In accelerating its exclusive deal with the NFL, Amazon Prime added a full season to its extant 10-year contract and will begin streaming its package of 15 Thursday night games in the fall of 2022.
The streaming service made the announcement this afternoon at its virtual NewFronts presentation, where Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald did the honors during a pre-recorded exchange with actress Catherine O’Hara.
“We are so excited to take Thursday Night Football to the next level with special viewing features you can’t get anywhere else,” Marie Donoghue, Amazon’s VP of Global Sports Video, told the throng of media buyers and advertisers who tuned into the online event. “Prime Video will deliver new pregame, halftime and postgame shows, and it will continue to offer fan-favorite interactive features, like X-Ray and Next Gen Stats, which provide a more customizable viewing experience.”
Prime Video’s X-Ray platform enhances Amazon’s live game coverage with a supercharged replay function, which in turn is enhanced by the NFL’s Next Gen Stats feature. RFID tags embedded inside each player’s shoulder pads allow the league to capture a wealth of splashy performance data, including running speed, yards after catch and release time.
Donoghue intimated that Amazon’s NFL coverage was stickier than what is on offer care of the legacy TV partners, although the data supporting this claim is a bit spotty. “The average viewing window for our NFL-exclusive game was 82 minutes. The average for the NFL last season was 67 minutes, so people watched us for 15 minutes longer than the other guys,” Donoghue said. In so doing, she effectively compared the average tune-in for the 255 NFL regular-season games that aired on TV in 2020 to the sole 49ers-Cardinals matchup the streamer hosted on Dec. 26.
In bowing out a year early, current rights holder Fox will save $660 million. A Fox Sports spokesman said the network had accomplished what it had set out to do with Thursday Night Football, noting that the network had “elevated” the package from a production and scheduling perspective.
Fox has been the broadcast partner of Thursday Night Football since 2018. As with CBS and NBC before it, Fox shared the road with the cable outlet NFL Network, which simulcast each of its 33 Thursday primetime games. Last season, Fox’s most-watched Thursday night game was its Christmas broadcast of a Vikings-Saints showdown that averaged 20.1 million viewers, making it the 16th most-watched NFL outing of 2020.
That said, Fox put up far bigger numbers with its national Sunday afternoon NFL window, which averaged a league-high 23.6 million viewers. Including its Thanksgiving Day broadcast, which beat all comers with 30.3 million viewers, Fox last season had bragging rights to the three highest-rated games of the regular season.
Fox’s third season of Thursday Night Football was the No. 2 show in primetime, trailing only NBC’s Sunday Night Football. With an average draw of 5.1 million adults 18-49, TNF topped TV’s third-biggest demo draw, Fox’s own The Masked Singer, by 2.9 million viewers.
The sped-up Amazon deal was teased by WWE president and chief revenue officer Nick Khan during that company’s April 22 earnings call. Khan, who in the same call also had augured a split between NBC and the NHL, told investors that something was in the wind.
“Recent developments in media have been highlighted by the completion of new content distribution deals. First, as we discussed last earnings call, Amazon grabbed the Thursday night NFL package,” Khan said. “Although we have no inside knowledge of this, we wouldn’t be shocked if Amazon was negotiating now, as we speak, to get that package on its air early.”
This makes Nick Khan two-for-two on breaking sports-media news in a forum that’s in thrall to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Five days after he gave his read on the NHL rights, Turner Sports announced that it had picked up the league’s B package.
Last Thursday, Amazon announced that Marc Patrick would be joining the company as global head of sports marketing for Prime Video and the in-house studios unit. In his new role, Patrick will work with the NFL as the marketing lead for Thursday Night Football and will oversee all live sports, which the company has embraced as a driver of growth.
Prime Video also streams a select package of Yankees games in the New York metro area, an arrangement facilitated by its minority stake in YES Network.
Prior to joining Amazon, Patrick put in more than 20 years at Nike, where he served as the head of brand marketing for golf, tennis, baseball, athletic training, skateboarding and football.
(This story has been updated throughout to include information from Amazon’s presentation and comment from Fox Sports, and to correct the spelling of Marie Donoghue’s name.)