How streaming is changing the NFL's business

The NFL isn’t just the most popular sports league in the U.S., it’s also the most valuable with the highest-rated programming and the priciest ad time.

In 2021 the league signed an estimated $110 billion worth of media deals covering 11 years, which reportedly was nearly double the value of its previous contracts.

“If you’re the most valuable content on those platforms, you’re going to be the bulk of their investment. And that’s what we are,” said Brian Rolapp, chief media and business officer for the NFL.

An average of nearly 18 million people tuned in to watch football games across TV and digital platforms during the 2023 regular season, the highest since 2015 and the second-highest ever, according to the NFL.

The pinnacle of the NFL’s popularity is the Super Bowl, the biggest television event of the year. Of the 30 most-watched broadcasts of all time in the U.S., 22 have been Super Bowl games, according to Nielsen.

The NFL’s move to ESPN in the late 1980s catapulted the rise of cable TV. Now, its jump into streaming is having ripple effects across the media and tech landscape.

“Media is 60% of the revenue of the NFL,” said Robert Kraft, principal owner of the New England Patriots. “If we don’t stay fluid and in tune with what the times are, then we’d have a real issue.”

With tech giants Alphabet and Amazon, along with NBCUniversal’s Peacock, snapping up digital rights to NFL games, and with the announcement this week that Disney‘s ESPN, Fox and Warner Bros. Discovery are launching a streaming service tailored to sports fans, it’s clear that streaming is poised to be the NFL’s next frontier, despite some backlash from fans.

“You will see us continue to lean into digital,” Rolapp told CNBC. “The trick will be doing it in a way that’s fan friendly, and doing it in a way that continues getting as much football to as many people as possible.”

Watch the documentary to learn more about how streaming is transforming the NFL.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of Peacock and CNBC

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