As the NFL celebrates its' 100th season, Stephen Duval takes a closer look at how streaming is shaping the future of broadcasting rights for the sport
In December 1993 Rupert Murdoch wrote one of the biggest cheques in US TV history as FOX won the exclusive broadcasting rights for the National Football Conference (NFC). The media rights landscape seemed rather basic compared to where we are now in the age of digital streaming, given there were only three major US networks and each of them had a package of NFL games. CBS had the NFC; NBC had the AFC and ABC had Monday Night Football. CBS was the gold standard and had been a TV partner since 1956 and they had the most valuable sports-right deal in the US. That was until Murdoch wrote a $1.6 billion cheque and moved the rights over to FOX, completely changing the sports media landscape.
As NFL celebrates its' 100th season, it now looks as though we are soon to be at a similar cross-roads with streaming giants like Amazon, Disney and DAZN proactively making noises about rights for the NFL, most notably DAZN and the Sunday Ticket with DirecTV. A few months ago, John Skipper, the executive chairman of DAZN Group approached the NFL to see if they would consider their summer opt-out clause for their current deal with DirecTV and wrestle the streaming rights over to his subscription service. For a split-second, a ‘Netflix for sports’ looked like it could become a reality in the US, but the NFL declined the offer and opted to stick with their current deal. But for how long will the bosses at the NFL be able to resist the push into big money streaming services?
It goes without saying that financially the NFL is one of the best run sports, from top to bottom globally. It is extremely well-funded across stadia, infrastructure, along with the monetization of their broadcast rights, so it is only natural that there are those investors interested in the next great value proposition, and sports streaming rights and the NFL’s IP could be just that. Similarly, to what Murdoch envisioned back in the early 90’s, when will the next great upheaval in football’s rights be?
More traditional lenders such as banks which offer financing for stadium builds or other major projects tend to be restricted by rigid lending criteria and an inability to assess the value of intangible assets such as copyright or rights deals, which has made it difficult for those in the sports industry to access the funding they need to maximise value. The next great leap for the NFL will be to capitalise on one of the greatest sports products in the world and enter into a high value broadcast and streaming rights agreement with one of the bigger providers, broadening the appeal of the sport internationally.
The current deal for the Sunday Ticket with AT&T’s DirecTV runs until the end of the 2022 season. The way streaming and rights are developing year on year, the NFL will no doubt be reviewing their deals again in a couple of years and casting their eyes far and wide to those entertainment giants to once again revolutionize the landscape, like Murdoch famously did with FOX Sports nearly thirty years ago. In the words of a jubilant Rupert Murdoch, immediately after winning the NFL deal: “Like no other sport will do, the NFL will make us into a real network”.