So. The NFL is planning to stream all three NFL UK games this year. The shield claim that this is to capitalise on the ‘success’ of the Jacksonville game in 2015, which was streamed on Yahoo! and was viewed by 15.6 million people.
On the face of it, this seems good, though remember that this is worldwide views. Whilst some countries would have had the game on TV (It was on both network and cable TV in the UK), and it was broadcast by CBS in the Buffalo and Jacksonville areas, this is 15 Million people clicking a link online. For one of the world’s most popular sports. This isn’t exactly Olympic / F1 style numbers, and whilst it was the most watched streamed event in US history, NBC have plenty of chances to beat it with their Olympic coverage this year.
So the NFL wanting to stream all three games in London in 2016 may be seen as part of a building process. Getting people worldwide interested in the NFL ‘for free’, and then hopefully having them invest hundreds a year in products such as GamePass. This all seems logical when considering the market outside of America, but it highlights a particular issue inside the States. The networks are seemingly showing zero resistance, and therefore…. Don’t care?
London & the NFL to Date
The facts are clear. If you want to be a network in America that means something, you need to have the NFL. Furthermore, every single game, from the national packages on NBC / ESPN, to the local games shown in home markets on CBS / FOX have value, and are almost always the highest rated show in the team’s home market (Unless there’s a double header on, combined with a home team losing season). The issues have come from the fact that since 2014, the NFL has started to toy with the idea of playing games at 2PM in London, which equates to early morning on the East coast, and ‘coming back from a night out and Football’s on’ on the West Coast.
As someone who’s been to many a game in London, there is some rationale here, especially in terms of getting fans home, when so many rely on public transport, which, should any of the 1PM ET games in London have gone into OT, would have created some logistical nightmares. In terms of TV, FOX in particular would chuck the game right at the bottom of its broadcast schedule, meaning 90% of America would only see Game Break highlights. CBS were better, and the game was shown nationally a few times, though it started to fall too by 2014 (This could be more games being in the UK, reducing allure).
The only time the NFL played a game in London in the Morning US time on Network TV, it gained a 6.6 TV rating on FOX. Respectable, and enough to convince local TV stations that it’s a good idea to wake up to the NFL. Yes, there are additional logistical impacts of having the earlier game, such as the pre-halftime-post show crew, but compared to ad incomes, that’s pennies. It also gave fans an NFL QUADRUPLE header, and let’s be honest here. ANY football is watched by people, so more football is good football. In general terms.
So, what’s the issue?
If FOX can convince millions to turn on their TVs at silly o’clock in the morning, why stop? Why are FOX and CBS not fighting the NFL to have their streaming services and broadcast networks lead this streaming revolution instead of Yahoo, or potentially Google, Bing, or anyone else with enough storage capacity (Amazon would be interesting in particular). After all, these are games that the networks would essentially be losing on a national scale, and whoever shows the game locally (AFC – CBS / NFC – FOX) would be still producing the game, providing commentary etc.
The only answer one could provide is that the networks have given up on London, and no longer see point in investing in this almost 10 year experiment. Whilst London games started with intrigue, and the ability to provide constant opinion as to why London could (CBS) or should never (FOX) have a franchise, there’s only so many times you can do the American thing of making anything in Britain seem as quintessentially British as possible. Basically, the British games are something ‘fun’, but not ‘important’. Not to be invested in (Except for that ridiculous outline only end zone filled in by TV camera idea)
This gets more interesting when you consider the position of FOX in this all. They not only have the NFC coverage in the States, but essentially all coverage in the UK through News Corp owned Sky Sports. Whilst once upon a time Sky would like to gloss over thw fact that they are essentially one and the same, this has changed in recent years, with an adapted version of the NFL On Fox opening, and a 3 minute clip from the Fox NFL Kickoff crew (Yes. COWHERD IS ON UK TV!). This all sounds great, but again, interestingly, it’s not flipped the other way around. It would be simple, to help with travel & logistical costs to have a mix of FOX and Sky talent work on UK games from the stadium together, but no. Nothing.
And yes, whilst the NFL wants to sell streaming packages separately to the physical broadcast package, but when considering it’s a nice three game ‘test’, with the ability to get the biggest push for Fox Sports Go and the CBS Sports App possible, it seems stupid that the networks wouldn’t consider the possibilities that are available. Both the aforementioned networks have fallen WAY behind NBC and ESPN in terms of streaming, with the former having used the Premier League as it’s springboard, and ESPN pushing WatchESPN to death (However setting streaming records during the 2016 National Championship Game). CBS’ only real streaming test comes with March Madness, and FOX? Well. NASCAR is on soon I guess.
So, when you consider how FOX apparently have a blank check for TNF, a TV package which frankly produces 3 decent games per season (I can’t for one wait until the Jags and the Bucs get it on in the AFC South Showdown), why not invest more not only in helping to make the product international (In terms of games AND reach), and ensuring their streaming services are up to scratch for this post cable world CBSSN / FS1 / FS2 will need to prepare for. If anyone has any other reasons, please, let me know.