The 2022-2023 NFL season was a year of transition for the league’s media partners. We saw a lot of upheaval among the networks for their announcers, change in content providers, and a very long song-and-dance over NFL Sunday Ticket that was finally resolved just before the end of 2022.
If you thought bringing in Amazon to stream Thursday Night Football wasn’t enough, we saw so many changes among the NFL partners, it was enough to make your head spin. Still, we watched the games in bulk. Now that the season is over, let us take a look at the winners and the losers who bring us the games.
Amazon Prime Video
In its first season as the main rightsholder, Amazon provided a very different presentation for Thursday Night Football. Granted, the games weren’t the best and play-by-play man Al Michaels wasn’t totally enamored with the schedule, but the package did bring younger viewers to the NFL. With multiple feeds, Thursday Night Football was a much different experience than what viewers were used to. No matter how many feeds were provided, Prime Video got eyeballs to the streaming service for the NFL and that is what both the league and Amazon wanted. And get ready for a Black Friday afternoon game in the new season. Amazon is definitely a winner.
Apple got into the NFL business this past season with the Super Bowl Halftime Show. By sponsoring halftime and ensuring that it got a huge audience with Rihanna, the tech company was able to partner and gain attention for its Apple Music service. With an average audience of 118.7 million, not only were people excited to watch Ri-Ri, Apple received mentions that certainly made its investment worthwhile.
Disclaimer: The author is employed by Apple Retail and this entry does not in any way reflect the opinion of the company.
Armed with a new rights deal which included a stronger schedule, a Week 18 Saturday doubleheader, a new Sunday morning game in London for ESPN+, the second year of the popular ManningCast and a new announcing team in Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, the Worldwide Leader had some stability for its Monday Night Football. With the new contract, ESPN is back in the Super Bowl rotation and that certainly has executives in Bristol, CT dancing in the hallways. ESPN is a big winner this season.
After watching the NFL Sunday Ticket negotiations with Apple from the sidelines for most of 2022, Google was able to swoop in and get the out-of-market package after Tim Cook & Company decided to drop out. Now with YouTube TV able to offer NFL Sunday Ticket in 2023, the NFL is hoping for some innovative offerings such as being able to watch two or more games at once and perhaps some a la carte offerings as well.
— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) February 13, 2023
This goes without saying. Olsen came into the season as a potential stopgap measure for Fox after it signed a megabucks deal with Tom Brady. However, Olsen did not want to be just a temporary lead analyst for Fox. He wanted to make it hard for the network to force him out of the lead analyst chair. His performance especially during the playoffs and Super Bowl showed that Olsen is definitely ready for primetime. And he’s now in a position of strength ready to leave for another top analyst position should Fox place Brady next to Kevin Burkhardt in 2024.
Joe Buck and Troy Aikman
They left Fox in early 2022 for ESPN and were able to remain together as they called Monday Night Football. While Aikman was lured by Amazon to be on its Thursday Night Football package and said he was disappointed in Fox’s lack of effort to keep him after 21 years at the network, he was very happy to join ESPN. That led to his long-time partner, Joe Buck leaving Fox and signing with ESPN. Buck said it turned out to be a good move for both Fox and ESPN. For ESPN, it provides some much needed stability after several years of interchanging announcing teams since Mike Tirico left for NBC back in 2016. And with Buck and Aikman, ESPN has an experienced team to call Super Bowl LXI in 2027.
What a difference a year makes. On February 13, 2022, Al Michaels called Super Bowl LVI on NBC. A year later, Michaels no longer is the voice of NBC’s Sunday Night Football, the premier primetime NFL package. In the 2022-23 season, Michaels was the voice of Amazon’s Thursday Night Football and had to get used to a schedule which he likened to “selling a used car.”
If Al Michaels and Tony Dungy called that Bengals fumble return pic.twitter.com/7NGiitFvuS
— Korked Bats (@korkedbats) January 16, 2023
As the season wore on, Michaels appeared detached and his calls seemed to lack the enthusiasm which was prominent when he was on Sunday nights. And this reared its ugly head during the Los Angeles Chargers-Jacksonville Jaguars Wild Card Playoff game on NBC in January as Al was criticized for a lackluster call, criticism which he later rejected.
With a season under his belt, we’ll see if Al adjusts his calls for the 2023 season or if his enthusiasm continues to wane.
How can Apple be both a winner and loser? By not winning the bid for NFL Sunday Ticket after an extended negotiation for most of 2022. There were reports early in 2022 that Apple either had a deal in place or was close to a deal for the out-of-market package. Throughout the year, Apple was identified as the frontrunner for NFL Sunday Ticket, but as talks continued, it appeared that the tech giant and the NFL were not close at all. Finally in December, Apple dropped out of the bidding citing that it could not justify the cost of the package. Google swooped in and won the rights instead.
Whether it was issues over global rights or technology that has yet to be invented, Apple and the NFL could never get on the same page. While Apple did not get NFL Sunday Ticket, it may still partner with the league on other sponsorships down the line.
The satellite provider limped rather weakly in its final year of its contract for NFL Sunday Ticket. It had outages in Week 1, Week 2 and then came word late in the season that its NFL Red Zone Channel, the inspiration for the cable NFL RedZone, would not be returning in 2023 when YouTube takes over the rights.
It was well-known that the NFL was seeking a streaming service for NFL Sunday Ticket and talks with Apple, Amazon and Google certainly panned out in the end.
DirecTV was the original rightsholder of NFL Sunday Ticket dating back to the package’s inception in 1994 and it used that to draw customers to its service. But the provider started to lose customers and the package was given at a discount or even free to keep subscribers from fleeing. Now with the package gone, it’ll be hard for DirecTV to keep subscribers and a merger with rival Dish Network can’t be ruled out at this point.
Before 2022, NFL Network had been part of the Thursday Night Football package dating back to 2006, first as the exclusive home, then as a simulcast partner with CBS, NBC and Fox from 2014 through 2021. When Amazon took over TNF last season, NFL Network ended with only seven games, four international games and three Week 15 games. It was the bare minimum to keep the network on cable and satellite providers. The network still provides coverage of the league, but at this point, the NFL is hoping to sell a stake of the network and NFL Media down the line.
Romo was once a media darling when he began broadcasting games for CBS in 2017, but in 2023, the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback faced criticism for his work. Former NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol told CNN’s Chris Wallace in 2022 that he felt Romo lost passion for the job, a statement from which he quickly backtracked. Still, Romo’s incessant shouting and apparent lack of enthusiasm led to fans tiring of his act. There were times he seemed aloof and his work in the 2022-23 led to speculation that the huge contract he signed with CBS in 2020 might have been a mistake.
Whether network executives attempted to perform an intervention on him or not has CBS trying to spin the narrative. Romo admits he has heard the criticism, but it appears that he’s going to remain himself as long as the Tiffany Network wants to keep him.
The just-completed season certainly gave viewers a lot to chew on. Expect 2023-2024 to be just as busy.