Alas, no. But Amazon will air its first exclusive Thursday night football game this week, a marquee matchup between the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs, officially launching the NFL into the streaming era. The footballs will be regulation size, but fans outside of Kansas City and Los Angeles will need an Amazon Prime subscription to watch the game. That means that, for the first time, most NFL fans on Thursday night can’t pick up their remote and flip to the game on TV.
Amazon, one of the country’s largest tech companies and commerce giants, is paying more than $1 billion this season for a package of exclusive Thursday night games to broadcast the NFL, America’s most popular TV show. The rationale: to boost its Prime membership, which was first introduced for free shipping and now has some 200 million subscribers worldwide. Amazon says 80 million households in the United States have watched at least one piece of its video content in the last year. (Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, owns The Washington Post.)
The NFL’s business model has long relied on simplicity to reach the most fans: It’s Sunday afternoon? Flip on Fox or CBS. To facilitate the Thursday transition, Amazon has set up a customer-service call center filled with thousands of representatives to field troubleshooting calls in case fans can’t find the game. The company has blanketed its ubiquitous delivery trucks and millions of packages that it sends around the country with special advertising wrapping to alert fans. And Amazon Fire TVs and voice-activated Alexa devices have been programmed to help find the games.
Once fans find the game (they also can view it if they have an Amazon Video subscription), Amazon has promised a few new bells and whistles. There will be one alternate feed that has an overlay of statistics and game information; on some smart TVs, viewers will be able to control their own replays and some camera angles; and another feed for several games will feature Dude Perfect, a sports and comedy group popular on YouTube with young fans.
Here in the United States, Amazon has a stake in the YES Network and carries a handful of New York Yankees games exclusively; with the NFL, Amazon has signaled a belief in the biggest brands in sports. But those types of packages are also hard to come by; ESPN and other traditional broadcasters have ponied up enormous amounts of cash to maintain most of the top sports rights.
Amazon had recent talks with Formula One, the Champions League and the Big Ten before those properties signed elsewhere, opting for the reach of traditional TV. (According to a person with knowledge of the F1 negotiations, Amazon was interested in a longer deal with F1, but the circuit chose a shorter extension with ESPN.) Amazon is also among the media companies that have talked to the NFL about its Sunday Ticket package for out-of-market NFL games.
In an interview, Michaels, 77, mused about the changes to the business he has seen over his career — cable and streaming but also the demand for live sports. The most famous call of his career, the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team’s upset of the Soviet Union, was seen mostly on tape delay. Even after TV executives lobbied to push the start time back, the game was played in the early evening and then broadcast in prime time a few hours later. “It was so bizarre because most people did not know the score,” Michael said. “They watched a game at 8 that was already played.”
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