Amazon Sees a Chance to Bolster ‘Thursday Night Football’

Brian Steinberg
·3-min read

CBS, NBC and Fox have all had issues with “Thursday Night Football.” Amazon sees possibilities.

The e-commerce and streaming giant believes a new deal with the NFL that gives it sole control over the league’s Thursday-night franchise lends it an opportunity to create new viewing experiences for streamers and chances to work more expansively with advertisers. In the past, Amazon has streamed Thursday games using the feed of the broadcast network producing the telecast, and has only been able to offer a limited amount of commercial inventory around each event.

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“We have already devoted a lot of time to thinking about how to use new technologies to drive viewing experiences,” says Marie Donoghue, Amazon’s vice president of global sports video, in an interview. “We think this will be a great opportunity to continue to do that. The opportunities are endless with this relationship.”

Under terms of the pact, which commences in 2023, Amazon becomes the first digital streaming service to have exclusive rights over a national package of NFL games. The company will get 15 games, up from the 11 it currently streams each season, and can make those events available via Prime Video to Amazon customers with a Prime membership. Amazon intends to create new pre-game, half-time, and post-game shows, and offer interactive features like the ability to call up statistics and highlights with the click of a remote.

The company intends to develop more concepts that let fans tailor their viewing experience, Donoghue says. “Not everybody wants to watch the game the same way.”

The NFL has been open about its desire to reach fans through the technology they prefer, whether it includes a traditional TV outlet or one of an increasing number of digital-media giants. The recent rights talks “focused on maximizing audience delivery and fan engagement as much as it did on the rights fees,” says Robert Kraft, the New England Patriots owner who also heads the NFL’s media committee, in remarks delivered at a media conference Thursday.

Thursday Night Football” has been a mixed blessing for traditional media companies. Over the years, fans have criticized the quality of the match-ups and having to share a “tri-cast” of games with Amazon and the NFL’s own NFL Network left NBC and CBS facing losses. Amazon focuses on different metrics than a TV network, however. Donoghue says “Thursday Night Football” is a significant driver of Prime subscriptions, and can also spur purchases in the company’s shopping venues.

Amazon hasn’t been known as a prolific producer of sports in the U.S., but the company has in fact been creating video content around “TNF” for some time and also produces English Premier League broadcasts as well as tennis telecasts for the U.K. And it has been a pioneer of sorts in sports media, producing a feed around “Thursday Night” games led by Andrea Kremer and Hannah Storm — the first all-female analyst team around national NFL games. It has developed other unique feeds as well, including a Spanish-language one. Cari Champion, Andrew Hawkins, Chris Long and Von Miller are among the personalities who have been involved with football-related programs developed for Amazon or its Twitch service. Donoghue had no details about potential producer, crew or analyst hires, but chances are the company will have to add some staff.

Amazon will also gain greater control of advertising inventory around Thursday-night games, where it has in recent seasons worked with Anheuser-Busch’s Bud Light as a sponsor.

Sports aficionados can expect Amazon to experiment and test new ideas, says Donoghue. “We definitely think the broadcast experience, the customer experience and the advertising experience are ripe for innovation.”

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