I’ve gotten four different alerts for free pumpkin spice lattes this week, Halloween candy displays are already in every drug store and supermarket I’ve been to (it’s the beginning of the month; that’s my window these days) and there’s no Thursday afternoon baseball game for white noise for the first time since February (ok, that elongated All-Star break notwithstanding). So even without knowing what’s happening tonight in Kansas City, it’s pretty obvious that fall is upon us, silly thermometer be damned (to anyone reading this in the Northeast, dear Lord, I pray you have air conditioning).
But, of course, we know what seminal event IS occurring–the start to the 104th NFL season, featuring the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs. And since the game will be on good old fashioned NBC (well, Peacock,too), at least in that world, it’s also the start of the 77th fall TV season. And, per THE SPORTING NEWS’ Jacob Camenker, its opponent was effectively chosen in much the same way that the cast of a reality competition show was:
The league could have had the Chiefs face the Eagles in a rematch of Super Bowl 57; it also could have reignited the Chiefs vs. Bengals rivalry, which heated up after Cincinnati players called Arrowhead Stadium “Burrowhead” before the two squads met last postseason; and, as always, the league could have considered a divisional opponent like the Chargers or Raiders to ring in the new season with a classic rivalry.
Instead, the NFL decided to put the Lions in the kickoff game. This caught many off-guard, as the Lions hadn’t been a playoff team in 2022, as they posted a 9-8 record and missed postseason qualification due to a lost tiebreaker against the Seahawks.
The Lions are playing in the NFL opener against the Chiefs for a simple reason. They earned the opportunity to do so after their season-closing win over the Packers to close the 2022 NFL season.
“The last time we saw the Lions they were winning eight of 10 and going into Lambeau and ruining the Packers season,” Mike North, the NFL’s Vice President of Broadcast Planning, explained, per Fox 4 Kansas City. “They’ve earned this. They have earned this spotlight, they have earned this platform.” Add in that Campbell and the Lions became fan favorites for their performance on “Hard Knocks” in 2022 and it only seemed logical for Detroit to be the selection.
And, without a doubt, you will see a press release at some point tomorrow, this weekend at the latest, that will crow that this will have been the most-viewed TV event since…well, Super Bowl 57, you know, the one that FOX waited three months to put out final numbers on just to be able to win their side bet that it was the most-viewed Super Bowl of all time, once all of the long-term data points from delayed viewing and connected screens were in.
But as Alex Weprin of THE HOLLYWOO REPORTER documented in a compelling story released earlier this week, that was hardly an outlying event and, indeed, you can all be assured that for the next six months, any reference to a “most-viewed telecast since…” will be referencing an NFL game:
(T)he NFL has reasserted itself as the dominant force in live TV. Of the top 100 most watched TV broadcasts in 2022, 88 were NFL games, including 23 of the top 25, per Nielsen. The league is able to accumulate eyeballs in a way that no one else on TV can match, in turn making it a precious commodity for its rights partners that are seeking to sell that scale to their marketing clients. Cord-cutting has taken its toll — about 100 million pay TV subscribers in 2015 have eroded to about 77 million as of this year, per a Wells Fargo tally — but last season Fox delivered the most watched regular-season game in NFL history, with the Dallas Cowboys beating the New York Giants on Thanksgiving Day, notching more than 42 million viewers, and the most watched Super Bowl, with more than 115 million viewers seeing the Kansas City Chiefs defeat the Philadelphia Eagles. Pay TV might be collapsing, but the NFL sure isn’t.
And sitting on top of this monolith media mountain is NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who has taken quite a bit of criticism for the way he and his league have handled several troubling personnel narratives in recent years, including the degree of punishment levied (or not) against polarizing figures such as Colin Kaepernick and DeShaun Watson but who, as a media mogul, has proven he is as capable, or more, of delivering results than almost anyone else who is struggling for them, at least based upon the tap-dancing and wishful thinking that was expressed at yesterday’s Goldman Sachs conference.
Weprin documents how Goodell became a Silicon Valley playa, inviting the tech and streaming giants that have forever changed the media landscape into his sandbox, and how the temptation and allure of the NFL was pure catnip to the world’s richest people:
The origins of the NFL’s streaming business can be traced, in part, to a party at Bill Gates’ house outside of Seattle several years ago. The event was timed to a summit that Microsoft was hosting, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell recalls chatting with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos there. “I was just talking about our content and what it could do for their technology,” Goodell says, noting that he felt the NFL could help Amazon build its advertising business and Prime Video subscription service. “I distinctly remember, he was wearing sunglasses and he put them down on the end of his nose,” Goodell adds. “And he said, ‘Now you’ve got my attention.’ ”
And then, Goodell followed up with this encounter:
In March 2020, a delegation of senior NFL officials — including Goodell and Rolapp — met with top YouTube executives at its headquarters in San Bruno, California. Execs for the league had been journeying to Silicon Valley for years, trying to keep up with the latest technology and maintaining a dialogue with the industry’s power players. “We’ve always felt like it was our responsibility to go learn from the best and the people that are at the center of that,” Goodell says of the frequent trips. Recalls YouTube CEO Neal Mohan, “[It was] one of those meetings that we like to do on a regular basis to check in on each other’s businesses.”
So on top of owning nearly 90 percent of the 100 most-viewed linear TV program titles last season–and with far fewer original scripted series and award shows likely to air, all indications are that number should rise–now the NFL counts both Amazon and You Tube as distribution partners. And as Weprin continued, the sum total of those expanded partnerships–achieved while keeping all four major broadcast networks in the fold as well–is staggering even by Silicon Valley standards:
In May 2021 came the blizzard of deals: Exclusive live games went to current partners NBCUniversal, Disney/ESPN, Paramount, Fox and, in a first for a tech company, Amazon. The total value of those rights over the course of their 11-year span? $110 billion, the richest set of pacts in the history of pro sports. A year and a half later, in December 2022, YouTube would join the party, securing the rights to the NFL’s out-of-market Sunday Ticket package, paying a reported $2 billion annually for the privilege.
Yes, $112 billion plus gets even Jeff Bezos to take off his sunglasses, in ways not even Lauren Sanchez (that one-time FOX Sports girl) can.
What’s more, the NFL is taking full advantage of this ubiquity to skirt the issue of access that traditional media companies and their czars are confronting, as Weprin concluded:
The overwhelming majority of games are available on broadcast TV (at least in local markets), making them accessible to as many TV households as possible. Even ESPN, the NFL’s longtime cable TV partner, is adding more simulcasts than ever on ABC, while Paramount has created Nickelodeon versions of games with kid-friendly announcers, CG slime and special effects for family viewing — there will even be one for the Super Bowl this year — and Amazon is prepping its first “Black Friday” game. “
And, for good measure, the league’s most venerable weekly highlights show, INSIDE THE NFL, now rejected by both legacy pay TV networks (HBO and Showtime), found a home this week as part of The CW’s primetime lineup.
So I guess not only do we know what will be the MOST popular show in any given week of the 2023-24 TV season, but at least for the first 22 weeks of it, we also know what will be the LEAST.
Until next time…