We fumbled over the remote control searching for a football game we knew was being played. We scrolled through the multitude of channels DirecTV had to offer, to no avail. We knew there was an NFL game on at that hour: Niners-Cardinals. We saw it on the ESPN ticker and on our cellphones. We just couldn’t find it on our TV set.
December NFL scheduling has the tendency to keep the friendly neighborhood football fan on his toes. Sometimes there are games on Thursdays, sometimes on Fridays. When the holidays roll around, the NFL strays from its traditional Sunday slate. Now the NFL is straying from its normal television programming. This can’t be good for the average fan. What, me worry? You might just want to be.
For the first time ever, the NFL offered one of its prime-time games to Amazon, meaning if you were not an Amazon prime member in Week 16 of the NFL season, you could not watch Niners-Cardinals. It was the only game being played at the time yet it wasn’t on FOX, CBS, NBC, ESPN, the NFL Network or any of the usual channels we turn to for such entertainment. Nope, this particular game was on 21st century cable. In others words, NFL fans, you better have your cable subscriptions up to date if you want to watch certain games in the future… for the channels, they are a-changin’.
An unhealthy amount of us have become Amazon prime members in a small amount of time. As of December 2019, 112 million of us subscribed to Amazon, which was up 40 million members from the year before. You’d be a fool not to expect that number to continue to climb for 2020 when so many Americans decided to not leave their households.
That being said, there are still plenty of Americans who are not Amazon subscribers, which means no viewing rights for that particular game, and perhaps more games moving forward. According to CBS Sports, the only other time the NFL allowed a streaming company exclusive rights to one of its games was in 2017 when the Ravens played the Jaguars in London.
So, what does this all mean? With fewer fans in the stands and ticket revenue sliding to zero in certain cities, is expanding television revenue to pay channels the shape of things to come? It might very well be.
What’s the big deal, you ask? Why should you be so concerned? Because the NFL is going to get your money one way or the other, that’s why. The average cost to take a family of four to an NFL game in 2019 was $540. If the average NFL stadium seats 69,000 fans and each stadium hosts eight home games, that’s just shy of $75,000,000 your local NFL is losing out on if it can’t let fans through the doors. Salaries must be paid. The Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilsons of the world don’t come cheap so if fans are forced to watch at home in lieu of attending games in person, someone’s going to have to pay the piper. That means the cable companies and of course, ultimately… us.
Growing up, there were three channels plus PBS on every American’s television set. There were also only four buttons on my great grandfather’s remote, which he called a “clicker.” There was no such thing as cable, until years later when we suddenly had a multitude of programming at our fingertips… as long as we paid for it. ESPN, CNN, HBO, we now had access to a world of information and entertainment. How convenient.
Weeks ago, I wanted to watch the Florida-Alabama game at work. Our bar has a DirecTV account. Currently, DirecTV does not have a contract with the local CBS affiliate which means we could not watch the biggest SEC football game of the year within our friendly confines. I had to contact my always-eager-to-assist cable technician to temporarily stream the game on Hulu.
What we are smack dab in the middle of witnessing is major sports companies such as the NFL, NCAA, MLB, NBA and others shuffling to attract revenue from cable or streaming companies in order to meet their bottom line. These wheels were in motion long before COVID. The virus just kicked things into high gear. Trust me when I tell you, this will be bad for the average consumer who will no longer have access to certain games without having to pay for them, more than we already do as cable subscribers.
Considering fans are no longer allowed through the turnstiles as much as they once were, sports leagues will have to find a way to make up for the lost revenue. Enter Amazon and the slew of others that will gladly pay for these games knowing they’ll be able to turn a profit by passing that cost on to us. Suddenly NBA teams wearing corporate logos on their unis doesn’t seem like all that bad of an idea. To think I once complained about it.
One way or another, the NFL is going to get our money. This time, it’ll just be included on our cable bill. On the bright side, we’ll no longer have to pay $14 for a beer, unless Amazon starts selling us those too.