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Monday, May 20, 2024

Reported NFL-Netflix Deal Is Notable, but Isn’t a Big Multiyear Commitment

  • The pact would represent another major step forward in the company’s ongoing moves into live sports.
  • The holiday games will be a prominent part of the 2024 schedule, now likely just days away from being released.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Boomer Esiason’s status as a prognosticator of the sports media business is now going through the roof.

On Wednesday, the former NFL star and recently departed CBS Sports analyst predicted the NFL would sell its pair of 2024 Christmas Day games to Netflix, by far the biggest player in streaming but heretofore a more limited player in live sports. 

The comment took many by surprise but now is potentially coming true. Puck reported late Thursday that “it looks like Netflix will wind up carrying the two NFL games.” The deal, should it happen, will mark a further escalation of the league’s strategy around the holiday, which began in earnest in 2022 and grew much more serious last year with a high-profile tripleheader that crushed the NBA’s rival slate of games in viewership. Fueled by that success, the NFL earlier this spring put these games up for auction, with bidding said to have started in the $50 million range. 

More Holidays, More Streamers

That the NFL is even playing on Christmas this year, however, is still noteworthy, as the holiday falls on a Wednesday, normally not a day of the week when the league plays. But the NFL is pursuing a series of precise scheduling moves to keep its Christmas presence. 

The developing deal with Netflix also signals a rising interest by the NFL to experiment with various streamers for many of its tentpole events. Over the past two years, the league has placed Black Friday and wild-card games on outlets such as Amazon and Peacock, and now operates the residential portion of NFL Sunday Ticket through YouTube. Given the unprecedented level of disruption across the media landscape, it’s smart business for the NFL to see where consumer patterns are heading while still keeping its core status on linear television. But for fans, it simply adds to the number of different streaming subscriptions one must have to see every game. 

With the 2024 NFL schedule projected to be released next week, a formal announcement of the Netflix pact could be days away.

From the Other Side of the Table

Netflix, meanwhile, is extending its pattern of more modest steps into live sports. The company—which has an industry-leading 269.6 million subscribers but is phasing out its practice of reporting such totals—has made a big multiyear play for the WWE and its weekly flagship show, Raw

But its other moves in live sports have largely been one-offs such as its acquisition of live rights to an upcoming Jake Paul–Mike Tyson fight. On the company’s last earnings call, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos reiterated the more reserved sports programming strategy, saying, “We’re not anti-sports, but pro-profitable growth. And I think that’s the core of everything we do in all kinds of programming, including sports.”

Financial terms and production details for a live NFL presence on Netflix remain unknown. 

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