Amazon Takes Lead In Talks for NFL Media Stake

    • The league is seeking investment partners for NFL Network, NFL RedZone, and NFL.com.
    • Negotiations mark a rare opportunity for an outsider to buy a piece of the NFL.

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Amazon has emerged as the frontrunner to buy a minority stake in the NFL’s media properties, sources tell Front Office Sports.

The tech giant is in talks with the country’s richest sports league about acquiring up to a 49% stake in NFL Network, RedZone and NFL.com, said sources. 

But the Amazon deal isn’t done and there are multiple media, private equity and tech bidders seeking a piece of the NFL media empire, said sources. A last-minute snag could push a final agreement back by several months, warned another source.

The $10 billion league hired Goldman Sachs Group in June to sort out potential partners.

Starting in 2022, Amazon Prime Video will become the first streaming service to control an exclusive package of NFL games, paying $1 billion a year for the rights to “Thursday Night  Football.” The relationship between NFL goes back years, including Amazon Web Services providing the computing power for NFL’s Next Gen Stats starting in 2015 and Amazon is in its fifth season of streaming Thursday games on a non-exclusive basis.

“There’s so much we don’t know about what could be in the deal,” said Ed Desser, president of Desser Media and former president of NBA Television and New Media Ventures. “The NFL is also very, very good about going to the dance with the one that brought it. Amazon has now been in the family for years. They get a preferred position just like the other major networks.”

With annual revenue of $386 billion, Amazon is also bidding for the “Sunday Ticket” package against Walt Disney Co., Paramount Plus, Apple and others, said sources. Bidding for Sunday Ticket could reach $2 billion to $3 billion a year.

The NFL and Amazon both declined to comment. The league previously said it would not comment on the sales process until it comes to a conclusion. 

The current negotiations mark a rare business opportunity for an investor outside the league’s 32 closed ownership groups to gain a stake in the country’s most powerful and popular sports league.

Launched in 2003, NFL Network now reaches about 55 million U.S. homes. NFL RedZone is the preferred Sunday watch of millions of sports bettors and fantasy football players.

Other potential assets include the NFL.com web site, league app and archives from its 100-year history.

As usual, the NFL is dealing from a position of strength.

In March, it signed lucrative media rights deals worth about $100 billion over 11 years with Amazon, ESPN, Fox Sports, NBC Sports and CBS Sports.

But the NFL believes that a partnership or partnerships would provide more technological expertise and global reach for its media properties as it tries to win back cord-cutters in the U.S. and new fans internationally. 

“As the whole world of communications and digital media changes, we want to find a partner who can further help us maximize the reach and potential the NFL assets represent,” New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who chairs the league’s media committee, told the Wall Street Journal in an interview.

Those around the industry initially expected a private equity firm to purchase part of NFL Media, although tech giants like Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft were also mentioned.

“I thought about tech companies and [Amazon] does check that box,” Desser told FOS. “I thought about companies who could bring something to the party that’s special or different. That’s another checkmark for Amazon. It’s fair to say that I expected it to be more of a financially oriented player. If you are in the business of generating capital for investment, it’s nice to have somebody like the NFL on your list.”

Amazon, meanwhile, is gearing up for its sports push. 

The company has dozens of sports-related job listings, including a sports senior strategy manager, sports senior art director along with several marketing and public relations positions. There are 98 full-time positions across several categories that include the NFL in the respective job descriptions.

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“You are selling [the NFL] on the whole package,” said Robert Wood, professor of strategic management in the Lucas College and Graduate School of Business at San Jose State. “Amazon is in a position to credibly promise things that others can’t. That puts you in a position to structure your package with pieces others don’t have.”

This season marks the final year of “Thursday Night Football” broadcasting via a so-called “tri-cast” model with Amazon, Fox and NFL Network showing games. 

Amazon first showed a simulcast of a “Thursday Night Football” game in 2017. Since then, it has assembled an impressive array of on-air talent, including: Andrea Kremer, Hannah Storm, Joy Taylor, Daniel Jeremiah, Kay Adams and Andrew Hawkins. 

Amazon Prime membership costs consumers either $12.99 a month or $119 a year.