The NFL is currently having one of those “have your cake and eat it too” moments with the tech world’s live streaming giants. Over recent years it has parcelled out small fragments of its broadcast schedule to Twitter, Yahoo, and Amazon, reaping millions in return without ever compromising its core funding source, broadcast TV.
Now one of its most influential owners is telling the league to look to the future, and treat its web and mobile audiences better. Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, has warned the league it needs to make a real investment in live streaming its games, or risk losing touch with the soon-to-be-very-powerful Millennial generation.
And he’s right. Millennial males, a key demographic in the NFL’s audience, already prefer to live stream their entertainment over the web and on mobile. As they become the dominant generation in the marketplace, the NFL would be wise to bend its will to their wants. In time, the league may not have a choice.
Past Live Streaming Deals
The league this year struck up a $50 million deal to stream 10 live Thursday night games over Amazon’s on-demand service, spurning a similar agreement it had in place with Twitter last year ($21 million), and Yahoo ($20 million) the year previous. It also has a deal with Verizon ($20 million) so the mobile carrier can stream a single game out of London during the upcoming season.
Facebook and Google have also expressed interest in streaming games this year. The NFL, however, has never given any of its streaming partners a true run at carrying the games on their own. As with previous years, Amazon’s web stream will have to compete with a TV broadcast from CBS or NBC, and a cable broadcast of the league’s own NFL Network, in what the NFL is proud to call a tri-cast.
None of the streaming games are primetime features, and there are no playoff games on the schedule, although you could speculate that’s where Google’s and Facebook’s interest lies.
You could call the live streamed games an experiment, or you could call them a grab at some free revenue without any risk of losing the traditional network and cable (ESPN) coverage. If you are a millennial viewer, however, and you prefer to watch online you might be inclined to call the deals inadequate–or maybe even insulting.
Mr. Kraft is right about not wanting to insult Millennials.
Millennials’ Live Streaming Habit
Why Millennials should matter to big corporations like the NFL is easy to answer. The generation is not only the largest the U.S. has ever seen, and about to become the biggest segment of the workforce, it also stands to inherit the biggest fortune the country has ever seen from its predecessors, parents, and grandparents. $30 trillion is going to trickle down to the generation before we reach the midpoint of this century.
That’s a lot of buying power.
As is by now well accepted, the generation is the first to be considered digital natives. The group has grown up alongside the internet, smart devices, and, most importantly, all-in-one devices like smartphones that let them socialize, work, and watch live events from a single source.
Mr. Kraft maintains they don’t even have TVs, so how else but live streaming can the NFL reach this huge segment of their audience? The live streaming tech giants the NFL has so far been toying with are about to become very important to its long-term health and wealth.
The Future of the NFL Will Be Streamed Online
Here’s some math.
- The NFL’s annual broadcast rights agreement costs the networks $7 billion a year.
- Amazon’s net revenue for the year 2016 was $135.99 billion.
- That revenue vastly dwarfs the annual earnings of CBS, a Super Bowl broadcaster.
There’s no law on the books, or divine right, that maintains the NFL must be broadcast on the major networks. The NFL’s next broadcast rights deal isn’t due until 2021, and who’s to say a true giant like Amazon or Google ($89 billion annual revenue) can’t swoop in and make the NFL an offer it can’t refuse.
If the research keeps flooding in to say Millennials–that dominant chunk of the workforce–prefer to live stream their entertainment, why can’t a live streamer make it a profitable venture? Amazon currently charges its estimated 66 million Amazon Prime users a $99 yearly fee. To recoup the NFL package spend it would need just 4 million more paid viewers–and that’s before any advertising deals are struck, the backbone of network interest.
Or maybe these tech giants who’ve been given short shrift in recent streaming deals will find there’s no need to include football, as their millions of Millennials are busy watching other content online.
There’s no guarantee that the NFL will remain popular among the Millennial generation. Baseball was once “America’s pastime,” but is now in decline. If Millennials prefer to watch online, and there’s no NFL to be found, they’ve got on-demand movies, live streamed news, live streamed e-sports, and live events like concerts to keep them occupied.
Mr. Kraft is right to worry the NFL hasn’t done enough to please its Millennial fans, because if they don’t have TV, as he says, they’ll be forced to get their kicks elsewhere. And they may find these readily live streamed events a much better fit with their lifestyle.