Ever since Amazon Prime scooped up exclusive rights to Thursday Night Football in 2021, paying an eye-popping $10 billion plus over a decade for the lower tier NFL window, conventional wisdom has been the cash fat technology streamers would keep the media rights payment sluice wide open.
But aside from TNF and YouTube’s Sunday Ticket deal (Apple’s $250 million a year MLS contract is not exactly a money gusher), streamers like Prime have not spent funny money to scoop up media rights.
“Amazon had a chance to bid on (NASCAR’s) Xfinity and the PAC 12, I just don’t really know what’s going on over there,” said one media source, who requested anonymity so as not to alienate Amazon. “And I definitely think they’re experimenting. I don’t think they’re anything that matches the excitement about them. And I don’t think reality matters much to the conventional wisdom and the media, because they’re just so damn excited about it. But the truth of the matter is, aside from Thursday Night Football, I can’t find a damn thing those guys have done.”
That’s not quite true of course. Amazon overseas has some English Premier League rights, UEFA games, and back home, exclusivity to 20 New York Yankees contests, among others. But the general feedback is that Amazon has yet to go big again. So we’ve chosen five big media deals upcoming that Amazon could bid on. In doing so, remember Amazon’s goal in sports is different from linear networks, it’s to sign up individual subs and promote the whole of Amazon. So the demo it is seeking leans younger, and diverse.
Younger and diverse is the NBA’s audience calling card. The league’s $24 billion of contracts with ESPN and Turner/TNT expires at the end of the 2024-25 season, with estimates of a doubling to tripling in the sights of Adam Silver. The league has also made clear it expects a streaming option in the new package. If ESPN and Turner keep three quarters of the games, a quarter could go to an Amazon. Remember too the NBA is starting its first in-season tournament, so that adds inventory to parcel out to the different platforms. NBC has been floated as wanting to return to its NBA days, and it can offer Peacock as a streaming platform too. But one former media executive, who also requested anonymity so as not alienate any of the parties, said, “The NBA has been pretty clear about wanting a streaming package. I think they want the streaming package outside of an ESPN+ or outside of (Warner Bros Discovery’s) Max or outside of say NBC and Peacock.” In other words, the NBA is looking for a pure streamer, not one that is an offshoot of, or somehow tied to a linear network (start the debate over what constitutes a pure streamer). “Among the upcoming rights, the NBA makes the most sense for Amazon,” the former media executive said. Among the upcoming rights, the NBA makes the most sense for Amazon.
ESPN has exclusive rights to all UFC pay per view broadcasts through 2025, and Amazon has not been in the PPV business… yet. Prime should have no problem selling pay per views, and the rights may be global, unlike those with the NBA. ESPN is likely to put up a strong fight for the UFC, whose fights populate ESPN +. “UFC would be a good fit, I mean, directionally,” the media source said. “The problem is that ESPN is a great fit.”
The wrestling entertainment giant is now owned by the same company as UFC. WWE’s contracts with NBCUniversal and Fox expire in October 2024 and like UFC, could see a pure streamer like Amazon or Apple get into the mix. Smackdown’s move from Fox to USA Network takes one show off the market but others are available. NBC’s Peacock already is a major streaming partner with the WWE Network. There is the possibility of jointly selling UFC and WWE rights at least for a short term deal, and whether that would dissuade Amazon is unclear as it has not proven to have a big appetite for mega sports rights outside the NFL. But WWE is a proven ratings winner and would be hard to ignore if Amazon wants to beef up its sports/entertainment offerings.
NASCAR’s current $8.2 billion, ten-year agreement with Fox Sports and NBC Sports expires in 2024. The thinking is NASCAR will carve out six races for a digital streamer, similar to the package it sold to Turner until 2014. Whether Amazon will be interested though is iffy. When NASCAR shopped its Infinity series, Amazon took a pass, with the circuit now on CW. And whether six races would be enough for Amazon to build around is another question mark. “NASCAR really likes the kind of NBC-Fox combo,” added the former media executive.
College Football Playoff
The CFP is expanding from four teams to 12 next year, and the media interest in these games is sure to be intense. Amazon already took a pass at bidding on the Pac 12 rights (and Apple’s puny bid doomed the conference). Obviously CFP games are a different order of magnitude, but given the still limited supply, these feel like contests destined for linear TV. Of course Amazon could break the bank, and if there is one lesson to be learned about college sports, it’s all about the money. Stll, best guess here is all the games are on a broadcast network or networks and ESPN.
So where does that leave us? The NBA is clearly the most desirable asset out there for Amazon Prime followed by UFC and WWE. Amazon streams exclusively 20 New York Yankees games, and so perhaps it seeks to replicate that paradigm elsewhere in MLB. The details of Bally Sports Regional Networks bankruptcy reorganization is due in coming weeks, and could entail several teams needing to find new media homes. Amazon could be a partial answer if it wants to build a bit of a regional sports type lite network.