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NFL dives further into streaming with new NFL+ app

With ball in hand, a football player jumps towards a viewer from a stylized bar chart emerging out of a smartphone.

Illustration by Holly Warfield / Getty / The Current

The app will benefit the football league with more first-party data and inroads into programmatic.

The National Football League showcased its new streaming app, NFL+, for the first time as the new season kicked off last week. America’s favorite sport is the last of the four major American sports leagues to launch its own streaming app.

Beyond reaching more viewers, NFL+ can allow the league to dive further into programmatic advertising and first-party data.

“First-party data is becoming increasingly important, and this represents a strong avenue for the NFL to [use first-party data] with a powerful content medium in video and [an] owned app,” Ron Li, senior VP of client strategy at Navigate, a data-driven consulting firm that has worked with the NFL, tells The Current. “Session length, number of games watched per session, pausing and playing habits, viewership of home team versus others, location of viewing — this is but a smidgeon of the type of information that [NFL+] can offer.”

Knowing fans’ consumption habits is more crucial than ever, with third-party cookies expected to deprecate at some point. NFL+ lets fans watch live, in-market games on their phone or tablet, as well as listen to any live game, for $4.99 a month, or $39 a year. A premium subscription allows ad-free access to on-demand NFL content like condensed game replays, coaches’ films, NFL Films archives, and NFL Network shows for $7.99 a month or $79.99 a year.

Some ads for live games on the app, as well as games streamed through NFL Network, will run programmatically. Going programmatic from the start allows advertisers to leverage data and target specific audiences, according to Mike Carrano, CMO at Troika Media Group, which has worked with NFL teams like the Los Angeles Rams, the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the Las Vegas Raiders.

“Fan engagement is transitioning in real time from a very linear experience to now an experience across multiple platforms,” Carrano tells The Current. “The interaction element of that is exciting as a fan. What digital offers up is the ability to obviously treat fans very differently based on how engaged one is versus others.”

“Better data access also drives programmatic, so it makes a lot of sense that a league-owned initiative such as this would leverage programmatic,” Li adds.

The NFL is an advertising behemoth, and that carries over to streaming. Amazon’s Head of NFL Sales Danielle Carney writes in Adweek that 87 percent of Amazon Prime Thursday Night Football viewers self-report they took some action related to a brand during a game, allowing brands to “connect with viewers who are more receptive and have a stronger likelihood to interact with brands and ads than linear NFL viewers.”

This latest move from the NFL comes as the league is continually setting streaming records. NBC’s season-opening game between the Buffalo Bills and the Los Angeles Rams was the most-streamed game on record, excluding Super Bowl LVI, according to NBC. The game recorded 1.74 million viewers on average, per minute, across Peacock, NBC Sports Digital, and NFL digital platforms. NBC’s Sunday Night Football (SNF) game was also the most-streamed SNF game ever recorded. Together, the games amounted to a 34 percent rise in streaming viewership for NBC compared to last year.

And many major players already see the value in streaming live sports. Amazon is paying $13 billion to exclusively stream Thursday Night Football; ESPN is streaming its first-ever NFL game exclusively on ESPN+ this season; and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is guaranteeing its Sunday Ticket package will move to a streaming service next season. Apple, Amazon, Disney, and Google all have reportedly made bids to secure the rights to the Sunday Ticket package, according to CNBC.

Goodell said in a statement after NFL+’s release that he believes live NFL games are “the most valuable content in the media industry.”

As of now, NFL+ will mostly serve as a companion to the leagues’ broadcast games. Last year, the NFL signed new media rights deals worth over $100 billion that will run through the 2033 season. But more than a decade from now, Li can envision how NFL+ could become a bigger direct-to-consumer option that gives the league the option to exclusively stream games on the app.

“If the next deal cycle allows NFL+ to play the out-of-market regular season and postseason games, then NFL+’s data-gathering impact could compound — a lot,” Li says. “An experiment they could run at some point is to make NFL+ the exclusive home of NFL in an international market with some predisposition to American football, such as Australia, Japan, or Germany.”