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The NFL Settles for a Field Goal

Tien Tzuo
CEO, Zuora

The NFL recently signed a much ballyhooed broadcast rights deal with Amazon, CBS, ESPN/ABC, FOX, and NBC that runs through 2033. Collectively those five companies will pay the NFL more than $100 billion over the course of a decade.

The NFL will be swimming in money for years to come. So this huge deal obviously counts as a touchdown, right? Wrong. Frankly, I think the NFL settled for a field goal. Let me explain.

This is a lost opportunity, for a very simple reason: the NFL sold away their fan relationships. All of their media partners will be using NFL content to do one thing: drive subscriptions to their streaming services, and establish direct relationships with football fans in the process. (Previously I thought the NFL would kill network television in 2022, but it turns out it was 2021!). 

“The key theme consistent across the deals is the additional streaming flexibility all broadcasters have secured, paving the way for NFL programming, including games on ESPN+, NBC’s Peacock, Paramount+, and Fox’s Tubi,” said Morgan Stanley’s Benjamin Swinburne. “Of course, shifting Thursday Night Football to Amazon Prime Video puts an even more emphatic point on the streaming future.”

Today the most successful brands in the world are skipping over intermediaries and third party channels in order to establish direct relationships with their customers. Look at what Netflix has done for entertainment. Look at what Tesla has done for automobiles. The NFL could have done the same thing for football, but they opted for a check instead.

Look, I get it. The NFL has a business to run, and these media networks aren’t going anywhere. But this is such a lost opportunity. The league could have used this announcement as a springboard for a new NFL subscriber network that would enable fans all around the world to connect directly with their favorite teams.

But instead, the NFL gave the keys away. They sold the customer relationships, and outsourced the innovation. Think about it: Does the NFL know if you like to watch games at stadiums, bars, or at home? Do they know if you like to play fantasy football? Heck, do they even know what team you support? 

The NFL won’t see any of the data, insights and dividends that come with running a digital subscription service. Instead, Peacock and Tubi will. 

Mark my words: the future of sports won’t be about monetizing live content, it will be about monetizing fan relationships. Today, you have an Amazon ID. You have a Google ID. And now many of you have a Disney ID. What would an NFL ID look like? We won’t know until at least 2033. 

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