The Netflix Football League

The inevitable marriage of the largest sport with the largest streamer...
Netflix’s NFL Christmas Miracle
It looks like Netflix will wind up carrying the two NFL games scheduled for December 25, per a bevy of sources. It’s a first-of-its-kind deal, but almost certainly not the last.
Update: Sure enough, see below...

For years, we heard strong denials that Netflix would ever get into live sports. Because Netflix was all about catalog and binge-watching on your own schedule. And also not about paying billions of dollars for sports rights. But this is not Reed Hastings' Netflix anymore. Huge would-be scoop by John Ourand:

Weeks ago, TV network executives circled today’s date on their calendars and have since waited with bated breath in the hopes that the NFL would, at long last, release its 2024-25 schedule. But earlier this week, the league enigmatically delayed its schedule release to May 15 without offering a reason. Now, of course, we know why: The league’s top executives have been in the middle of a high-stakes negotiation with Netflix over its planned Christmas Day games.

And now it looks like Netflix will wind up carrying the two NFL games scheduled for December 25, per a bevy of sources. Yes, yes, yes, this could all fall apart and all the usual caveats—nothing has been signed yet, and the two sides still have to clear some hurdles before any deal is announced. But Netflix’s emergence as a bidder—and likely winner—is one of the main reasons behind the schedule delay.

He also credits former Cincinnati Bengals QB and longtime broadcast Boomer Esiason with actually letting the news slip on his radio show – that will be a lump of coal in your stocking from Netflix this Christmas, Boomer.

This is huge but also not hugely surprising. Netflix has been slowly but surely softening its stances listed above basically since Hastings stepped down as (co) CEO in early 2023 (he's still on the board). Netflix is now doing quite a bit of live shows – including, increasingly in sports. It's all been sort of tangential or secondary sports to date, with tennis exhibitions and the like. But the company is also clearly getting ready to scale, with the recently announced WWE deal.

And then there was the Tom Brady live roast. It would seem sort of weird to do a live roast of perhaps the most famous football player of all time if you didn't want to have anything to do with the NFL...

As I concluded my post in January (around the WWE deal):

But the ad element is the other key here, of course. Live sporting events will help reduce churn somewhat, but the real prize is that these live events command premium ad dollars. And now that Netflix is in that game, well, they're in this game.

And so can the NFL games on Netflix really be that far behind?

Again, the writing has been on the wall here. Netflix is not the new cable channel, it's the new cable, period. Everyone is now racing to figure out how to re-create the cable bundle and that's in part because Netflix won The Great Unbundling and the streaming landscape outside of Netflix is a growing shitshow.

If the above deal comes to pass, we'll have NFL games on Netflix, YouTube TV, Amazon, and Peacock. The league is still not quite streaming-first, as these are all limited engagements (read: tests) in different ways, but it feels close to some sort of tipping point.

One more thing: I'm still curious what happens with the new Disney/Fox/WBD streaming service, which apparently blind-sided the NFL. The players are clearly trying to pass it off as additive and not that different from a vMVPD (read: YouTube TV-like cable streaming service). But it definitely would change some dynamics here, especially if it is allowed to carry NFL games...

Update May 15, 2024:

Netflix Gets NFL Christmas Day Games In Major Sports Expansion
The streaming giant lands the league’s two new Christmas Day games, beginning this season, with at least one game in each of 2025 and 2026.

As expected...

Netflix will stream live NFL games, beginning this season.

In a deal that changes the sports media landscape, the streaming giant has inked a deal to stream the NFL’s two new Christmas Day games, which it decided to carve out from its schedule earlier this year. Netflix will stream the games this year, instantly giving it access to the biggest live sports rights in the U.S.

And the streaming giant will also get games in 2025 and 2026, with “at least one game” on tap for each year. The NFL and Netflix say the deal runs for three years.

Two games this year with the promise of at least one in 2025 and 2026, which sounds as if the NFL is hedging slightly, in case this doesn't work out. Prediction: it will. Especially since:

In keeping with its historic practices, the NFL says that the Christmas Day games will also be available on broadcast TV in the local team markets, and on the NFL+ mobile app.

So if certain local audiences (read: older audiences) don't want to use Netflix for whatever reason, they can still watch their team as they normally would. Everyone else will be on Netflix. What might the viewership be? Last year's Christmas games averaged just under 30M viewers. Could Netflix push this higher?