On February 2, 2020, Patrick Mahomes led the Chiefs to beat the 49ers in one of the most exciting finishes to a Super Bowl game in recent memory. In the game and across that season, Mahomes showed fans how the next generation of elite quarterbacks might electrify the sport that many worry is in rapid decline.
Ahead of the next season, CivicScience dove into the continued ratings slump of the NFL. The data showed that the dip was partly related to pandemic-driven malaise, but also by the simple fact that a lot of viewership has moved online. And the way ratings are evaluated hasn’t been able to keep up with the digital times.
On cue, the NFL decided to join the streaming era earlier this month, announcing a series of distribution plans with Amazon that would bring “Thursday Night Football” exclusively to Amazon Prime Video, starting in 2022. Other NFL marquee games, such as “Monday Night Football” and “Sunday Night Football” will remain with ESPN and NBC, respectively, for the foreseeable future.
Looking further into the data shows that perhaps that won’t make very much of a difference for the general population.
Only 16% of respondents reported a likelihood to watch more football games if they were offered on their preferred streaming services. And if we look at just NFL viewers on Amazon Prime, the numbers are even starker, with 67% of respondents being less likely to watch “Thursday Night Football” when it’s exclusively available through Amazon Prime Video.
However, when we break that interest down by age, we see what the NFL may have had in mind with its Amazon deal. More than one-third of every age group under the age of 55 is more likely to watch games if they can stream them online.
This likelihood to watch by younger age groups is significant, as younger viewers, especially Millennials between 25 and 34, are the demographics the NFL is finding itself struggling to reach.
The tricky thing for the NFL to handle, when it comes to drawing in younger viewers, is that they are a bit more social than their older counterparts. And while most people prefer to watch football on their home TVs, those between 18 and 34 also enjoy going out to a bar or restaurant to do so.
This tendency may be tricky for the NFL and Amazon Prime Video to manage, as restaurants generally face legal and financial issues with regard to their occupancy that streaming services complicate.
The other tricky thing for the NFL to manage is that “Thursday Night Football” only features one game a week. While the Amazon deal expands TNF from 11 games a season to 15, there’s no real way to feature more than one matchup at a time. And as the data show, more than two-thirds (68%) of viewers rarely, if ever, watch a game that doesn’t include a team they root for.
Perhaps overall viewership will improve as the more ubiquitous Sunday afternoon games are added to streaming platforms and viewers are able to stream their favorite team’s weekly matchups.
This deal with Amazon is likely just the first step for the NFL as cord-cutting becomes more and more prevalent among the general population. CivicScience will continue to check in on sports viewership as distribution and broadcast content gradually change in the digital age.