Amazon Renews NFL Thursday Night Football Pact

Online retail giant Amazon said it has renewed its streaming deal for the National Football League’s Thursday Night Football package, including receiving exclusive rights for one game in the 2020 season.

The three-year deal gives Amazon the digital rights to distribute 11 TNF games to its nearly 150 million Amazon Prime subscribers in more than 200 countries. The games will be aired on broadcast television by Fox Corp., as well as the NFL’s own NFL Network.

In addition, Amazon will get exclusive digital rights to one Saturday game in the second half of the 2020 regular season. That game also will be aired on broadcast TV, in keeping with the NFL’s long-standing commitment, in the participating teams’ home markets.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed. But Amazon reportedly paid about $65 million per season a season in its last two-year deal with the league, and $50 million in the one-year deal signed in 2017.

"We are thrilled to renew our Thursday Night Football deal with the NFL, and are excited to expand our relationship to include exclusive global streaming rights to an additional regular season game in 2020," said Amazon vice president of global sports video Marie Donoghue, in a press release. "We know Prime members and the Twitch community around the world love the NFL, and we remain committed to giving them the best and most customizable streaming experience possible, with a broad selection of premium content available at their fingertips."

Thursday Night Football drew an average audience of 15.4 million viewers on Fox, the NFL Network, FOX Deportes, NFL digital, FOX Sports digital, Prime Video, Twitch, and Verizon Media mobile properties in 2019, a 4% increase compared to the prior year. About 1 million of those viewers watched via streaming on Amazon Prime, Twitch, NFL digital, Fox Sports digital and Verizon mobile properties, up 43% increase over the prior year.

"As our relationship has expanded, Amazon has become a trusted and valued partner of the NFL,” NFL chief media and business officer Brian Rolapp said in a press release. “Extending this partnership around Thursday Night Football continues our critical mission of delivering NFL games to as many fans in as many ways as possible both in the United States and around the world."

While the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the cancellation of the NBA and NHL regular seasons and has postponed major league baseball play, the NFL is expected to begin its regular season relatively on time. Some reports have said the league is considering opening its regular season, originally slated for September, in mid-October, minus buy-weeks. That, according to most pundits, would allow for a minimal disruption of the regular season and playoffs, with the Super Bowl to be played in late February. 

Amazon’s willingness to pony up for the Thursday Night games also has renewed speculation that the retail giant may be willing to get more deeply involved in sports, particularly in the NFL’s Sunday Ticket package, which comes up for renewal in 2022.

Sunday Ticket rights are currently held by AT&T’s DirecTV satellite TV unit, but the telco has said in the past that it may be willing to let the package go to another distributor. 

“It’s indicative that the streamers in general will have a substantial role to play in the next round of NFL negotiations, and it looks like Amazon has the pole position,” LHB Sports, Media & Entertainment president and CEO Lee Berke, said of the significance of the Amazon deal.

The NFL has already begun negotiations for broadcast rights for the 2023 season and MoffettNathanson media analyst Michael Nathanson has estimated pricing could rise as much as 75% for the new deals.