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NFL Media Chief ‘Confused’ About the Value Proposition of the Disney, Fox and WBD Sports Streaming Bundle: ‘It’s Missing More Than Half of NFL Football’

To Brian Rolapp, chief media and business officer of National Football League, the new sports streaming service from Disney’s ESPN, Fox and Warner Bros. Discovery is something of a head-scratcher.

Rolapp, speaking Thursday at the Washington Post Live Futurist Summit, commented on the planned sports-streaming bundle from Disney, Fox and WBD, expected to debut in the fall of 2024. The joint venture will pool ESPN+ and the companies’ linear TV networks that carry sports programming; pricing hasn’t been announced.

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“They’re positioning it as the ultimate sports bundle but it’s missing more than half of NFL football,” Rolapp said at the Washington Post event. “I’m a bit confused personally by the value proposition.”

He added, “I don’t understand how a sports fan is going to look at that and say that’s a better value than, say, for $20 more a month I could buy YouTube TV and have all of the NFL and then actually have access to Sunday Ticket, which is our out-of-market package on Sunday afternoons.”

The exec was referring to the fact that the three companies’ sports bundle will not include NFL games on CBS, nor will it include NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” or Amazon Prime Video’s “Thursday Night Football” games package.

Rolapp conceded that the NFL was “a little surprised” by the Disney-Fox-WBD announcement. “The press has loved to talk about how surprised we were. I mean, we were a bit surprised. But I don’t think it affects anything we do.”

Last week, Disney, Fox and WB Discovery announced former Apple TV+ exec Peter Distad as the JV’s CEO. Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch said the company expects the sports streaming venture to reach 5 million subscribers after five years, making the point that Fox Corp. expects the sports streaming venture to be incremental to its existing pay-TV revenue base.

Rolapp was asked whether he was concerned about the financial health of the NFL’s partners — specifically CBS, whose parent Paramount Global last month was placed on a “credit watch” by S&P Global because its free operating cash flow generation remains “weak due to the ongoing deterioration of the linear television ecosystem and the shift toward a lower margin direct-to-consumer (DTC) streaming model.” Rolapp responded, “We’re not worried about any insolvency risk, and even if you look at Paramount and dive into it there is no risk, in our view, of them being a going concern. I think they’re dealing with what every content distribution company in the world is dealing with, including the digital players, of how to adjust to a much different world where the world is increasingly digital-first.”

Also at the Washington Post event, Rolapp discussed the NFL’s approach to sports betting. “First and foremost, our philosophy has always been protect the integrity of the game. That has not changed,” he said. “The commercialization is way down on the list of priorities. Second that we have focused on is to work to make sure that it’s safe for consumers… Every gambler is an NFL fan, but not every NFL fan is a gambler, and so what you don’t see in our broadcast is an inundation of betting lines and spreads.”

The NFL exec talked about the league’s use of artificial intelligence — which he said is focused on player safety.

“AI for us is much more applicable in some of the things we’re doing around health and player safety…We have our annual meeting next week and there’ll be a vote in front of coaches, general managers and owners about changing the kickoff rule to actually make it safer,” Rolapp said. “The insight to change that rule had come from a lot of data we had collected from chips on the shoulder pads of our players of capturing data and using machine learning and trying to figure out what is the safest way to play the game.”

Rolapp said the NFL is looking to leverage streaming to grow its fanbase to reach younger audiences. “[Y]ou can’t take the next generation for granted, so you’re always investing and trying to do that better and technology is a huge part of that,” he said. “Technology allows you to distribute your game much more widely…We are playing games in Germany, the U.K. and Brazil this coming year… The support and fan reaction to these games are amazing.”

Pictured above: The Jan. 13 AFC Wild Card game between the Kansas City Chief and the Miami Dolphins, which was exclusively streamed on NBCUniversal’s Peacock in the U.S.

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