NOTE: This musing also appears today on our sister site, www.leblanguage.net. Please visit it daily for updates and insights on the worlds of media, politics and life journeys.
If there was any doubt whatsoever of the stranglehold that the National Football League has on America’s emotions and behavior, the events of this holiday weekend should convince even the most skeptical of us that there is scant little else that can get people, organizations–heck, even state leaders–to fall at the sport’s gladitorial feet and do things we otherwise might not want to.
It started with the controversial nine-figure gambit of NBCU/Comcast and its struggling Peacock streaming service who warehoused Saturday night’s Dolphins-Chiefs game behind a paywall so buttressed that it limited even ardent Dolphin fans in Broward County, who live mere minutes from the stadium they play in, to have to resort to shelling out $5.99 to see their team (the geography of the Miami-Fort Lauderdale DMA that was allowed to show the game on the NBC O and O is THAT tightly defined). And while they indeed took to social media and anyone who might listen to vent their vitriol, fueled no doubt by its egg-laying 26-7 loss that extended its 21st century playoff victory drought to the longest of any team in the league, they somehow did find a way to become part of what was, per NBC’s justifiably proud press release, to contribute to history:
Viewers flocked to Peacock, setting records for the most-streamed live event in U.S. history and driving the Internet to its largest U.S. usage ever on a single day and the largest Internet event ever, consuming 30 percent of Internet traffic during the game.
Among the milestones and metrics:
- The Peacock Exclusive AFC Wild Card reached 27.6 million total viewers, according to Nielsen.
- Dolphins-Chiefs peaked at an average of 24.6 million viewers in the second quarter from 9:15-9:30 p.m. ET, according to Nielsen custom fast national data (includes out-of-home viewership).
- The Peacock Exclusive AFC Wild Card ranks as the most-streamed event ever in the U.S. with an average audience (AMA) of approximately 23.0 million viewers across Peacock, NBC stations in Miami and Kansas City, and on mobile with NFL+, according to Nielsen custom fast national data. Viewership for Dolphins-Chiefs (8:11-11:01 p.m. ET) is up 6% from last year’s primetime AFC Wild Card Game (21.8 million TAD on NBC, Peacock, NBC Sports Digital, NFL Digital).
Bear in mind this was a service that had approximately 30 million subscribing households prior to this. So simple math points to the fact that new sign-ups had to be well into the millions. Whether or not they will stick around more than a few days to continue to receive a platform whose next best unique offering (which supposedly set a Peacock viewership record of its own, though not with a number they were inclined to share publicly) involve a plotline about a teenage boy and a teddy bear determined to masturbate in front of each other) is still up for debate. But the NFL did indeed provide a way for them to see promo after promo to potentially entice them to at least sample it.
And Peacock better enjoy it while they can, because yesterday more signs of even more seismic shifts in how and where their games and content will be seen were signaled, courtesy of the NEW YORK POST’s ever-hungry sports media maven Andrew Marchand:
ESPN and the NFL are in advanced talks that could result in the league taking an equity stake in ESPN, The Post has learned.
As part of a potential agreement, Disney-owned ESPN would take control of NFL Media, which includes NFL Network, and the league would receive equity in ESPN.
For the long-term viability of ESPN aligning with the most powerful sports league would enhance its position as the network plans to move to direct to consumer by 2025.
While the idea of an ESPN-NFL alliance has been mentioned before, discussions between Disney-owned ESPN and the NFL are far enough along that sources said that owners and the Players Association are being informed about the talks.
NFL Network has arguably been best-in-class among league and sport-specific linear networks since its launch in the middle of the 2003 season. It lured top talent and management from ESPN and elsewhere and has helped expose its ardent viewers to a year-round, 24/7 onslaught of everything from live games from Europe, anchor Rich Eisen running the same 40 yard dash at the NFL Combines that aspiring draftees do–in dress shoes, no less–and new ways to showcase nearly 60 years of classic and newly created footage from the award-winning NFL Films brand. But it’s also lost more than 20 million subscribing homes from its peak penetration level in 2015, currently sitting at less than half of all US TV households, and has struggled to create a successful paywall offering of its own. Buttressing the upcoming consumer-first pivot of ESPN with an array of NFL offerings, many of which will likely carry an additional cost, could be compelling, and while neither Disney nor the league would ever choose not to spread its wealth across its many and growing media partners, there would certainly be incentives to somehow move the next streaming-exclusive event to a service they have a financial stake in, current maturity be damned. If people could find Peacock, they can certainly find NFL+.
And that, sorry to say, would seem to be signs that the time for the sunset of NFLN, at least in its current form and staffing, may be nigh. Pity, since they just moved into really nice digs across from SoFi Stadium. Wouldn’t be the worst place for the Clippers’ offices to wind up at; what with its new arena rising mere steps from SoFi (ok, it’s a decent walk, but it’s hardly cross-town).
And today, we’ll be reminded once again exactly how much pull the sport has. Even with the threat of continuing bad weather in Buffalo, which forced the postponement of yesterday’s Steelers-Bills playoff game, New York State governor and Buffalo native Kathy Hochul took to X to assure her weather-weary constituents that “(t)he game will not be pushed back again,”. Game on for 4:30 Eastern time, leading in to the Monday Night Football Super Wild Card game on ESPN and ABC, those future business partners of the NFL.
After all, after a weekend with record cold and Taylor Swift’s presence creating a perfect storm for Peacock, and the Green Bay Packers reminding the world that it once again has a skilled and sane quarterback in charge (while also giving Cowboys fans their own perfect storm of continuing nightmares about its own post-season failures), do you think something as inconsequential as a blizzard could stand in anyone’s way?
Certainly not the National Football League’s.
Why can it get away with such arguably egregious behavior and control of our minds, wallets and snowplow schedules?
Ask any Packer Backer and they’ll eagerly explain.
It’s Love, actually.