SBJ Football: NFL Keeping An Eye On Amazon Streaming
One last business trip of the year for me next week: Dallas for the league meetings, and then Baltimore for Jets-Ravens on "TNF." Drop me a line if you’ll be in either locale.
NFL WATCHING HOW AMAZON DOES WITH U.K. EPL STREAMING
- The way Amazon handles its EPL broadcasts, which debuted this week in the U.K., could play a big role in whether the NFL is willing to sell it an exclusive rights package, according to NFL Exec VP/Media Brian Rolapp. "What Amazon's doing over the next few weeks in the U.K. with their Premier League package will be very interesting to watch,” Rolapp said at Wednesday’s SBJ Dealmakers in Sports conference in Manhattan. "They’re getting some pretty high concurrents there.” It came up when SBJ's Abe Madkour asked Rolapp if any tech company could handle the viewership load generated by a big NFL game, north of 25 million. None can currently, Rolapp said, adding that tech futurists say it’s just a matter of time.
- It’s not just technical capacity the league is looking for. Production and promotion are just as important, Rolapp said. “In order to hold an NFL package, you're going to have to be able to produce it," he said. "You're going to have to be able to distribute it at a high level of quality -- no fan is going to accept less than HD, high-res all the time. You're going to have to sell it from an advertising standpoint and market it. So we need to see that from any partner, and be satisfied with that before we entrust any game package to them.”
- For reviews of the Amazon EPL games so far, I checked with a couple friendly Brits (You can’t watch in the U.S.). Sports marketing consultant Tim Crow reports: “Editorially, very safe. Lots of familiar pundits from the BBC. More on-screen stats than usual and you can mute the comms for just crowd noise. I didn’t have any problems with the connection. Overall reaction here -- press and fans -- was positive.” My friend Jono, who lives in Tonbridge near London, reports: “It was good. You can’t pause or rewind but otherwise very good.” Here’s more feedback, certainly not uniformly positive.
- Rolapp foreshadowed an easing-in approach for streamers that would avoid the biggest viewership windows. “Maybe these guys aren’t ready for 4:25 games,” he said. “Maybe there's some 1 o'clock games they’re ready for, maybe there's some early games they're ready for. We'll have to see.” Bottom line: Reach is still king for the NFL, even if reach means something different for fans of the future. "We will not sacrifice reach for something less valuable, including a higher rights fee,” he said. “We will maximize our reach. We think we can get both, but the reach is really important."
GOODELL BACK ON TOP
- Roger Goodell is the most influential person in sports business, according to the SBJ’s annual list that comes out Monday. This is the NFL commissioner's first time in the top spot since 2010. He’s up two spots from last year, when he ranked behind Adam Silver and our first conceptual pick for No. 1, The American Sports Gambler. You have to wait for Monday to see the rest of the list.
- By definition, all major league commissioners are extraordinarily influential. What makes Goodell stand out now? One simple fact kept coming up in our internal debates: The NFL’s still on top. That’s not easy. Furthermore, the league has a sense of momentum that suggests its dominance will continue -- not something you could say even two years ago. During what is now a two-year ratings growth spurt, insiders say Goodell has been lower-profile, but more effective. Now, with the possibility of a longer season and some form of international expansion gaining momentum, Goodell and his owners could claim even more ground.
- Look at the big picture. Goodell’s tenure has coincided with a period of immense change to the usual order of business and the global economy. Every MBA student today dreams of “disrupting” the status quo; huge sums of capital are pouring into challenger startups. Tech changes and cultural forces make it easier than ever for them to gain ground quickly if the giants can’t keep up. But the NFL is still top dog.
- Goodell’s most-influential rank over the last decade: 2010 (No. 1); 2011 (No. 4); 2012 (No. 2); 2013 (No. 2); 2014 (No. 5); 2015 (No. 4); 2016 (No. 3); 2017 (No. 4); 2018 (No. 3); 2019 (No. 1).
