The NFL+ streaming service the league officially launched Monday has been in the works for a while, but now we know exactly what it encompasses. March’s annual NFL owners’ meetings saw discussion of them entering the U.S. streaming market themselves in a larger way, possibly incorporating the local/primetime streaming rights for mobile devices and tablets that had been with Verizon and Yahoo and the other content that had been in the U.S. version of NFL Game Pass (including replays of games and All-22 footage). May saw the owners officially greenlight a NFL+ plan, although exact details of what was in it were still sketchy. And Monday saw the NFL officially roll this out. Here’s more from their release:
With NFL+, fans can take their game on the go. NFL+ offers access to live out-of-market preseason games, live local and primetime regular season and postseason games (phone and tablet only), live local and national audio for every game, NFL Network shows on-demand, NFL Films archives and more.
“Today marks an important day in the history of the National Football League with the launch of NFL+,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. “The passionate and dedicated football fans are the lifeblood of the NFL, and being able to reach and interact with them across multiple platforms is incredibly important to us. We look forward to continuing to grow NFL+ and deepening our relationship with fans across all ages and demographics, providing them access to a tremendous amount of NFL content, including the most valuable content in the media industry: live NFL games.”
NFL+ marks the next evolution of the NFL’s direct-to-consumer offering, building upon what the league developed with NFL Game Pass*. With the growth of OTT, NFL+ is the NFL’s commitment to bringing fans the content they want and delivering a marquee direct-to-consumer experience. (*With the launch of NFL+, NFL Game Pass will no longer be offered in the United States.)
The release also spells out pricing and features for the new service (which you can sign up for here). The basic NFL+ offering will be $4.99 a month or $30 for a full year. It will include live in-market and primetime games on mobile and tablet devices, live out-of-market preseason games across all devices, live game audio (home, away and national calls) for every game of the season, and ad-free NFL library programming on-demand.
The premium offering will be $9.99 a month or $79.99 a year, and will include the basic features mentioned above, but also features that formerly lived in Game Pass, including ad-free full-game and condensed-game replays and coaches’ film, including the All-22 angle. (That extremely popular feature was missing for the first two weeks of last season, but then was returned to Game Pass after that.) It’s notable that season-ticket holders will receive free access to NFL+ Premium as one of their “Membership Club” benefits this fall.
There are several key things with this development. The biggest thing that’s new here is the league doing some U.S. streaming of live regular-season and postseason games themselves. Yes, it’s only in-market and primetime games, and only to mobile devices. And this is the package that was previously with Verizon and Yahoo, which offered it for free. So having that package go from free to paid is a loss for consumers.
But the NFL wasn’t likely to get a similar offer to what they were getting from Verizon/Yahoo under the old deal (which expired after the 2021-22 season), especially following Verizon’s 2021 sale of Yahoo to Apollo Global; that package made some sense for the combined Verizon/Yahoo (and they put a lot of effort into promoting it), but it made less sense for Verizon after their media company divestitures, and probably wasn’t a fit for Apollo Global/Yahoo either. And there wasn’t another obvious buyer for it.
Now, the NFL can use that package as the centerpiece of a larger U.S. direct-to-consumer strategy. They’re rolling in their previous limited DTC offering of Game Pass as well. And for those who already subscribed to Game Pass and who want to maintain that subscription with the new NFL+ Premium, there will now be more features in there (the live games and so on previously in the Verizon/Yahoo package) than there were in the old Game Pass.
It’s also worth noting that while this is a new approach for the NFL in the U.S., they’re not new to offering this kind of combined live games/replays/coaches’ film package. Much of what will be in the new NFL+ has been offered in many of the differing international varieties of Game Pass for some time. (In fact, the U.S. version of Game Pass has long been the most unusual and limited one.) That hasn’t always gone completely smoothly, especially when it’s come to some third-party developers, but it’s notable that the NFL does have a decent amount of experience with various DTC streaming plays. So that should hopefully help them avoid too many growing pains.
The big question with NFL+ may be how it’s received and what it leads to. An advantage of a move like this for the NFL is that what rights are in the service, and if there is a service at all, is completely up to them, and can change at almost any point. (They might have to offer some refunds to year-long subscribers if they dramatically altered what was in the service, but that’s far less damaging than breaking a multi-year media contract with an outside party would be.) Thus, if in a couple years there is some great resurgence of interest from outside companies in the idea of paying for the former Yahoo/Verizon streaming package, the NFL could explore that option.
Conversely, if NFL+ really takes off and draws massive subscriber numbers, that brings a lot of revenue to the league itself, and that might have them look at adding more to the service. More live games (or even streaming to TVs and connected-TV devices) wouldn’t be easy, with those rights largely locked up through 2033 under the deals signed with media partners last year and with those deals including significant streaming rights. But renegotiations and trades can happen, especially in long-term deals like what the NFL has.
We also still don’t know what the eventual Sunday Ticket package is going to look like and who’s going to get it (although we know some of the likely suspects), and if that’s a short-term deal, some or all of it might eventually wind up in a NFL+ offering (but the league would have to think they could get more that way than in a tech-company deal, which certainly isn’t the case right now). And there are always opportunities for the league to expand the non-game or game-adjacent (like the coaching film) content it will offer on NFL+.
Thus, the eventual impact of NFL+ is far from clear right now. Maybe this is only a short-term move on the mobile rights package here (which, besides the new name, is the big differentiator from the previously-offered U.S. version of Game Pass so far), and maybe that will go back to someone else in a few years and NFL+ will return to being mostly Game Pass. Or maybe this will really take off, and convince the NFL there are further direct-to-consumer opportunities out there for them. In either case, this move itself certainly isn’t world-shattering with what’s in here so far, but it’s notable. And it has the potential to be a bigger deal down the road.
[NFL Communications; image from NFL.com/plus]