Everyone has a streaming service these days, and the NFL is apparently considering getting into that arena in a bigger U.S. fashion. In international markets, they already have their own streaming service with NFL Game Pass (offering live and replay games, plus NFL Network and NFL Films content, although it hasn’t always worked perfectly). They also have a US version of the same service that offers replays, live game audio, on-demand NFLN and NFL Films content, and out of market-preseason games, but no other live games. But as per Daniel Kaplan at The Athletic, the league is now developing a “NFL+” streaming service that might incorporate a lot of that Game Pass content, plus team-centric content, and, perhaps most critically, live game streaming to mobile devices (which had been handled through a deal with Verizon, but that deal has expired):
The NFL is developing a subscription streaming service that would include games, radio, podcasts and team content. Teams were briefed on the development at the annual NFL owners’ meetings occurring in Palm Beach, Fla.
The NFL has distributed live games for free through mobile devices and on Yahoo for tablets and laptops, but these deals have expired. In the future, it appears if fans on the go want to stream games on their phone and they don’t have a cable subscription, they will need to pay for what is tentatively called NFL Plus.
The brand, NFL +, was included on slides viewed by a meeting of team presidents Sunday at The Breakers, the resort hosting the meetings. The streaming service is nascent, and likely won’t be ready for an owners’ vote until the next meeting in May, said one team president, who requested anonymity because the plans are still developing.
…What would NFL Plus cost? The price on the slides presented to team owners was $5 a month, though a team president cautioned that number is more hypothetical.
As sports media consultant Patrick Crakes notes in comments to Kaplan, there’s a possibility this is being floated just to try and bolster the bidding for that mobile package Verizon had held. Crakes says “I don’t think the NFL has a lot of bidders for this package,” and that seems right. The package Verizon held had some notable limitations: specifically, it was for Verizon phones only at first, then was later opened up to other phones and tablets, but not TVs. And no other companies were particularly mentioned in bidding for it when Verizon signed that deal in 2017.
This arrangement may also be less interesting to Verizon than it was in the past. A big part of that 2017 deal was about the ability to stream games on Yahoo, which they had acquired earlier that year. That streaming was also a big deal for Yahoo. But Verizon sold Yahoo and AOL to hedge fund Apollo Global last May, and they now don’t have an obvious sports internet portal to put games on. They do also already have another big NFL deal signed last fall, with that one focused on 5G technology in stadiums rather than on streaming games to users at home. So Verizon may not care as much about this package as they did before, and that might be part of why we’re now seeing NFL rumblings about doing it themselves with “NFL+.”
As Kaplan notes, there are several interconnected NFL media negotiations remaining, even after the league signed new deals with TV networks and Amazon last year. There’s the out-of-market NFL Sunday Ticket package, which has one remaining year with DirecTV: Amazon and Apple have been repeatedly reported as suitors there. There’s also a potential sale of equity in NFL Media (NFL Network, NFL Films, NFL.com, and more), which could be packaged with a Sunday Ticket sale. And there’s this mobile package. This is up for the 2022 season rather than the 2023 season, so there’s some more urgency to it, but this absolutely could wind up as part of a Sunday Ticket and/or equity deal.
But it’s worth mentioning that if this NFL+ service does come to pass, and if it’s launched with just the mobile rights Verizon had previously held and with no streaming to TVs, it may be harder to get people to shell out for it given the other over-the-top streaming options out there that do allow for streaming to TVs. Both Paramount+ and Peacock currently offer live NFL streaming (of CBS and NBC games respectively) to TVs, and ESPN+ will do so for Monday Night Football beginning in 2023 as part of these new media deals. (Of course, Paramount+’s NFL streaming is limited to what’s on your local CBS affiliate, not all CBS games; the others are in the out-of-market Sunday Ticket package.)
Beyond that, Amazon was already offering live OTT streaming for Thursday night games. And now that they have national exclusivity there for all but seven games (which will be simulcast on NFL Network; each TNF game is also available on local broadcast stations in each market), streaming’s a bigger deal there as well. And all of those OTT options allow for streaming to TVs. And that’s the case with the current Sunday Ticket streaming option as well, although that’s only available if you aren’t able to buy DirecTV satellite service.
The big hole in the OTT NFL streaming landscape will be Fox. They have the streaming rights to their games, but are reportedly planning to keep them “exclusive to the broadcast environment” (so only available as a stream through MVPD authentication-requiring apps rather than an over-the-top solution). But even those authentication-requiring apps work on TVs. By contrast, “NFL+,” under the current setup of rights, would appear to be a subscription service that only works for watching live games on mobile devices. And that’s a business model we haven’t really seen work yet.
There are a few ways NFL+ could work out. One is if the non-live-game content is available on TVs, and if it’s strong enough that people are willing to pay for it and mobile-only games. (The $5/month price tag would be $60 for a year, and that’s a discount over the current $99/year price for GamePass.)
Another possibility is if the NFL is able to make some deals with its current rightsholders for expanded TV streaming through NFL+. That’s not necessarily easy, as live NFL games are a draw (or in the case of ESPN+, are going to be a draw) for all of those rightsholders, but it’s not inconceivable that other rightsholders might agree to NFL+ streaming games to TVs as well in exchange for concessions elsewhere. (And there’s at least an interesting idea around the NFL working out a streaming-to-TVs deal only with Fox, which doesn’t have a competing streaming service.)
A third possibility is if this somehow winds up with some or all of the out-of-market rights that had been in the Sunday Ticket package. All of a sudden, the idea of a NFL OTT package would become a lot more compelling. (And the price would likely be a lot higher than $5 a month.) Again, though, those rights are locked up for a year while the mobile rights aren’t. So there could be some onboarding difficulties there if they do go that way.
Overall, at this point, NFL+ looks like far from a lock to succeed. In fact, it’s far from a lock to even launch; this is just a floating of the idea, with a potential owners’ vote not even coming until May. Maybe this becomes an actual thing, or maybe it motivates someone else to offer or up a bid for that mobile package and the NFL+ idea goes away. We’ll find out. But it’s certainly notable that the NFL is looking at this idea.