WHY DAVID TEPPER WILL BE DIFFERENT
- Panthers owner David Tepper received lots of praise this week for how he handled the firing of coach Ron Rivera, allowing him to conduct a press conference at Bank of America Stadium and giving him a kind sendoff from club-owned media. One exec from another club predicted it will set something of a trend. After all, it’s unusual that a firing leads to so much good press for both sides of the meeting.
- My sources thought it reflected two things: Lessons learned as a limited partner to the Rooneys in Pittsburgh, and Tepper’s own extraordinary confidence borne from his successful multi-billion dollar bets at Appaloosa Management. After all, if you’re worried about a bad mid-season news cycle, maybe you play it more traditionally. But in the big picture, Tepper gets seen as a magnanimous owner and Rivera bolsters his reputation too.
- The Athletic's Joe Person: "Never thought about a coach winning a farewell press conference. Ron Rivera just did." NFL.com's Judy Battista: "I already love this Ron Rivera press conference." Yahoo Sports' Matt Harmon: "Can’t recall a team handling firing a coach, much less a mid-season firing the way the Panthers have with Ron Rivera. Look at their social media and it’s full of personal content about Rivera. It’s been a cathartic experience rather than something swept away. Feels right, human."
- In October, sports humorist Drew Magary posited a theory: The NFL had ordered its broadcasters to stop showing the conclusion of replay reviews in hopes of drawing attention away from unpopular calls. I hadn’t noticed it, but since Magary’s column, I’ve been watching closely. And it’s true -- the dramatic head official's announcement at the conclusion of a review, once a staple of the NFL experience, happens off camera way more often than it used to. But it’s about money, not officiating, Rolapp said. As the league looked for ways to better balance the ad load and the pace of action, they targeted replay views as a chance to place ads without disrupting the game. “It’s just being more efficient with everybody’s time,” he said.
- The NFL and Amazon Web Services expanded their sponsorship this week beyond Next Gen Stats to develop a simulation system called The Digital Athlete. The idea is to use artificial intelligence and machine-learning technologies to find trends behind injuries, analyzing countless variables (field conditions, rules, play calling, training, play styles ... anything) to determine what might be changed to lower the risk to players. This is another example of the league turning to data science to find marginal gains in injury reduction, which I wrote about in Monday’s SBJ.
- Lamar Jackson may have won Cyber Monday among NFL players, but Fanatics' Michael Rubin still has a few other teams he'd rather see in the Super Bowl before the Ravens. Appearing at the Dealmakers conference, Rubin said: "It would certainly not be Baltimore on the AFC side. Baltimore is selling well because of how special Lamar Jackson is, but it's still not a big market from a business perspective. [On the AFC side], it would be New England or Kansas City.”
- The Las Vegas Review-Journal's Greg Bedard reports the NFL is facing the biggest one-year decline in field goal conversions, 4.8%, in league history this season. CBS' Jay Feely thinks changes are coming to team staffs next year: "When you’re looking at NFL coaching staffs and how big they have gotten and how much money they’re spending and the fact that the games have such slim margin of victories, to not bring somebody in who can legitimately help you and help your specialists is, I think, shortsighted."
- Longtime N.Y. Daily News columnist Gary Myers has landed at Sports Illustrated, where he will oversee the site's NFL content. Myers wrote on Twitter that he will look to "improve the overall quality and depth" of league coverage. Myers: "Will still be writing books, but always wanted to manage and I embrace the challenge."
- Yesterday marked the second installment of the Bud Light Legends Series, where the NFL sponsor brings together retired NFLers to watch their old teams on "TNF" together. It airs live on the Bud Light Twitch channel. For the Bears’ win over the Cowboys last night, HOFers Emmitt Smith and Brian Urlacher took the mics at OS NYC studio to talk trash and analyze the action. Between them in this picture below is Chris Puckett, a broadcast talent better known for his work in the Overwatch League. A-B InBev and consultants at 160over90, the Endeavor subsidiary,developed the program with production help from Twitch.
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