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When Tom Brady threw his first pass in the National Football League in November 2000, the league still produced VHS tapes celebrating its annual Super Bowl winner and remained three years away from launching a terrestrial television network.
This September, the soon-to-be 45 years old Brady will suit up in a league featuring players who weren't born at the time of that first pass, and with its own streaming network, a concept that didn't exist when he first laced up his cleats. That's right: the NFL announced Monday that it's entering the streaming wars.
Hulu of Hard Knocks
With NFL+, the NFL's marketing department joins their counterparts at Disney and Apple in deciding to simply stick a plus sign on the end of the company name and calling it a streaming service. NFL+, available in $4.99 and $9.99 per month tiers, will grant subscribers access to both Sunday afternoon games airing in their TV market as well as the national prime time games on Sunday, Monday, and Thursday nights. They'll also be able to view any game 10 minutes after it is completed, in addition to the NFL's video archive of old contests and documentaries.
Subscribers won't have access to non-prime time games outside of their market, and the league's content will remain spread across various licensing arrangements as it tries to maximize the revenue potential of its wildly popular product:
- The 2021 NFL regular season averaged 17.1 million viewers per game, the best since 2015. America's most popular sport remains one of the few programs that can command such a giant audience at one time in the era of fragmented streaming.
- The rights to Sunday Ticket, the NFL's subscription package including most Sunday games, is in the final year of its $1.5 billion per season deal with DirecTV. According to The Wall Street Journal, DirectTV has lost roughly $500 million per year on the package and the rights are likely to be snapped up by Amazon, Apple, or YouTube -- Amazon already secured the rights to Thursday Night Football for its Prime streaming service.
"We're playing the long game," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told the WSJ. "This is about establishing and learning relationships. We're not judging this on whether we bust through 500,000 subscribers in the first five months."
Playing it Safe: Most NFL games will remain on traditional television, through deals with CBS, Fox, NBC, and ESPN. The NFL's long-term media deals reportedly total over $100 billion, giving the league better protection than the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lines.