Amazon wants to land Thursday night football games

The Wall Street Journal says Amazon could pay up to $1 billion for Thursday NFL telecasts.

Amazon's to win: LightShed's Rich Greenfield">NFL digital rights are Amazon's to win: LightShed's Rich Greenfield

Technology giant Amazon wants to continue its deal with the National Football League (NFL) after streaming a handful of Thursday night games in recent years.

This week, the Wall Street Journal said Amazon has held discussions with the NFL to continue its streaming relationship with the league concerning football telecasts.

Negotiations between the NFL and broadcasters are still ongoing, and no deals have been finalized, though details concerning discussions with major broadcast networks have leaked in media reports over the last few days (including a claim that ESPN had locked in a deal with the NFL, a report that was later rejected by the league and the Walt Disney Company, which owns a majority share in ESPN.)

Amazon has long been rumored as a company with a desire to push more into live sports, seeing it as a way to rope more people into its Amazon Prime subscription service, which costs $13 a month or $120 a year. Along with priority delivery for millions of items, Amazon Prime grants subscribers access to the company’s Prime Video service, which has hosted a handful of NFL games since 2017.

Amazon has streamed a handful of games since 2017 at a cost of between $75 million and $100 million, the Journal said, citing people familiar with the matter. Those rights were shared with the Fox Broadcast Network and the NFL’s own cable channel NFL Network, and Amazon is looking to increase its part of the broadcast pie.

Sources familiar with the discussions told the Journal that Amazon could cough up $1 billion every year for the privilege of offering live NFL games to its users.

That fee assumes Amazon secures the exclusive rights to distribute the games nationally, with few exceptions (historically, when a company like Amazon or a pay TV network like ESPN has the exclusive national broadcast rights to a game, the NFL also allows one over-the-air station in the towns where the teams are based to simulcast the telecast.)

Historically, Thursday evening games have drawn lower ratings than games aired on the weekend or on Mondays. Last year, Fox’s chief financial officer suggested the network would not renew its agreement with the NFL to carry the games. Comcast, which owns NBC, and ViacomCBS also stopped carrying Thursday night games for similar reasons.

None of the three broadcast networks that carried the Thursday games were able to recoup the sizable financial investment they made for broadcast rights, the Journal said. All three broadcasters found better financial returns through games played on Sunday afternoon and evening.

If Amazon pulled through for Thursday games, it could be a win-win situation for it and the NFL. The league would not need to worry about forging a new national distribution deal with a broadcast partner, and Amazon would have a significant incentive for millions of football fans to sign up for Amazon Prime.

A $1 billion price tag would not be hard for Amazon to stomach: The tech company and online retail giant brought in $19 million from Amazon Prime memberships alone.

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