billion that will lock up most of the league’s media rights through 2033.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: the NFL was a winner, increasing fees by 75% or more. But with Amazon taking over Thursday Night Football – and more streaming services in the mix – the other piece of big news was that the NFL and its partners are leaning farther than ever into the digital future. Paramount+, Tubi, Peacock, and ESPN+ – the streaming partners of ViacomCBS, Fox, NBCUniversal, and Disney/ABC/ESPN – all factored into plans as the NFL seeks to stem audience declines and the league’s partners seek new ways to monetize against the huge rights fees.
For the partners, this was never a case of “if” and always a case of “how much.” Live sports remains compelling programming. The math behind high rights fees generally includes preservation of retransmission and cable fees, increased advertising sales and retention of viewers netted against potential future declines in the MVPD ecosystem, of course. But in the new content environment, it’s also about driving adoption of media brands’ new streaming services and setting the table for participation in sports wagering.
With that in mind, here are three thoughts: First, the NFL and its partners are defending their older, most loyal viewers by maintaining their broadcast presences, while play-calling adjustments to capture younger fans who watch video content on connected devices. Second, the need to monetize against rights commitments will spur investment in new broadcast and streaming technologies, such as ATSC 3.0 and more agile, broadcast-quality streaming platforms, that enable higher-quality viewer experiences, addressable advertising, and in-game interactivity. And third, the ability of those evolved digital platforms to catch the monetization and engagement “big whale” of legal sports wagering and in-game betting on the TV when they become available.
We’re not sure what the years ahead will hold, but we agree with Robert Kraft, the New England Patriots owner who chairs the NFL’s media committee, when he said yesterday “This is about the future.”
We couldn’t agree more.